Original Published on Jul 26, 2022 at 15:17
By Brenda Sawatzky, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, millions of workers across Canada transitioned to working from home, or from other remote locations, while business closed their doors or restricted access.
The practice, known as telework, is a growing trend—and it’s here to stay.
According to a Statistics Canada study, in 2016 approximately four percent of Canadians between the ages of 15 and 69 were putting in the majority of their work hours from home.1
Compare that to study from February 2021, during the pandemic, and the number had jumped to 32 percent. This amounted to 3.1 million Canadians working remotely.
This led Statistics Canada to investigate the impact of telework on a worker’s productivity and preferences. The study was restricted to those who were still with the same employer they’d been with in March 2019, one year prior to the start of the pandemic.
The result? About 90 percent of teleworkers reported being at least as productive as they had been previously at their place of work.
More than half of the study group said they were equally as productive as they were before, while 32 percent indicated an increase in their productivity in their home work environment.
A mere 10 percent reported feeling less productive while working from home.
In the spring of 2022, as pandemic restrictions lifted in Manitoba and people began to transition back to their “regular” lives, many also returned to their original workplaces.
Others, though, were able to embrace the benefits of telework and collaborate with their employers to continue the arrangement on a full- or part-time basis.
For some workers, in jobs where this was not possible, a complete career change was in store.
The Canada Job Bank is an online portal where Canadians can get leads on new employment opportunities. One of their job categories is dedicated specifically to work-from-home jobs.
“In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic,” the site states, “remote work and home-based employment have become very popular and in-demand.”2
Pauline Grouette lives in Howden, in the RM of Ritchot. In April of this year, Grouette left her job as a dental assistant after 22 years in that profession.
During the pandemic, Grouette decided to broaden her skillset and study to become a cognitive behaviour therapist and certified life coach. Little did she know that it would result in a complete career shift just one year later.
“At first I was working in a dental office while coaching part-time, but I soon realized that coaching had become my new passion,” Grouette says. “After such a long career slouching over patients, my body told me to make the hard decision.”
She admits that it wasn’t an easy decision, but she has no regrets.
“The benefits of working at home are great,” she adds. “The costs saved from vehicle expenses like fuel and gas and the time travelling to and from the office. I can manage household and personal errands easier since I manage my own schedule. In terms of my mental and physical health, I can also concentrate on these areas as I need to so that I can aim for my most fulfilling life.”
After working for years at a job where her time was highly structured, with schedules created by someone else, Grouette admits it’s been a big learning curve now that she’s responsible for structuring her own work-life balance.
Her husband and adult children were shocked by her decision at first but have been fully supportive.
“I think if people are able to work from home, they will,” Grouette concludes. “Families in general may feel less anxious as they save time as well as money, creating a domino effect. The children may feel less anxiety if parents are able to leave stressful work environments. Of course, every position is different, though employers are realizing the value of good and faithful employees.”
Amy Allen’s experience didn’t include a complete career swap, but it did require a change in employer. Allen is in e-commerce and had been working out of a Winnipeg office until March 2020 when COVID restrictions forced everyone to work from home.
She says that the challenges were great during the periods of time when mandates required her three children to school from home. Most days her husband also worked from home, so at times distractions were aplenty, especially when their internet bandwidth lacked.
In the summer of 2021, Allen began making the transition back to the Winnipeg office a couple of days a week. But within a short time, she found herself on the hunt for job opportunities that would allow her to work from home.
She soon landed a telework job with a company based out of Minneapolis.
Admittedly, Allen struggles with establishing a definitive start and stop time to her daily workday routine. But all in all, the change has done her good.
“There is such an increased flexibility in my day,” Allen says. “No added commute time, the ability to run a quick errand, help out my kids with something, or start a quick chore between calls.”
Prior to COVID, she says, people working in the tech industry were limited to about three brick-and-mortar companies in Winnipeg. But with the bulk of the workforce adjusting to a telework environment, the playing field has changed—and even the pay rate, she adds.
“There has been an incredible amount of churn in tech companies in the last two and a half years as a result of the rapid growth of companies [that are] able to hire remote employees,” Allen says. “I personally know multiple people that have doubled or even tripled their salary in tech as a result of branching out to remote work, when previously they were only really able to work locally.”
Allen is confident that telework is here to stay, at least in the tech industry. Many companies, too, are giving up their office space to reduce overhead costs.
For Allen, being able to work independently without direct management oversight has been refreshing. She recognizes, though, that it requires a lot more trust from the management side of things.
Even so, the move to working from home has had its drawbacks.
“Company culture and a team environment has always been very important to me, something that I feel is definitely lacking when working from home,” she says. “I’ve never even met most of my team in person and only know them from video calls.”
She predicts that this lack of personal connection with fellow colleagues will likely result in an overall reduction in employee loyalty in the long run.
And it may not come up roses for the industry as a whole either.
“Long-term, these hiring levels and COVID-accelerated salary ranges are likely not sustainable, especially in the downturn of economic conditions,” says Allen. “During COVID, there was an explosion of online shopping, so e-commerce companies were hiring to match that demand. But now that things are reopened, e-commerce has taken a huge hit. There have been layoffs at my company and many others that I know of.”
Andrew Gorozhankin moved to Niverville last August with his wife and two children. The couple has given birth to their third child since the move and the household is undoubtedly a busy one.
Gorozhankin works for Westeel, a grain storage manufacturing company based in Winnipeg. Until May of this year, he served the company in his role of commercial coordinator and customer experience agent.
“This winter it was totally horrible,” Gorozhankin says. “I missed at least one day a week almost every week due to the road conditions… Luckily for me, I was promoted to another position in the company and my current team and management all work from home.”
Not only is he glad to lose the daily commute, he says the current gas prices would have made it almost impossible to afford.
Most importantly, the flexibility of working from home allows him to be much more involved in raising his children. Hailing from Ukraine and Israel, there are no family or friends nearby for the couple to turn to for help with the children.
In his new role, Gorozhankin is responsible for sales and aftersales support to the company’s export customers in countries around Europe and New Zealand.
“It is a full-time job and considering my customers have totally different time zones, I have to participate in meetings in the early mornings or late evenings,” he says. “So working from home… is a big advantage.”
While there are aspects of office life that he misses, like rubbing shoulders with his colleagues on a regular basis, there are few other drawbacks to working from home.
“I didn’t notice [much disadvantage], unless my PC was blocked by my kids when I left my workplace door open,” he jokes.
Gorozhankin is keeping his fingers crossed that his telework can continue long-term. His employer, he says, is currently looking to increase their Winnipeg office space.
This item reprinted with permission from The Citizen, Niverville, Manitoba