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Aug 2020 | July-August Issue

Investing in Human Infrastructure: District of Guysborough, Nova Scotia’s Four-Day Work Week Pilot Program
Deborah Torrey, Municipality of the District of Guysborough
Emerging from a new work schedule to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, the Municipality of the District of Guysborough, Nova Scotia (MODG) has implemented a pilot program to test a four-day work week for all permanent full-time employees. As COVID-19 was just reaching Nova Scotia, the Municipality of the District of Guysborough, located in Eastern Nova Scotia, had just approved their 2020/2021 Budget. 
 
Following the Budget Meeting on March 16th, CAO Barry Carroll was advised that a staff member may have been exposed to COVID-19. This news was the beginning a “new (working) normal” for employees at MODG. The organization was completely shut down and three days later the municipality reopened to a very different working environment. 
 
During the first wave of COVID-19, our municipality took a different approach from most municipalities in the Province with respect to staffing. Realizing that we had external services that needed daily attention, most notably our water and wastewater systems, regional waste management facility, and three windfarms, we instituted a “two-day on, two-day off” system for staff. During that time all of our facilities were staffed, but still not open to the public. 
 
Employees were divided into two groups, Team A and Team B, with members being divided based on their core competencies and abilities ensuring coverage of all task requirements in each department. When possible, administrative and management staff would work from home when it was their two-day off period. All staff made additional commitments to be on-call; staff could all reach the workplace within 90 minutes if needed. Our municipal staff has proven to be available remotely or for on-site needs throughout the entire pandemic. CAO Barry Carroll stated that he has never experienced such commitment anywhere else, “we truly have a fully dedicated staff.”
 
Although the building was closed to the public and employees were working in shifts, there was very little disruption in service to residents. It was during this time that Barry Carroll began to consider a more permanent implementation of this “new (working) normal.” At that time, the Canadian Prime Minister and other countries such as New Zealand, were discussing the possibility of implementing a four-day work week. In turn, Barry Carroll began to devise a plan for a pilot program that would condense the work week while allowing the municipal offices to be open for an extra five hours per week to serve the public. The goal was to increase public access and satisfaction while also finding a way to better balance the work-life and home-life of municipal employees. 
 
This new pilot program, named “An Investment in Human Infrastructure,” would see the implementation of a new four-day work week for employees, expanded hours for service delivery, and the re-positioning of the workforce and the entire operations to better deal with future emergency management. 
 
The five-day work week and other models have been in place since the industrial ages and does not account for the fact that both people and workplaces have changed. Jobs are now requiring more skills and employees are spending more time commuting. The five-day, nine-to-five work week emerged in the early 1900’s as part of the industrial revolution and has never fundamentally evolved since. Most municipalities and businesses still operate on that same system. The evaluation of this pilot program at the annual planning session in January 2021 will hopefully prove that a four-day work week can be implemented on a permanent basis in most work environments.
 
During the “two-day on, two-day off” system, we found many efficiencies in our organization. It was a direct result of the success of this system that led our Council to endorse the four-day work week for all staff. On June 15th, 2020 the municipal operations transitioned to a shift system, with Team A working nine or ten hour days, Monday to Thursday, while Team B began working Tuesday to Friday with the same hours. 
 
As a result, we were able to extend hours of opening to serve the public by five hours a week at both our administrative offices and our waste management facility. Administrative offices, formerly open from 8:30 AM to 4:30 PM, are now open to the public from 8 am to 5 pm, Monday to Friday. The Regional Waste Management Facility, which serves 15 municipalities from Cape Breton Regional Municipality to Pictou County, was formerly open from 7:30 AM to 4:30 PM and is now open from 7:00 AM to 5:00 PM Monday to Friday, along with a half day opening on Saturday. More than 50 staff were affected by this change and were given the option to work the regular five-day work week schedule; however, to date, no one has expressed a desire to do so.
 
While dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, MODG learned of many gaps that needed to be addressed in regards to administrative and management staff being able to effectively work from home. As a result, there are now plans to develop a ‘Work from Home’ guidance policy and program for our employees. The municipality also has plans to update all our personnel policies along with a performance evaluation system that factors in the “new (working) normal.” Furthermore, we plan on upgrading our workstations to ensure greater ease of work mobility for our staff. One of the changes we have made is moving our entire file system to a cloud-based system with suitable backups.
 
A four-day work week has brought about many benefits to our workplace and indeed to the entire community. The shorter work week will benefit our employees’ physical and mental health and will provide opportunities for an improved quality of family-life for the whole community. It will help with municipal recruiting efforts, where previously it has been a challenge to attract people with special skills to move to a rural area. The community will benefit from longer service hours and employees will have more daily time to spend on projects that are further afield from our base operations. A four-day work week can also help the economy and the tourism sector by providing people with more days off. 
 
To date, municipal staff remain excited about the new system and are fully committed to the pilot program. Aside from the minor initial adjustments, the transition has been rather seamless for MODG. The national interest that has followed the four-day work week pilot program has taken us by surprise, but we hope that our initiative will help bring about a positive change in work culture elsewhere. The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in a lot of sadness in Nova Scotia, but it has also brought about a need for change and innovation. This pilot program could create new efficiencies for municipalities, while also providing a greater level of service to residents and a healthier and happier workplace for employees.
 
DEBORAH TORREY is the Development Officer for the Municipality of the District of Guysborough, Nova Scotia. Deborah has more than 24 years of municipal experience and has served in various capacities with the Municipality as an Administrative Assistant, Municipal Clerk, Planning Officer, and Development Officer. Ms. Torrey is responsible for administration and enforcement of the Municipality’s Land Use Bylaw, administration and enforcement of the subdivision bylaw, and management of all municipal land files including acquisition and disposal case files. She is currently the President of the Municipal Development Officers Association for the Province of Nova Scotia and has received her certification as a Development Officer through the Association.