Vanguard Magazine

Vanguard June/July 2023

Preserving capacity, General Tom Lawson, Chief of the Defence Staff, Keys to Canadian SAR

Issue link:

Contents of this Issue


Page 29 of 31

A s Covid subsides, deep-seed- ed changes to the workplace expand. Two of the most important drivers – hybrid work arrangements, and Ar- tificial intelligence (AI) are also closely in- terrelated, and of profound importance to the future of the public service. With respect to hybrid, recent collective agreements for federal public servants mark an historic inflection point. The Treasury Board mandate for a minimum of two days a week on site (or 40-60% of weekly hours) is now being implemented, with flexibility and enshrined commitments to continu- ance and ongoing dialogue. Many workers welcome at least a partial return to the office, pointing to the power of in-person interactions to spur innova- tion and creativity. Indeed, prior to the pandemic, governments at all levels in- vested significant resources into innovation labs and other creative spaces. Others con- tend however, and not without emerging evidence, that with the right tools and plat- forms, much of this collaboration can now be done virtually (and potentially in more open, inclusive, and effective manners). A hybrid world is not fully remote: the term itself implies novel alignments of in- person and virtual processes to empower workers, while also accounting for col- lective requirements and outcomes. Hy- brid implies give and take, as the emerg- ing workforce development challenge for modern organizations is to devise human resource and digital infrastructure frame- works that enable workers to define their own path. Such a path implies an optimal mixture of in-person and virtual experi- ences that best corresponds with a per- son's physiology, professional duties, and family and personal responsibilities. If that were not enough, AI is taking the world by storm – promising to eliminate large swaths of human workers, before pos- sibly wiping out all of humanity itself. IBM has already announced plans to end hiring in those support functions deemed suitable for AI automation. Likewise, as the Joint Councils have already done, many govern- ment departments and agencies are explor- ing AI deployments as enablers of service innovation and better policy-making. While significant public sector layoffs in the near term are unlikely, it does bear noting that the federal public service has expanded massively over the past few years, and so it is not unreasonable for some right-sizing to occur at some point. Yet one can also expect that all govern- ments will struggle mightily with AI, as has been the case with every prior wave of digital investments. As this transition unfolds, hybrid and AI are closely inter-related in three ways. First, governments at all levels will be evermore challenged to recruit and retain highly skilled and scarce AI professionals, as the global shortage of such workers intensi- fies. Accordingly, providing hybrid (and in some cases fully remote) positions will be an essential aspect of government competi- tiveness in this highly specialized realm. Hybrid Work and Artificial Intelligence Secondly, human diversity is essential to overcome a key AI challenge, namely inherent design biases in underlying cod- ing. Inter-disciplinarity in deploying and managing AI systems is equally impor- tant. Providing hybrid work experiences can help enable a more open and inclu- sive workforce, with flexibility an essential enabler of advancement for traditionally marginalized groups (that remain vastly under-represented in the upper echelons of public sector managers). Hybrid train- ing programs will also be important to lessening such barriers, and to facilitating AI awareness and understanding. Thirdly, as some AI automation does begin to eventually take hold, the offset- ting benefit for organizations is to deepen a focus on human-based activities central to learning, innovation, and ongoing ad- aptation. Human ingenuity is also the basis of essential AI oversight and redress measures. Public servants thus require safe and accommodating spaces for reflec- tion and focus (traits in short supply in a world of ubiquitous mobile connectivity and unrelenting emails and meeting in- vites). While hybrid is no panacea for the many forces at play, it can allow workers and managers to devise an improved and more optimal work path of scheduling and locational conditions conducive to both cognitive performance and mental well-being, In short, the new world of work is never really upon us since we are con- stantly adapting in ways both large and small. A global pandemic and the rise of AI are two critical elements demanding a renewed and more integrative digital and human resource prism for public sector governance. Jeffrey Roy is professor in the School of Public Administration at Dalhousie Univer- sity ( G O V E R N I N G D I G I TA L LY B Y J E F F R E Y R O Y A C R I T I CA L I N F L E CT I O N PO I N T: 30 JUNE/JULY 2023

Articles in this issue

Links on this page

view archives of Vanguard Magazine - Vanguard June/July 2023