April 2020

Five ways of dealing with market volatility
Economic crises: what can we learn from the past?

Search the archives

The front page

Working from home:  what are the stakes?

Working from home: what are the stakes?

With the pandemic, thousands of employers and workers have been discovering the many facets of working from home (WFH). Will telework be the way of the future? A key question for business owners.

What will happen to working from home after the COVID-19 pandemic? More and more people are expecting companies to offer employees the WFH option at least part of the time. Health considerations aside, this decision will be influenced by factors such as the cost of rent, not to mention the time, expense and environmental impact of commuting.

It might still be too early to firm up any scenarios. However, here is an overview focusing on 7 key issues.

1. What do companies have in mind?

For the moment, the only news about this is coming from various articles in the media. For example, one Canadian province – Quebec – recently said that it wanted to keep 10% to 30% of its civil servants working from home. Since the start of the pandemic, teleworking would have already saved the province about $18 million.

Data published by Statistics Canada in July could give a more precise idea of what to expect on a national scale. As we can see below, about 13% of companies already had more than a fifth of their employees working from home before the pandemic. After the pandemic, about 19% expect to be in that situation.

 

Line graph showing that before the pandemic, 12.7% of Canadian companies had at least one-fifth of their employees working from home. The curve then climbs to 29% on May 29, in the middle of the lockdown. And 18.9% of companies expect to have that percentage of their employees working from home after the pandemic.

 

Another insight: according to a survey by OVHcloud, half of Canadian businesses are not confident that they can support remote work over the long term due to the costs and issues associated with technology, cybersecurity and information privacy.

2. What about SMEs?

These prospects vary depending on the sector, the age of the company and its size. For example, smaller companies would be much more likely to promote WFH. The switch seems tougher for larger SMEs, perhaps because there are more manufacturing companies in this group. Interestingly, companies with a majority owner (such as the founder) are below the national average when it comes to plans for telecommuting.

 

Bar graph showing that post-pandemic plans are not the same for all companies. While about 18% of companies with 1 to 4 employees expect to have at least one-fifth of their staff working from home, barely 6% of companies with 5 to 19 employees are expecting the same. The figure is down to 4% for companies with 20 to 99 employees, and about 7% for companies with 100 employees or more. Interestingly, about 13% of companies with a majority owner plan to be in this situation.

 

3. How about a hybrid?

One frequently mentioned solution is the hybrid job that would allow employees to work either in the office or from home, or to telecommute part of the time. In an article published in Wired, the founder of a company using remote work exclusively warns against being tempted by the hybrid route. In his opinion, the hybrid option creates two fundamentally different experiences for employees, along with an implicit hierarchy that will disadvantage some of them. The author argues in favour of going 100% remote… or 100% in-office. Read his opinion

4. What are the anticipated benefits?

Actually, the anticipated benefits could be substantial. According to a survey done by the University of Toronto, 83% of employees would like to be offered a different work model than what they had before the crisis. Employers could benefit from meeting this expectation, since the cost of stress, exhausting travel and frequent work interruptions could be in the millions every year. Many companies are also expected to shed some of their office space, resulting in further savings. On the whole, based on figures published in Forbes, each teleworker would represent savings of about US$10,000 per year for the employer.

5. What surprises could be in store?

There are a number of concerns about the broader implications of working from home. Among those most commonly mentioned are:

  • Lower productivity
    A recent survey in a major Canadian city suggested that teleworking would be less productive for a number of businesses. It should be stressed, however, that other studies show an increase in productivity. The question is still open for debate.
  • Devitalization of urban centres
    According to researchers, urban density is associated with higher productivity and smaller carbon footprints for employees, and promotes interaction and innovation.
  • Offshoring and wage adjustments
    Some experts feel that if employees are no longer required to be physically present they could find themselves competing with people elsewhere in the country (or the world) who might work for lower pay.

6. Work as a social space

Another effect under discussion concerns the social role of the workplace, which, based on the data below from a survey done by Nazarene University, shouldn’t be underestimated. This question comes to mind: once work has been “delivered” from home, who will be around for spontaneous conversations about other areas of life?

 

Diagram comprised of two groups of circle graphs summarizing the results of a survey on social aspects of the workplace. The first group shows the percentage of time at work spent talking about things unrelated to work, with 30% of respondents saying that they spend a few minutes, 30% less than 30 minutes, 22% from 30 to 60 minutes and 18% more than an hour. The second group shows the subjects up for discussion, with 58% of respondents saying that they talk about their love life, 53% about health issues, 33% about financial issues and 64% about conflict with coworkers.

 

7. A question of personal finances, too

Finally, some think that companies promoting telework will have to compensate their employees for a home office: workstation, ergonomic chair, computer, high-speed Internet connection, etc. That would not always have been the case before the pandemic. According to a study by McGill University, an employer should reimburse a telecommuting employee to the tune of $5,000 to $16,000 per year.

Add to that questions about the deductibility of office expenses for telecommuters – which is not always obvious – and you have some idea of the complex choices awaiting companies and their employees!

 

The following sources were used to prepare this article:

Advisor.ca,Deducting home office expenses during the pandemic”.
Courrier international,Cols blancs, prenez garde : le télétravail causera votre perte”.
CPA – Pivot Magazine,Joy Thomas looks back -- and forward”.
Forbes,4 Reasons Why A Remote Workforce Is Better For Business”.
Forbes,Télétravail: les économies des entreprises sur le dos des employés”.
La Presse+,Exit téléphone fixe, bonjour bureau virtuel”.
Les Affaires,1 employeur sur 2 s'apprête à renoncer au télétravail !”.
Olivet (Nazarene University),Research on friends at work”.
Radio-Canada,Le télétravail serait moins productif pour 24 % des entreprises”.
Statistics Canada,Percentage of workforce teleworking or working remotely, and percentage of workforce expected to continue teleworking or working remotely after the pandemic, by business characteristics”.
The Economist,Covid-19 challenges New York’s future”.
Wall Street Journal,When It’s Time to Go Back to the Office, Will It Still Be There?”.
Wired,Hybrid Remote Work Offers the Worst of Both Worlds” ; “Remote Work Has Its Perks, Until You Want a Promotion””.