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Most Canadians Want to Work From Home—Time to Rejig Business Priorities

Updated: Aug 25, 2021

Let’s face it, the Covid-19 pandemic has changed pretty much everything, including the way we look at work. Businesses have had to shut down, reopen, shut down again, and reopen again. They’ve had to furlough or lay-off employees, and now are finding it hard to rehire or replace those employees. Many businesses have experienced their office workers picking up their laptops and monitors and setting up make-shift offices at home.

All of this turmoil has resulted in a big shift in thinking of where work needs to happen—and a lot of people like it.

According to a study done by the Business Development Bank of Canada, more than half of Canadian employees would like to work from home as much or more than they do now. The main benefit, of course, is the avoidance of a lengthy commute.

Canadians (and I’m sure this holds true for other countries as well) have discovered they far prefer the commute from the bedroom to the home office space over the time spent in cars or public transit. They’ve found they like having the extra time spent with family members, in physical activity, or even in just enjoying a relaxed (versus rushed) cup of coffee.

This study, just released, tells about the same story as a study published by RBC in January of this year, which showed that as many as 80% of employees want to work from home, at least part time.

Right now, employers are in a bit of a quandary, and Human Resources departments are working overtime to try to sort it all out. There’s all this office space sitting empty, and there needs to be a plan to use it or lose it. As the world is now used to remote work, people can look far beyond their local markets for new opportunities, so retention is a concern. Understanding people can move from high cost centers like Vancouver or Toronto to live in less expensive markets, how are salaries and cost-of-living stipends affected? There is a lot to consider, but it would appear we have to buckle down and deal with it.

To me, this may be the most telling statistic: Only 20% of employees were entirely opposed to the idea of working at home full-time. People are used to working from home—and they LIKE it.

What has changed, in the last little while, is the willingness of employers to continue with remote working. In January, surveys indicated only about 20% of employers were on board. But the BDC survey indicates it’s now a lot higher, with 74% of businesses allowing their employees to work from home post-pandemic.

This data tells us that allowing employees to work from home, at least part of the time, is important for employee engagement and retention. So, if you’re an employer who can make this happen, you need to build this into your strategy going ahead. It’s no longer an option—employees are demanding it, and they will look elsewhere if they can’t get it from their current employer.

Along with adopting the mindset for ongoing work from home, leaders will have to also consider how to make that more comfortable for employees, allowing for maximum productivity. Here’s an example of where my mind is going…

Recently I spoke with a group of managers about how comfortable the work-from-home set-ups were for their reports. The driver for this inquiry was what Microsoft published in its 2021 Work Trend Index report. What they found was that, even after more than a year of working from home, 42% of employees surveyed lacked essential office supplies, and 10% didn’t have adequate internet connection.

The managers I spoke to advised me they had employees who didn’t have great internet, and this was a problem because they’re developers doing tech work all the time (i.e. good internet is not a luxury, it’s a necessity). When asked what the company was doing about it, the answer was nothing, since paying for one employee’s internet upgrade meant they’d have to pay for it for everyone. This company is not the only one experiencing this. A study done by LeNovo found that workers have had to make personal investments in tech, which their employers haven’t helped with.

Seven-in-ten employees surveyed globally said they purchased new technology to navigate working remotely.
Nearly 40 percent of those surveyed have had to partially or fully fund their own tech upgrades.

Honestly, I don’t see what the stumbling block is here. If companies no longer have to pay rent on large office spaces, if they no longer have to supply as many food and coffee perks at the office, if they’ve saved a fortune on travel expenses and company events due to the need for social distancing, why can’t they allocate some of those funds to supplying what employees need to work well?

If it means they’ll be helping employees be successful and feel cared for, this is money well spent. It’ll pay off in productivity, engagement, and retention. Managers would be wise to ask for budget to help their people work effectively, and companies would be wise to honour that request.

In a time where CEOs make more than 200 times what their employees make, it’s hard to justify not paying for work necessities. Perhaps it’s time for a rejig of priorities.

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