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Canadians expect more working from home in post-COVID-19 world

Almost two-thirds of Canada’s “provisional home workers” (65%) say they hope to be able to work from home more often once the COVID-19 outbreak ends.
Working from home / Unsplash

When nearly all Canadians go back to a workweek that resembles the ones we enjoyed before the COVID-19 outbreak, the experiences of employees who have been required to fulfil their duties from home will play a key role in the development of office spaces, schedules and goal-setting sessions.

Due to the nature of the tasks they perform, many Canadians have not been able to work from home. Those who hold positions that require access to a computer have attempted to create “home offices” on kitchen tables. Television has allowed us to peer into the homes of anchors and reporters. As viewers, we have become more forgiving of issues such as faulty wireless connections and wayward pets.

This month, Research Co. and Glacier Media found that almost three in four Canadians (73%) expect more people to work from home than before once the COVID-19 outbreak ends. Canadians aged 55 and over are more likely to foresee this change (77%) than those aged 35 to 54 (73%) and those aged 18 to 34 (70%).

Quebecers appear more ready for a world with more Canadians working from home (79%) than residents of Atlantic Canada (76%), British Columbia (73%), Ontario (72%), Alberta (71%) and Saskatchewan and Manitoba (60%).

For the past few weeks, many Canadians have relied on software for chats with parents, virtual “play dates” for their children and a way to send their best wishes to friends and relatives who, in other circumstances, would have joined them at the dinner table on Easter Sunday.

The ability to discuss an issue with people far away has other implications. More than three in five Canadians (63%) told us they expect more companies to phase out business travel in favour of teleconferencing once the COVID-19 outbreak ends. Three regions of the country appear to be looking forward to this prudent concept: Atlantic Canada (67%), Quebec (also 67%) and British Columbia (65%).

Our survey took a deeper look at the recent experiences of Canadians who have had to work from home on account of the COVID-19 outbreak. We purposely chose not to ask questions of those who previously chose to avoid “office life” for other reasons.

Almost seven in 10 of Canada’s “provisional home workers” (69%) claim their company is perfectly equipped for them to fulfil their duties from home. Four in five of them (80%) feel their company trusts they are doing their work from home.

In spite of the sudden change, almost two-thirds of Canada’s “provisional home workers” (65%) say they hope to be able to work from home more often once the COVID-19 outbreak ends. Those in Quebec are particularly fond of the idea of keeping their home office once their workplace is open again (76%), while those in Atlantic Canada are the least convinced (50%).

A home office can provide many distractions that are often difficult to find at a regular workplace, including entertainment, snacking, interacting with family and taking that personal phone call that would look awkward in a cubicle setting. Almost half of Canada’s “provisional home workers” (46%) are having a difficult time due to distractions at home. Nowhere are these disruptions to the workday more rampant than in British Columbia (55%).

We also found a sense of longing for the camaraderie that an office space brings and that cannot be replicated entirely by teleconferencing. Two-thirds of Canada’s “provisional home workers” (67%) miss interacting with other people at their regular office or workplace. The numbers are highest in British Columbia (73%), Ontario (72%) and Atlantic Canada (also 72%).

In any case, three in five “provisional home workers” (62%) say working from home has been easier than they originally thought, and only 44% miss commuting to their regular workplace. There are some regional differences on this issue, with 50% of those in Quebec aching for their ride to the office, compared to only 38% in Alberta.

Many of Canada’s “provisional home workers” have been fulfilling their duties from home for more than a month. While it would be unwise to speculate on how long these conditions will continue, there are some inescapable business considerations.

Once COVID-19 passes, frugality will affect the decisions of business owners that may have overspent on commercial real estate. Workers who possess the proper tools to do their job from home may ask for one or two days a week away from the office, but not steering clear of responsibilities and duties.

Most Canadians expect the era of overzealous bosses demanding personal meetings that require air travel to be supplanted by teleconferencing. If this idea materializes, airlines may have to come up with a new term to refer to what is currently labelled as “business class.”

Mario Canseco is president of Research Co.

Results are based on an online study conducted April 9–April 11, 2020, among 1,000 adults in Canada. The data has been statistically weighted according to Canadian census figures for age, gender and region. The margin of error, which measures sample variability, is plus or minus 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.