The ramifications of the months-long pandemic include everything from how workplaces are run to where we live—and whether the small business that surround office buildings survive.
Only a small fraction of employees who took up home office during the COVID-19 pandemic have returned to full-time work, and that has ramifications for everything from how workplaces are run to where we live—and whether the small businesses that surround office buildings survive.
Nearly 75% of the 3.4 million Canadians who began working from home at the outset of the crisis were still working remotely in August, according to Labour Force Survey data released by Statistics Canada on Friday.
Another survey suggests that those employees are happy with this new arrangement—many say they would like to continue working from home indefinitely. Maru/Blue on behalf of ADP Canada found that 45% of survey respondents would prefer to work remotely at least three days a week. Another 15% would like to work remotely one or two days a week.
Fear of infection was a key factor in the views expressed by respondents. Of the 12% who said they were anxious about returning to their former work locations, 56% said it was because they were worried about contracting the coronavirus. Another 13% said they didn’t know how they could meet their family responsibilities while working away from home—things like caring for elderly family members or children whose schools could close at any moment. Young people were more likely to believe that the tide is turning permanently in favor of flexible work. Forty-four per cent of respondents aged 18 to 34 said they believe their employers will implement more flexible policies within the next five years, including flextime and remote work; 28% said they believe most people will work remotely by then.
Winners and losers
The above is great news for businesses and individuals that are able to cut costs while remaining gainfully employed. Yet it is devastating for those businesses that are built up around workplaces—from the stationers and dry cleaners in the lower levels of office buildings to the pubs where people eat lunch or go for a drink after work.
Furthermore, many believe that office numbers won’t return to previous levels any time in the near future. Emily Brine, interim chief talent officer of accounting firm KPMG Canada, recently told CBC that the company will be bringing a maximum of just 20% of its 8,000 workers back to their offices across the country in the coming months. At the same time, some Canadians are concluding that if they don’t need to work downtown, they may not want to live there, either, which will likewise have a knock on effect on the “ecosystem” of businesses in such neighborhoods.
Put simply, it is an exciting time for the future of work if you are an employee who finds it more comfortable—and convenient—working from home than traveling to the office. Yet the crisis generated by the coronavirus pandemic has touched so many areas of the economy that we are only just beginning to understand the true impact of the new normal.