A recent update from Statistics Canada confirms that 20 percent of employees work from home. In urban centres, where a larger proportion of workers are employed in sectors more apt for remote work, a higher share of employees is expected to be working from home. Transit authorities and commercial landlords will continue facing challenges in repopulating transit vehicles and office towers at pre-pandemic levels.
One of the most notable changes brought about by the pandemic has been the dramatic rise and subsequent decline in the work-from-home (WFH) culture in Canada. At its peak in April 2020, the pandemic catapulted WFH rates to around 40 percent, as two in five Canadian workers adapted to remote work. Fast forward to November 2023, and this figure has halved to 20 percent, signalling a significant shift back toward traditional work settings. Still, at 20 percent, the work-from-home share is almost three times greater than its pre-pandemic levels.
At 20 percent, the share of employees working from home in November 2023 was almost three times greater than its pre-pandemic levels.
The WFH has profound implications, particularly for public transit systems and office real estate markets. The peak of remote working saw a drastic decline in public transit usage, with passenger trips plummeting from 163.9 million to 25.7 million. As workers gradually return to offices, the challenge now lies in revitalizing these transit systems, which have suffered severe financial strains during the pandemic.
Moreover, the changing work landscape is reshaping urban economies, particularly affecting the demand for office spaces. The initial surge in remote working led to reduced demand for office rentals, impacting economic activity in downtown areas. Now, with a 50% decline in WFH, there’s a potential rebound in the commercial real estate sector, albeit one that must adapt to new hybrid working models and diverse employee preferences.
The environmental aspect is also noteworthy. The WFH surge contributed to a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from transportation. However, a far greater reduction in emissions was possible if all jobs that could have been moved to remote work had done so.
As Canada navigates the post-pandemic era, the WFH decline presents challenges and opportunities. Rebuilding and adapting public transit systems, reimagining office spaces, and balancing environmental benefits with economic needs are pivotal in shaping a resilient and sustainable urban future.