The vast majority of new teleworkers say they’re just as productive working from home, although a sizable number of people are logging more hours, a worrying sign for employee health as the pandemic passes the one-year mark.
Millions of Canadians have made the shift to remote work over the past year, decamping from office cubicles and boardrooms to kitchen tables and spare bedrooms. For many, it’s largely a new arrangement they’ve had to adapt to.
Despite that shift, new teleworkers say their productivity hasn’t waned, according to a Statistics Canada study published on Thursday. More than half (58 per cent) reported they were accomplishing the same amount of work per hour, while 32 per cent said they were actually getting more done.
At the same time, many are pulling longer hours. More than one-third of new teleworkers (35 per cent) are working more, with about half of managers in that situation. And while 44 per cent who accomplished less per hour were working longer, nearly half of the overproductive group were putting in more time as well.
That’s a concerning development for the health of Canada’s work force. After one year of the pandemic, there are mounting anecdotes of stress, fatigue and burnout among those working in relative isolation. And with much of the country now grappling with a third wave of infections, timetables for returning to the office are quite shaky – a situation that has pushed some workers to a breaking point.
“This blurring of work and life makes it really difficult to walk away from the work,” said Zabeen Hirji, executive adviser on the future of work at Deloitte. “Mental-health issues, for a lot of people, that’s definitely growing.”
The Statscan study focused on new teleworkers, or those who mostly worked outside the home before the pandemic, but logged most of their hours from home in mid-February. It also focused on those who have worked for the same employer since at least March, 2019.
The statistical agency noted that, at the outset of 2021, about one-third of Canadian employees between the ages of 15 and 69 worked most of their hours from home, compared with 4 per cent in 2016.
The study’s results suggest many overachievers have doubled down on work, although reasons for that weren’t given. However, a recent Globe and Mail story pointed to a number of factors. For one, the pandemic has eroded work-life balance. Many workers are also keen to prove their value, given they’re less visible outside of the office, and with the broader job market experiencing millions of layoffs. And with plenty of restrictions on social interactions, work has become the focal point of many people’s lives.
Still, most new teleworkers see value in the arrangement. Eighty per cent said they’d like to work at least half their hours from home once the pandemic is over, the study found. Workers who accomplished more remotely were especially interested. Many people, Ms. Hirji said, are pleased to cut back on commutes and gain time with family members.
“It’s the hybrid model that people want the most,” said Ms. Hirji, referring to workweeks that are split between the office and home. “I think they want to demonstrate to employers that this is actually workable.”
It’s unclear how companies will adapt. Many are looking to off-load office space and make telework a permanent feature. But other companies increasingly see the value of having an office.
Last spring, “there was more noise about reducing space,” said Ray Wong, vice-president of data operations at Altus Group. “Now, there’s still discussion of reducing space, but not as much, just with the realization of synergies and company culture that you don’t get from working from home.”
Furthermore, while people say they’re just as productive, their employers may not agree. “Whether the productivity assessments made by Canadian workers regarding telework match those of their employers is currently unknown,” Statscan said.
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