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BC Hydro says its version of ‘work from home’ is evolving but here to stay

Internal records offer insight into how leadership, employees at B.C.’s biggest Crown corporation feel about an ongoing flexible-work model
BC Hydro is maintaining a flexible-work model, which varies depending on the demands of each position

BC Hydro says it is meeting business objectives under its pandemic-triggered hybrid workplace, but acknowledges there are some challenges.

A briefing note to a Feb. 21 meeting of senior executives about potential changes to the Crown corporation’s “flexible-work model” says a one-size-fits-all approach to working from home may not be ideal in every department.

“For the past three years most of our office employees have primarily worked from home,” reads the document, obtained under freedom of information law. “During this period we’ve demonstrated that we can operate our business and deliver on our projects and strategic priorities.”

The briefing note said that the model is generally working well, though managers report that it is more difficult to hire and train new employees remotely.

An Aug. 24 job posting for a Burnaby-based procurement services manager position said how much an employee can work from home depends on the manager for each position and the job’s specific operational requirements. At one end of the scale, some can spend four or more days per week at home. On the other end, field workers have no work-from-home option.

“Employees also have the right to work full-time from the office if they prefer. All of our roles require at least some in-person time,” the job posting said.

Employees said they want the option to spend most, if not all, of their time working from home. Nearly three-quarters polled by BC Hydro were satisfied or very satisfied with their current arrangement. All other large B.C. Crown corporations, the B.C.’s public service and more than 90 per cent of Canadian electric utilities and engineering consultancies offer some variation of flexible work.

“A common suggestion in the written feedback is for more flexibility and reduced time in office,” the briefing note said about the internal survey.

Key to the trend is the evolution of technology, including web conferencing and enhanced hardware to connect virtually. BC Hydro pledged to “continue to invest in technology,” such as refreshing laptops, creating additional rooms and auditoriums for hybrid meetings, enhancements to Microsoft Teams, cameras that digitize whiteboards and improved network connectivity at remote sites.

A March 28 briefing note to BC Hydro’s human resources and flexible work project team said opinions on the flexible-work model have improved, based on a poll of 4,400 employees. “Overall, 78 per cent of employees who responded to the pulse check are feeling happy or very happy with the flexible work model; this is a four-per-cent improvement over the October pulse check, and eight-per-cent increase since June.”

Employees were split on the number of in-office days – 49 per cent said the amount was just right, 46 per cent said it could be less – and opinions were mixed on desk-sharing: 51 per cent for and 35 per cent against.

Nearly two-thirds of respondents said they would not consider a role that requires more days in the office, while three-quarters said they do not think working from home has limited their career or development opportunities.

More than 90 per cent of respondents felt supported and included, regardless of where they work.

As for managers, 80 per cent were happy with the flexible work model, a six-per-cent improvement over October 2022’s survey, and 87 per cent agreed that BC Hydro could meet its operational and strategic goals. The latter is a significant improvement over 63 per cent in June 2022.

An appendix showed BC Hydro is monitoring its flexible-work program based on corporate, departmental and individual performance, impacts on employees, workspace and technology usage, costs and savings, greenhouse gas reduction, and by comparing notes about hybrid-work trends with other companies.

Another appendix about feedback from senior leaders was censored under the exception to B.C.’s public records law that allows a public body to keep policy advice and recommendations secret.

In the October 2022 survey, employees who work from home cited the “positive impacts on well-being, and time and cost savings by not commuting.”

BC Hydro’s August 2021 agreement with the MoveUp union stated that employees who work at home must designate an adequate workspace and keep it safe and free from hazards. Any BC Hydro property and documents must be kept safe, secure and confidential. The agreement also allowed BC Hydro to send a representative for a home workplace audit with a minimum 24-hour notification. BC Hydro provides necessary IT hardware and software, including virtual private network access, but will not pay utilities or meal expenses.