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The number of Canadians working from home is now roughly equal to the number of those working outside of the home as COVID-19 forces millions of people to flee their typical job locations.

During the week of March 22 to 28, roughly 4.7 million Canadians worked from home that normally do not, according to survey results published Friday by Statistics Canada. Combined with those who usually work from home, about 40 per cent of workers (6.8 million) are now working from home, compared with 6.7 million who are not.

In addition, Statscan said 2.8 million workers were absent from their jobs in the survey week due to COVID-19, including those temporarily laid off.

Canada’s labour market is undergoing a brutal transformation as the novel coronavirus forces a widespread shutdown of key sectors, leading to record-setting layoffs and work disruptions.

Last week, Statscan said employment plummeted by just over one million people in March, and that a further 2.1 million Canadians remained employed but worked less than half their usual hours, or not at all. April job losses are expected to be much worse, given that Statscan’s figures reflected labour conditions from March 15 to 21, before the brunt of layoffs.

The March job losses were especially severe in service industries where face-to-face contact is necessary and work-from-home arrangements are not possible. For instance, nearly 300,000 people lost their jobs in the accommodation and food services industry last month.

In Friday’s report, Statscan pointed to an educational divide in who can work from home. Those who don’t normally work from home but did during the week of March 22 were much more likely to have a bachelor’s degree of higher (58.4 per cent) than those who worked outside of the home (21.5 per cent) and those who were absent from work (26.9 per cent).

“This provides further evidence that working from home is more feasible for workers employed in professional or managerial occupations, which typically require higher levels of education,” the statistical agency said.

Among those new to working from home, about 40 per cent live with a child under the age of 18, “and likely experienced new challenges in balancing work and family life,” Statscan said. This cohort, however, was just as likely to report having good, very good or excellent mental health as those who normally work from home and those who worked in other locations.

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