MONTREAL ― Nearly five million Canadians suddenly found themselves working from home in March amid the COVID-19 pandemic, and while nearly half like the “new normal,” others are reporting increased stress and mental-health issues.
In an Angus-Reid survey carried out for employment services firm ADP Canada, 45 per cent of respondents who are working from home said they look forward to getting back to the office, while 44 per cent said they would prefer to keep working from home.
But it might not just be the time and money saved on commuting that appeals to people these days; fear of the virus may also be driving the sentiment, as well. A Qualtrics poll in the U.S. ― carried out in late April as some states were reopening their economies ― found two-thirds of Americans are afraid to return to the office during the pandemic.
Watch: Working from home could last longer than the pandemic. Story continues below.
And even those who would rather work from home see some problems with the new way of doing things, particularly keeping in touch with colleagues. It was the single largest concern, shared by 57 per cent of respondents.
“The rapid shift to remote work has caused some challenges for Canadian employees, namely, staying connected with their fellow colleagues and teams,” ADP Canada vice-president of marketing Heather Haslam said in a statement.
“Though most managers have communicated clear expectations around remote work, it’s important for teams to feel connected and supported. Management can look to adopt collaboration tools and technology to further support team communication and workflow.”
Some are finding it hard to adjust to the new normal, with 24 per cent saying they are “struggling with managing their mental health.” And while some earlier studies have suggested remote workers enjoy lower stress levels, in this instance, the shift came with higher stress levels for one-third of respondents.
This was particularly true for women, of whom 38 per cent said they have seen higher stress levels, compared to 29 per cent for men. Women are more likely to be the lone caregivers in a household, and were disproportionately hit in the first wave of pandemic layoffs.
School closings have taken a toll on some remote workers, with 16 per cent saying they are having trouble balancing child care with their work.
Though Statistics Canada is predicting a “dramatic decline” in productivity due to people working from home, only a minority of telecommuters agree: Thirty-four percent said their productivity has worsened while working from home, but 44 per cent said it was the same, and 21 per cent said it improved.
Some 4.7 million Canadians started working from home in March as businesses responded to the spread of COVID-19, Statistics Canada data shows. When added to the ranks of those who already worked from home, some 40 per cent of Canada’s workforce is now telecommuting.
That has had a tremendous impact on both the economy and the natural environment. With demand for fuel cratering, oil prices have crashed to historic lows, setting off economic crises in various parts of the world and sparking off a debate in Canada about whether Alberta’s oilsands have a future.
But traffic congestion has dropped to levels not seen in decades. A University of Toronto study of six cities in Asia that responded to the COVID-19 crisis found that air quality improved by 20 to 40 per cent.
Some businesses ― particularly tech companies ― are already taking steps to enshrine working from home as part of their operations for the long run, among them Facebook and Google, which are allowing employees to keep working from home at least to the end of the year. Twitter recently announced it will allow some employees to work from home “forever.”
The Angus Reid poll of 500 remote-working Canadians was carried out on April 20 and 21, and it has a margin of error of +/-4.4 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.