Nearly two-thirds of Canadians now working from home because of COVID-19 restrictions expect to carry on doing so after the pandemic is over, the Angus Reid Institute reports.
“Among those working from home (just under one-third of Canada’s adult population), only 36% say they will likely go back to their place of work when COVID-19 concerns subside,” the non-profit polling agency reports. “Most who work remotely anticipate splitting time between their workplace and home, while one in five (20%) say they will remain primarily at home.”
Among the one-third of 18- to 34-year-olds and two-fifths of 35- to 54-year-olds who’ve been working from home, 15% say the experience has been terrible for their mental health, 16% say it’s been great, and 68% report that it’s been “okay”.
Angus Reid notes the speculation about how and whether to return to traditional workplaces is nice for those who can engage in it, but “something of a luxury” for many others. Among the 28% of the Canadian adult work force who’ve lost hours or been laid off during the pandemic, 29% say they doubt they’ll get the same number of hours back, and 9% report their jobs are gone forever. Those numbers have doubled since the end of March.
Some of the same trends are taking shape in the United States, where the New York Times cites an estimate that half of the country’s work force is now working remotely, up from 15% pre-COVID and 5.3% in 2018. The feature profiles a travelling salesperson who previously spent 80% of his time on the road (selling vacuum cleaners, but in the 2020 version of the story, robotic ones—you can’t make this stuff up!), but now says he and his colleagues are wondering “what’s crazier: being forced to work from home, peering into a webcam all day? Or the way they used to work?”
The Times says the shift is “deeply skewed toward the privileged: Many employees who work in health care, public transportation, or the service sector, for instance, have never been given the option to work remotely, during the crisis or before.”
But “the coronavirus crisis is forcing white collar America to reconsider nearly every aspect of office life. Some practices now seem to be wastes of time, happily discarded; others seem to be unexpectedly crucial, and impossible to replicate online. For workers wondering right now if they’re ever going back to the office, the most honest answer is this: Even if they do, the office might never be the same.”
And in both countries, the differences in commercial and residential energy use patterns, commute times, and the congestion and tailpipe emissions that used to be standard features of a regular work day are only beginning to be sorted out. It’s early days, but studies are beginning to show that people working from home are more productive and happier in their job, while companies are paying attention to the money they can save on leased work space.
“There’s all kinds of habits and practices that develop that aren’t effective,” Slack CEO Stewart Butterfield told the Times. “You think you can’t do something — and then you have to do it. And so it turns out you can.”
On the retail side, the federal and Ontario governments announced a new program last week worth nearly C$58 million to help small businesses move their operations online. Most of the money will support the expansion of Digital Main Street, a new initiative by Toronto-area Business Improvement Areas.
“Storefront small businesses were among the first forced to close because of the novel coronavirus pandemic, driving revenues down to the point where many struggle to pay bills—and a growing number have shut down for good,” the Globe and Mail reports. Now, the two governments “hope to help as many as 21,900 Ontario businesses boost their digital presences through Digital Main Street while creating 1,400 student co-op jobs to develop e-commerce stores.”