After a full year of working from home without spending money on commuting, work clothes or eating out, Alanna Tomson said the savings added up enough to cover the cost of her first car in years.
Ms. Tomson, who lives and works in downtown Toronto, said she didn’t enjoy working from home at first but is now hoping to work remotely permanently because of the benefits around her financial life – and her productivity. She suspects her employer will start bringing more employees into the office as the pandemic settles down, but isn’t sure if they’ll have to be on-site everyday.
“It’s been a pretty significant impact,” said Ms. Tomson, who added that it’s nice to be able to throw in a load of laundry during her work day and that the car – which cost $13,000 – has improved her quality of life.
Going forward, the 42-year-old administrative operations manager plans to use the money she saves each month to make investments for her retirement.
Ms. Tomson is among many Canadian workers who feel strongly that they’d like to work from home permanently after the pandemic, whether that means coming into the office occasionally or never at all. A recent study by Robert Half, one of Canada’s largest recruitment agencies, found that 33 per cent of workers would look for a new job if they were required to return to the office full time.
The same study found that 51 per cent of workers prefer a hybrid model where they work partly from home and partly in the office, when needed.
“I think the office of the future will be an office where people are coming in to drive innovation, drive collaboration and build that human connection with their colleagues,” said Mike Shekhtman, a regional president for Western Canada with Robert Half.
“And when an employee has to put their head down to focus on work, I think that’s where they can spend a majority of their time out of the office.”
Mr. Shekhtman said it’ll be a challenge to balance the needs of all of their employees, many of whom will have differing opinions about whether they want to return to the office full time or not.
He said employers will have to consider the ways that some workers benefited with remote work. If they want employees to return to the office full-time, Mr. Shekhtman said managers should consider supporting their employees by subsidizing commuting costs, better supporting child-care needs, or providing flexible on-site hours so employees can drop off and pick up their kids from school.
“As tough as being thrust into working from home was, coming back is going to be much harder and more complex,” he said.
Jason Heath, a certified financial planner and managing director of Objective Financial Partners, a fee-only financial planning firm in Markham, Ont., pointed out that the benefits of working at home have typically skewed toward white-collar employees in office jobs.
But for those who have benefited, Mr. Heath said the financial impact has been significant, especially for people who’ve decided to move further out of urban centres such as Toronto.
“I think there’s a lot of people who can barely afford to pay their mortgage that, if they were able to move to a lower-cost area, not only might they have a smaller mortgage but they might have extra cashflow for things like saving and investing,” he said.
Mr. Heath said he’s seeing a trend of people downsizing their mortgages by moving further away from the Greater Toronto Area. Others are moving much further – beyond driving distance from the cities where they work, such as one of his clients who is hoping to move to the East Coast from Toronto.
“They’re on the fence because their employer has said they want them to be within driving distance of the office,” Mr. Heath said.
“So what do you do? Do you take a risk and move, cross your fingers that work from home lasts and if push comes to shove that they won’t terminate you for moving? I think there’s going to be a lot of that in the course of the next year.”
He also said commuting expenses around driving alone represent enormous savings for many workers. The Canada Revenue Agency estimates that it costs 59 cents per kilometre on average to drive a car for work purposes, which includes the cost of the car, gas, insurance and maintenance.
Mr. Heath said many people will drive between 5,000 and 10,000 kilometres a year for work, representing savings between $3,000 and $6,000 for commuting alone.
The result is that many of his clients are looking to redirect their saved income toward better investing for their future. Mr. Heath said some people could even work to retire early as a result of their savings.
“There’s a lot of millennials and Gen X workers that could, in my opinion, really improve their quality of life financially and accelerate their financial independence by taking advantage of working from home,” he said.
Many workers have also benefited from the flexibility that working from home provides. This includes Jo-Anne Johnson, a temp worker in payroll departments who lives with her mother in Fort Langley, B.C.
Her mother is deaf and in her 80s, and has started to require more support over the past year. Ms. Johnson said remote work has allowed her to be close to her mother while remaining productive at work.
Her family would have to consider the added cost of a personal support worker if Ms. Johnson’s next job required her to come into the office full-time.
“We’d have to find someone for her, and she hates strangers,” she said about her mother.
While Ms. Johnson accepts that she may have trouble finding a remote job postpandemic, she said she’ll never go back to commuting between two and four hours a day to go into Vancouver for work.
Back in Toronto, those hours in the morning spent getting ready and commuting are also a large part of the reason Ms. Tomson hopes to keep working from home in a hybrid model.
“I can start working when my brain works best,” said Ms. Tomson, who said she feels most productive between 7 a.m. and 1 p.m., but felt she’d waste some of those morning hours pre-pandemic.
“Given the social nature that I have, I enjoy going to an office, but not every day.”