A growing number of Canadians, men in particular, have become more accustomed to working from home since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, are finding the experience positive and would like to continue remote work indefinitely, according to a new report on workplace preferences.
The report, prepared by the Future Skills Centre, Environics Institute for Survey Research, and the Diversity Institute at Toronto Metropolitan University’s Ted Rogers School of Management, lays out in statistical detail how Canadians have adapted to working away from the office over the past 2½ years.
The results are telling: Regardless of gender, occupation or whether they have children, Canadians who have worked from home either some days or a majority of days during the pandemic are showing a growing affinity toward remote work.
Yet the trend is now stronger among men than women. “The uptick in the number of males who prefer remote working is noticeable,” said Tricia Williams, one of the report’s authors and director of research, evaluation and knowledge mobilization at the Future Skills Centre think tank. “While women were previously more likely than men to prefer working from home, we see that this is no longer the case.”
The report was prepared based on a survey of 6,604 Canadians aged 18 and over, conducted from March 1 to April 18 this year in all provinces and territories. It is the fourth survey the institutes have carried out jointly since the start of the pandemic.
The subset of employees who have worked from home all or some days since the pandemic started consists of about 45 per cent of the workers polled. Another 42 per cent have continued to work at their workplaces, while 11 per cent were already working from home before the pandemic.
Among the subset, the proportion of workers who agree they like working from home a lot better than working in their regular workplace increased from 64 per cent in December, 2020, when respondents were first polled, to 78 per cent in March and April of 2022.
“We are seeing more settling in and overall comfort with working from home. And especially now that things have normalized a bit more, and schools have opened, we are seeing people say that they really want to keep working from home,” Dr. Williams said.
In the subset, 79 per cent of men and 77 per cent of women polled in March and April said they preferred working from home a lot more than working from the office. Back in December, 2020, just 60 per cent of men and 68 per cent of women preferred working from home.
Among men, 69 per cent polled in December, 2020, said they would like to continue working from home postpandemic, and that increased to 75 per cent this spring. Again, the increase was more dramatic among men.
On the question of whether employers should let workers continue working from home once the pandemic is declared over, 76 per cent of respondents somewhat or strongly agreed, an increase of five percentage points since December, 2020.
Meanwhile, concerns about the risks of working from home have declined. The number of workers who said they were worried working from home would have a negative impact on their careers declined from 45 per cent to 35 per cent from December, 2020, to March-April, 2022. But the report also found that young workers, workers with disabilities and Indigenous workers were the most concerned about the potential impact of working from home.
“It’s definitely still a nuanced story,” Dr. Williams explained. “Certain people, younger workers for example, are still concerned about working from home too often. But for the most part, people are learning that there are real advantages to this new way of working.”
The survey also looked at mental health. Employees who continued coming into their regular place of work tended to report poorer results. Remote workers, according to the report, were “no more likely to feel anxious or lonely compared to those who have been working at their regular place of work.”
In the case of workers aged 18 to 29, there was a clear and stark difference between the mental health of those who worked from home and those who didn’t. The latter group reported a higher likelihood of being anxious, lonely and depressed.
“We don’t exactly know why this is the case, but our findings have disputed the prevailing storyline that working from home is more isolating and detrimental to mental health,” Dr. Williams said.
Since the survey was conducted, much has changed for many white-collar employees. Public-health restrictions on gatherings and mask mandates have lifted, and an increasing number of employers are mandating a return to the office at least a few times a week.
Based on the survey results and her own research into workers’ preferences, Dr. Williams said employers will have to “work really hard” to get a core group of the working population back into the office.
“The people making decisions on returning to the office might prefer working from the office themselves. So it is good to have a sense, through data, of what employees really feel on the issue.”