Helping our community’s businesses, governments and academic institutions adapt to changes in the workplace and workforce is one of the main goals of the Waterloo Region Future of Work & Learning Coalition. In 2019, 18 partners across those sectors came together to explore, experiment and share their learnings to help future-proof Waterloo Region. 

With the COVID-19 pandemic, many of those changes happened quicker than any of us were ready for. 

Over a year later, we’ve settled into a new normal of remote work, a new understanding of contract and gig workers and a whole new set of challenges in ensuring continuity and equity of workplace culture.

In January of 2020, Communitech and Wilfrid Laurier University partnered for an experimental, part-time secondment project. Laurier employee Lindsay Tayler would spend the next year splitting her time between the two organizations to help discover ways both workplaces could adapt. Then in March, almost everyone at both organizations became a remote employee. With the Future of Work & Learning Coalition Forum coming up on April 28, 2021, we sat down with Tayler to find out what she learned from the project and what’s next for her as she returns to her full-time role at Laurier.

One of the coalition’s goals is to open-source its learnings and share best practices across Waterloo Region and other Canadian communities. Tayler was able to bring tactics from Laurier to Communitech and vice versa, helping to manage the change to remote work at both organizations. “There were definitely times where I looked at things happening at Communitech and said, ‘That’s a good idea,’ and was able to share with someone back at Laurier,” she said. 

For Tayler, one of the challenges was finding ways to interact with teams in Communitech outside the Future of Work & Learning team. “Simon Chan (Vice President, Talent, Academy, & Future of Work at Communitech) and I were talking about that, what would this have looked like if it had been still in-person. Because of the pandemic, I only really interacted with a very small part of Communitech, but before that, I was meeting a bunch of people on different teams.”

The opportunity for social interactions changed, including virtual coffee chats, open Zoom meetings and happy hours. Splitting her time between Laurier and Communitech, Tayler said it was difficult to participate in all of them and saw challenges in the early days for employees to connect – and to meet new hires as they joined. 

Tayler sees this as an opportunity for all organizations to look at how they provide consistent workplace experiences to in-office and remote workers. “It’s way more daunting to go to those big social things, especially in a virtual environment where I may have showed up to those and sat there with my camera off, being a bit intimidated to meet this new group of people,” Tayler said. “Something like having an intentional 15-minute conversation with someone else to get to know them is much better.”

Remote on-boardings have become the norm during the pandemic, but they often lose out on the in-office tours and meetings that help new employees build their network and connect with the workplace. “I think my network would have expanded dramatically if we had been in the Hub,” added Tayler.

Tayler said there are multiple opportunities for organizations to take advantage of new viewpoints, ideas and strategies from their freelance and gig workers. But to do so, she said organizations need to think about how they build that into their interactions. “I think an organization needs to put more effort into thinking about freelancers than you do the people that are going to be working for you full time,” she said. “Just in terms of thinking about how they are going to fit within your organization.”

One example is in how employers think of the off-boarding experience for their full-time employees. If you do exit interviews for full-time employees, should you do them for freelancers and contract employees? “If you’re ever going to hire an occasional person or gig worker, I would want to make sure that you’re thinking about all those wonderful policies that you have in place for your full-time staff and ask if you extend that to those freelancers and gig workers. What kind of experience do you want them to have?”

Tayler said that building a strong employer brand and alumni network needs to include your contract and freelance workers. When employers talk about alumni networks, they need to think of the changing nature of work. People will come in and do a four-month project and then leave. Tayler said organizations need to ask what they want those employees to say about their business. One example is how Future of Work & Learning Coalition partner Deloitte has developed a strong alumni network across their global locations.

The end of March marked the end of Tayler’s part-time secondment and she returned full-time to Laurier in a new role as their Director, Office of Continuing Education. It’s a dream role – one that she credits to the learning opportunities from the secondment with Communitech. “I think it really had a part to play in my new role,” she said. “I can’t think of another professional development type of opportunity that would have allowed me to showcase my skills, what I can do and show growth like this.” 

The part-time secondment required Tayler to manage her own time between the two organizations and also manage expectations on both sides. “It helped me demonstrate my ability to time manage and to balance priorities. I think it might have taken me a lot longer to demonstrate all the things outside of having this opportunity. There’s no training session that would have allowed me to build the skills I did through the secondment.” 

On Thursday, April 28, 2021, join Tayler to hear more learnings from the Waterloo Region Future of Work & Learning Coalition at their first forum. In this two-hour webinar, you’ll hear from the Future of Work & Learning Coalition co-chairs and representatives from participating organizations as they reflect on the coalition’s journey from conception to where they are today. They’ll also discuss the work they have accomplished over the past year, the benefits that belonging to the Future of Work & Learning Coalition has brought their organization, what’s next and how to future-proof talent and the workplace with a collaborative approach.