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Five takeaways from the shift to remote work

Figure 1: Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash

It’s hard to believe that it has been one year since COVID-19 forced many organizations around the world to abruptly shift into working remotely.

Statistics Canada estimates 40 per cent of workers across Canada broke from their normal routine to work from home – up from just 18 per cent prior to the pandemic according to a PwC Canada survey. This includes knowledge workers (those who handle or use information) in sectors such as government, financial services, insurance and telecommunications that many of us interact with on a regular basis.

In completing a year in review, here are five of our firm’s takeaways about the impact that the pandemic has had on organizations and the people who contribute to their success.

People can adapt to change

If there was any doubt that organizations – large and small – have the ability to adapt to change quickly, the pandemic put them to rest.

Whether it was TD Bank quickly pivoting to create a virtual trading floor – or small businesses celebrated by BDC and MaRS for transforming their operations to survive and thrive – there are numerous stories about the effort, creativity and resilience that has been exhibited by Canadians over the past 12 months.

As change practitioners, we have been gratified to see how people have risen to the level of change that we have witnessed over the past year.

People enjoy flexibility

Whether it is the opportunity to ditch the morning/evening commute, wear your favourite T-shirt or yoga pants or spend more quality time with family, a large number of Canadians have embraced remote work.

A survey last fall by ADP and Maru Blue found 45 per cent would prefer to work remotely at least three days a week and more than one quarter preferring to work flex hours.

While some may question whether remote work is sustainable or just a short-term fad, several companies – including Shopify and the Conference Board of Canada – have announced they are permanently transitioning into remote work organizations.

It should be noted that satisfaction with remote work does vary based on several factors, including age, industry sector and even geographic location according to a PwC Canada survey.

Additionally, the survey highlighted that organizations must be mindful of some of the challenges that have surfaced, including work/life balance. So, setting boundaries and providing employees with the opportunity to contribute their input on current and future policies is important to chart a successful future.

Technology is crucial to success

Even before the pandemic, organizations that prioritized and invested in technology had a decided edge over companies that didn’t.

A recent Statistics Canada article highlighted that companies in “digitally intensive” sectors – such as utilities, information services, publishing and data processing, and professional, scientific and technical services – achieved growth that was double of those in “non-digital intensive” sectors such as agriculture, mining and construction since 2009.

The pandemic only served to sharpen this digital divide as by September 2020, employment in digitally intensive sectors returned to 2019 levels while employers in non-digitally intensive sectors were 7.8% below the same level during the same period in 2019.

A McKinsey Global survey discovered that many organizations achieved a “quantum leap” in their digital adoption of technology in an effort to better serve their customers – now and in the future.

Our firm has been a big proponent of using technology – such as Microsoft Teams – to encourage ongoing engagement and collaboration that not only boosts morale and culture but also has a positive impact on productivity and customer service.

Communication is key

While many workers have embraced the flexibility remote work provides, a large percentage have also highlighted a downside: longer hours.

A Robert Half survey reported that 55 per cent of workers who shifted to remote work said they were working weekends while 34 per cent noted they were working more than eight hours in a day.

To maintain the culture and expectations that existed before the sharp shift to remote work – and guard against mental health issues such as increased stress and burnout that was captured in another Robert Half survey – leaders in organizations should strive to have regular touchpoints with their staff. These are great opportunities to encourage staff to take time off to remain engaged and energized while also promoting wellness initiatives that can contribute to their physical and mental well-being.

The future of work is being discussed now

As organizations grapple with the second wave of the pandemic, many are also dedicating time and resources to help determine what the future of work will look like. One option seriously being considered is a hybrid model which would feature a mix of office time and remote work.

A McKinsey survey of 800 corporate execs around the world found that across all sectors, about 38% expect their remote employees to work two or more days a week away from the office after the pandemic compared to 22% before the pandemic.

In determining whether a hybrid model is the right fit, we recommend organizations take their time to do a thorough analysis that includes a review of their line of business along with surveying employees from a wide range of business areas and roles to land on what their office of the future could look like.

In doing this, though, there should be an element of flexibility built in as remote work is not an option or a preference for all people or business areas. Arriving at options that can address a diverse range of needs and concerns has the best chance at success.

If you need a little help in the transition to your office of the future, we are always available to assist. Drop us a note at 

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