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Co-location: leave no team member behind

I can’t believe I’m writing a blog post! As a service owner for this project for the Canada Revenue Agency, it’s one of the things in a long list of “firsts” I’ve encountered since co-locating with our partners at the Canadian Digital Service just over a month ago.

Together, we’ve been working on a service to help make tax-filing easier for Canadians with low income. The project came together really quickly — initially, CRA had asked CDS if there was anything we could do to break down barriers for people who need to file their tax returns simply to get benefits.

The short answer was yes — we all agreed that it’s a problem worth tackling.

How we got started

The first order of business involved bringing together a team of experts from CDS and CRA, and co-locating everyone in a shared workspace (the CDS headquarters) in downtown Ottawa.

Although I was excited to start the project, I have to admit being skeptical about the idea of co-locating. Some of my concerns (and I’m sure I’m not alone in this) revolved around how my team would work together with a new culture and environment; I wondered, “would I get along with my new colleagues, and would co-working in an open space be stressful or distracting?”

Even so, I took a leap of faith, and since starting this journey, I realize I’m able to have the best of both worlds — working downtown with a talented team, and still being able to connect with my amazing colleagues at CRA.

I’ve also experienced the mutual benefits of co-working in a multidisciplinary team.

Co-location is more than just a new office craze

The most common question I get from my CRA colleagues is, “what’s it like co-locating at CDS?”

Like no other office I’ve seen in government, it’s workplace 3.0 (an activity-based workplace), with open and collaborative spaces. We have daily standups with the team, where each person says what they worked on the day before, and what they’ll be working on for that day. Some team members work distributed (or remotely, in CRA vernacular), and most meetings are a combination of in-person and digital.

The team also uses scrum or agile project management. This is an approach where requirements and solutions evolve through collaborative effort, based on the needs of the person using our service — in our case, tax filers.

Togetherness breeds collaboration and productivity

We have four members from CRA who’ve been co-locating at CDS —- myself and three subject matter experts from the IT branch. Knowing that CRA is a big organization with very complex and secure systems, our team was able to show our CDS colleagues how to navigate such large systems. As much as serving Canadians is at the core of what we do, part of our service is ensuring that everyone can be assured of the privacy and security of their personal information.

Since co-locating, the opportunity to be part of a multidisciplinary team at CDS has taught me and our CRA members the value of collaboration to move things forward. Co-locating is efficient, ensures timeliness, and helps us learn from each other by giving a clear understanding of what needs to be done.

If co-locating isn’t an option for your workspace, there are still ways you can optimize your environment to reap the benefits of multidisciplinary teamwork.

Start with small steps

  • Find time to talk about “blockers” and potential solutions together as a team.
  • Try video meetings (we use Google Meet), which can bring clearer and more personal forms of communication.
  • Embrace a mindset of not knowing everything, and be open to new approaches while keeping core strategy in mind.
  • Keep things open with “Show the Thing” presentations, which encourage team members to show and share their works in progress with peers.

After my initial anxiety about co-locating, I have to say it’s really won me over. I know my colleagues and I have learned something very valuable that we can bring back to CRA long after we’ve finished our project with CDS.

The Canada Revenue Agency has worked hard to become a more people-centric organization, and to improve service for Canadians. Together, I believe the work we’re doing at CDS will help deliver on that promise by ensuring better outcomes for low-income Canadians.