The world of work is changing faster than ever. In recent years, Groupe Immobilier Desjardins and SSQ Groupe Financier have made substantial investments to modernize and adapt their workspaces and processes, thereby adjusting to an evolving business work environment and the needs and expectations of employees and teams. These two organizations are pioneers in that regard. We wanted to discuss the impact of these organizational changes, particularly as regards the current context.
An interview with Danielle Jacques, director, Property Management at Cité Desjardins de la coopération in Lévis, and Éric Deblois, senior manager, Rentals and Hélène Pâquet, senior manager, Construction at SSQ Assurance.
How has this change played out so far in your respective organizations?
Danielle Jacques: For the moment, our work environments are virtually unoccupied given the current crisis. Although we've accomplished quite a lot in terms of implementing new technologies such as paperless work and teleworking, I don't think that any firm was really prepared to deal with this crisis so radically.
We were plunged into a crisis and urgently needed to very quickly standardize certain practices in order to extend our new ways of doing things to all our employees.
Éric Deblois/Hélène Pâquet: This change is very much in evidence at SSQ Assurance, a change we initiated in our corporate culture. The new workspace layouts are in line with this new culture, and work stations are consistent with the new desired behaviours. Well-lit collaborative workspaces, spaces that encourage get-togethers or innovation, rest areas, etc. are some of the options available to employees, who can then choose the best place for the task at hand.
In order to allow for on-the-spot management and to complete the cultural change, managers also work in open areas, so there are no more closed offices. Even senior management occupies open offices, which facilitates synergy for the management committee and improves employee access.
Do you think this strategic choice has helped your organizations better prepare and cope with the current pandemic by quickly putting teams in teleworking mode?
DL : Discussions and deployments are underway, and it has certainly been easier to arrive more quickly at the results we are currently experiencing. The human aspect is very important for Desjardins, and the coaching offered to employees plus the support of our information technology personnel have undoubtedly helped to mitigate the wave of insecurity, of facing the unknown, experienced by all our employees.
ÉD/HP: Over the past year or so a technological shift has been underway at SSQ Assurance. Most employees have a laptop and use Office 365 tools, including the Teams platform. With the arrival of the pandemic, the transformation of our digital environment meant that we were very quickly operational, since employees were already very comfortable with these communication tools. Employees without laptops were able to take advantage of the technology already present in our collaboration rooms, and could connect to their workstations from home. Because of that complementary solution, we were able to have 98% of our employees teleworking in less than two weeks!
How will you have to adjust your work environments in order to respond to a public health crisis in the short, medium and long term?
DJ: In order to adjust to this new reality, we must first ensure that we offer safe work environments. Employees need to feel reassured when faced with all these ever-present unknowns. Tighter supervision of certain operations is already in place, improved measures of hygiene and sanitation have been deployed on a larger scale, and more frequent maintenance and re-planned work routes will no doubt allow us to cope with a future where things have changed and will continue to evolve. Needs and expectations will remain high. We will ensure that we offer redesigned work environments, and will focus on the importance of air quality by improving the air analysis programs already underway. We will also offer a wide range of cleaning products and disinfectants in our workspaces and also in our common areas, as well as contactless conveniences. We are rethinking social distancing and will reinforce it by means of a clear, effective poster or display, but above all by offering support to our employees as they wade through all the uncertainties inherent to this situation.
ÉD/HP: For the moment, no date for returning to the office has been confirmed, but it won't be before September. We will re-evaluate the situation regarding the workspace environments a few weeks beforehand, in accordance with public health guidelines. It will be a gradual return to work. We are currently establishing the ideal percentage of employees to put in place in an initial phase, and will then gradually increase that percentage. We don't plan on using workspaces to full capacity at first, in compliance with the social distancing health authorities have imposed. Use of virtual communication tools will continue to have priority, replacing traditional meetings. Future teleworking at SSQ Assurance and its impact on our workspaces have yet to be defined. For the moment, we cannot confirm how work performance will be organized, but we are convinced that the new workspace layouts will meet recent needs for flexibility between home and office.
Do you have any advice or ideas you would like to share with your peers in the industry?
DJ: Continue to be proactive so that you can quickly adjust to diverse situations and are able to communicate effectively. When everyone pitches in and joins forces in a group effort, it really helps in getting through the worst situations. Stay in touch and on the lookout in order to reduce risk and insecurity.
ÉD/HP: Office workspaces have changed considerably in recent years. Gone are the days of concepts that lasted 15 years. Our concepts must be adaptable, and we must opt for flexible environments and mobile employees who can easily adjust to changes within the organization and changes in business practice. At SSQ Assurance we have chosen to apply principles that allow for a proximity that encourages communication and exchange, but we also have isolated spaces that offer discretion – in short, our workspaces are aligned with the needs of our employees. It's a win-win situation. The pandemic forced us to adapt rapidly and to rethink our ways of working. Previous teleworking was done on a small scale, but it is now here to stay and that is something that we must take into account.