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Athabasca University officially ends contentious virtual work policy

Staff members are still able to work from home, but AU President Dr. Alex Clark said they now have more choice over where they work from
The university held consultations on its Athabasca campus Jan. 25.
Athabasca University has officially ended its contentious "near virtual" policy that lend to conflict with staff, the provincial government, and Athabasca residents.

Editors Note: A previous version of the story indicated the policy was from 2020. It has been corrected to reflect the correct date of 2017.

ATHABASCA – Athabasca University’s Board of Governors approved a motion during their Dec. 8 meeting that will “formally and definitively” end a contentious policy that forced employees to choose between working in the office or from their homes.

During a Dec. 8 interview, Dr. Alex Clark, president of Athabasca University, said he was excited to share the news and hopeful for the future that a hybrid approach to workspaces would bring.

“It represents a really exciting re-commitment and re-connection to our commitment to community and place here in Athabasca,” said Clark. “We’ve always been a place-based university, and I think formally ending that policy really formally takes a stance and is the ideal foundation that we can shift with our new strategic plan.”

The near virtual policy was a holdover from the university’s previous administration and was first approved by the Board of Governors in 2017. The pre-pandemic policy was only accelerated by COVID-19, and by 2022 the United Conservative Party and then-minister of Advanced Education Demetrios Nicolaides were involved. The UCP threatened cuts to the $3.4 million monthly instalments the university receives if the board didn’t have a plan in place to increase the number of physical employees in Athabasca.

What now?

Staff members are still able to work from home, but Clark said they now have more choice and more power over where they work from.

“I do think choice is an attractive benefit — who doesn’t like choice?” said Clark. “What we are noticing is when we did our staff event in Edmonton this week, we had 50 per cent more people attending than I expected. People are really craving community connection, which you don’t get as much or the same way when you’re fully online.”

More to come.

Cole Brennan,

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