Will the COVID-19 pandemic lead to a permanent revolution in working from home?

By | May 25, 2020

TORONTO — As tech companies across the country begin to offer more long-term work-from-home options, experts believe there will still be a role for the traditional office space in the future.

In April, a Statistics Canada survey indicated that 4.7 million Canadians began to work remotely as part of measures meant to limit the spread of COVID-19, while another 2.1 million Canadians were already working from home before the outbreak began.

Some tech companies, including Shopify, Google, Facebook and Twitter, have all began offering extended work-from-home options for their employees.

Huda Idrees, the founder and CEO of Dot Health, an app that collects and stores the user’s health information, said her company will also adopt permanent work-from-home measures once the contract for their downtown Toronto office expires at the end of the year.

“What we found is that we were quite productive working remotely,” she told CTV News.

Zabeen Hirji, executive adviser for Future of Work, believes that while there are plenty of obvious benefits to working from home — including a lack of commuting and more time with family — traditional offices may not be going anywhere just yet.

“I think there will be a need to bring people together physically and it could be that people work three days from home and two days from the office,” she said.

Hirji also served as the chief human resources officer at the Royal Bank of Canada for 10 years and said some employees were still hesitant to work from home as the company began offering more options to do so.

“RBC had flexible work arrangements and the option to work form home some of the time, but I was not comfortable taking advantage of it,” she said. “There was stigma attached to it.”

Hirji said the employees she’s talked to also have concerns with working from home, including less productivity, lengthy virtual meetings and missing a social interaction with colleagues.

“There are people that can’t work from home,” she said. “They can’t work from home because they don’t have the space (or) because they feel isolated.”

That said, a reduced reliance on office spaces could be a big problem for cities.

“When the rent starts to decline the leases stop renewing at the same rate then that valuation of properties may go down,” said Murtaza Haider, professor of real estate management at Ryerson University.

In Toronto, the municipal government collects more than $4.5 billion annually in property taxes, nearly half of which is from companies.

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