Locals are embracing the work-from-home trend
At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, millions of workers across Canada transitioned to working from home or other remote locations while businesses closed their doors or restricted access.
This practice, known as telecommuting, is a growing trend — and it’s here to stay.
According to a study by Statistics Canada, about four percent of Canadians between the ages of 15 and 69 spent most of their working hours from home in 2016.1
Compare that to a February 2021 study during the pandemic, and the number had jumped to 32 percent. This equated to 3.1 million Canadians working remotely.
This prompted Statistics Canada to examine the impact of telecommuting on a worker’s productivity and preferences. The study was limited to those still with the same employer as in March 2019, a year before the pandemic began.
The result? About 90 percent of teleworkers reported being at least as productive as they were at their workplace.
More than half of the study group reported being just as productive as before, while 32 percent reported an increase in their productivity in their home work environment.
Only 10 percent said they felt less productive when working from home.
In the spring of 2022, when Manitoba’s pandemic restrictions were lifted and people began to return to their “normal” lives, many also returned to their original jobs.
However, others have been able to reap the benefits of teleworking and work with their employers to continue the arrangement on a full or part-time basis.
Some workers faced a complete career change in jobs where this was not possible.
The Canada Job Bank is an online portal where Canadians can get advice on new job opportunities. One of their job categories is specifically dedicated to working from home.
“In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic,” the website states, “remote working and working from home have become very popular and in demand.”2
Pauline Grouette lives in Howden, in the RM of Ritchot. In April of this year, Grouette quit her job as a dental assistant after 22 years in the profession.
During the pandemic, Grouette decided to broaden her skills and study to become a cognitive behavioral therapist and certified life coach. Little did she know that just a year later, this would lead to a complete career change.
“First I worked in a dental office while coaching part-time, but I soon realized that coaching had become my new passion,” says Grouette. “After such a long career bending over patients, my body was telling me to make the tough decision.”
She admits it wasn’t an easy decision, but she has no regrets.
“The benefits of working from home are great,” she adds. “The cost savings from vehicle costs like fuel and petrol and the time it takes to travel to and from the office. I can do housework and personal errands more easily because I manage my own schedule. Also in terms of my mental and physical health, I can focus on these areas as needed so I can strive for my fulfilling life.”
After years of working in a job where her time was highly structured, with schedules created by someone else, Grouette admits it’s been a big learning curve now that she’s structuring her own work-life -Balance is responsible.
Her husband and adult children were initially shocked by her decision but have given her their full support.
“I think if people can work from home, they will,” Grouette concludes. “Families in general may feel less anxious as it saves both time and money and creates a domino effect. Children may feel less anxious when parents are able to leave stressful work environments. Of course, every position is different, although employers recognize the value of good and loyal employees.”
Amy Allen’s experience didn’t involve a complete career change, but it did require a change of employer. Allen is in e-commerce and worked in a Winnipeg office until March 2020 when COVID restrictions forced everyone to work from home.
She says the challenges have been great during the times when mandates required her three children to go to school from home. Her husband also worked from home most days, so distractions were plentiful at times, especially when their internet bandwidth was lacking.
In the summer of 2021, Allen began rotating back into the Winnipeg office a few days a week. But within a short time, she found herself searching for job opportunities that would allow her to work from home.
She soon landed a telecommuting job with a Minneapolis-based company.
Admittedly, everyone finds it difficult to set a fixed start and end time for their everyday work. But overall, the change has done her good.
“In my day, there’s such an increased flexibility,” says Allen. “No extra commute time, the ability to run a quick errand, help my kids with something, or do a quick chore between calls.”
Before COVID, she says, tech industry employees were limited to about three brick-and-mortar businesses in Winnipeg. But as most of the workforce has adjusted to a teleworking environment, the framework has changed — and even the wage rate, she adds.
“There has been an incredible brain drain from technology companies over the past two and a half years as a result of rapid company growth [that are] able to hire remote workers,” says Allen. “I personally know several people who have doubled or even tripled their salary in tech because they shifted to remote work where before they could only work truly locally.”
Allen is confident that telecommuting will be here to stay, at least in the tech industry. Many companies are also giving up their office space to reduce overhead costs.
It was refreshing for Allen to be able to work independently and without the direct supervision of management. However, she recognizes that this requires much more trust on the part of management.
Still, the shift to working from home had its downsides.
“Organizational culture and a team environment have always been very important to me, which I think is definitely missing when working from home,” she says. “I’ve never met most of my employees in person and only know them from video calls.”
She predicts that this lack of personal connection with colleagues will likely lead to an overall reduction in employee retention over the long term.
And there shouldn’t be any roses for the industry as a whole either.
“Long term, these hiring levels and COVID-accelerated salary ranges are unlikely to be sustainable, especially during periods of downturn in economic conditions,” Allen says. “During COVID, there was an explosion of online shopping, so ecommerce companies were hiring to meet that demand. But now that things are reopening, e-commerce has taken a big hit. There have been layoffs at my company and many others I know of.”
Andrew Gorozhankin moved to Niverville with his wife and two children last August. The couple have given birth to their third child since the move and the household is undoubtedly very busy.
Gorozhankin works for Westeel, a Winnipeg-based granary manufacturing company. Until May of this year, he served the company in his role as commercial coordinator and customer experience agent.
“This winter was absolutely terrible,” says Gorozhankin. “Because of the road conditions, I missed at least one day a week almost every week… Fortunately, I was promoted to another position at the company and my current team and management are all working from home.”
Not only is he happy to lose the daily commute, he says current gas prices have made it almost impossible to afford.
Most importantly, the flexibility of working from home allows him to be much more involved in raising his children. The couple, who hail from Ukraine and Israel, have no family or friends nearby that the couple could turn to for help with the children.
In his new role, Gorozhankin will be responsible for sales and aftersales support for the company’s export customers in countries across Europe and New Zealand.
“It’s a full-time job, and since my clients live in completely different time zones, I have to attend meetings early in the morning or late at night,” he says. “So working from home…is a huge benefit.”
While he misses some aspects of office life, like hanging out with his colleagues on a regular basis, working from home has few other downsides.
“I have not noticed it [much disadvantage]unless my PC was blocked by my kids when I left the door to my office open,” he jokes.
Gorozhankin is keeping his fingers crossed that his telework can continue in the long term. His employer, he says, is trying to expand its office space in Winnipeg.
Brenda Sawatzky, reporter for the Local Journalism Initiative, The Niverville Citizen