Downtown Victoria businesses concerned as province expands remote work flexibility

Downtown Victoria businesses concerned as province expands remote work flexibility
Now with the capital city's largest employer encouraging office workers to stay home there's worry some businesseswon't survive.

A new remote work directive sent out by the head of the BC Public Service Tuesday has downtown Victoria businesses worried about the future.

Shannon Salter sent out a memo Jan. 31, 2023, encouraging workplace flexibility and the expansion of work-from-home options. The memo also states that all job postings as of April 1 will automatically be open to all communities across the province that have a government office, since working full-time remotely will be allowed.

The notice says flexibility is essential in attracting and retaining employees but is a sharp turn from the previous Horgan administration which had been phasing people back into the office.

Shane Devereaux, who owns two coffee shops and a restaurant downtown, says he’s disappointed in the decision which is in stark contrast to the federal government’s stance which ordered workers back into the office part-time earlier this month. With the loss of office workers since the pandemic Devereaux says he and many other businesses have had to change how they operate.

“We’re still having to adapt and cutting services and just having to run much leaner and just be a little bit smarter about how we do things to try to survive,” he said.

Now with the capital city’s largest employer encouraging office workers to stay home, there’s worry some businesses won’t survive.

“The downtown will be a lot different, it won’t look like it did,” said Devereaux.

Of course, for smaller island communities there may be an upside, including more coffee shop visits and traffic on their main streets and in their real estate markets but some argue it comes at a cost.

“The fact that people living anywhere in B.C. can apply for these jobs means that yes they can stay home and work that would create some prosperity in other places but it doesn’t help the circumstance here when the economy has largely been framed around government workers working downtown in office buildings,” said Bruce Williams, CEO of the Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce.

The BC General Employees’ Union says it wasn’t consulted on the decision but applauds the change.

“Our members have always seen remote work not just as an immediate-term improvement to their working conditions, but as part of a long-term solution to the chronic recruitment and retention issues that plague practically every program, office and service in government,” said BCGEU President Stephanie Smith.

“It’s encouraging to see the employer’s announcement but disappointing to see it rolled out without meaningful consultation with our union or our members.”

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April LawrenceApril Lawrence

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