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What you need to know about COVID-19 today
In the last four months there has been a dramatic change in workplace culture as many Atlantic Canadians have transitioned to working from home.
In early August we reached out to 1,800 employed Atlantic Canadians to learn more about their changing working environment. Our findings indicate that over the course of the pandemic, more than six in 10 Atlantic Canadians had transitioned to working from home, either full-time or part-time, reflecting an increase over the early stages of the pandemic in April (42 per cent) and a dramatic increase over pre-pandemic working patterns. Public sector employees are slightly more likely to have transitioned to remote work, than are those in the private or not-for-profit sectors.
We wanted to understand what the perceived impact of this shift might be, how employees want to proceed, and how they feel their employers have performed during the pandemic so far.
To start, most employees across Atlantic Canada don’t feel they are less productive working at home. The vast majority of those working remotely consider themselves to be as, or more productive than they were when working in their typical workplace. It’s important not to ignore the three in ten working Atlantic Canadians who consider themselves less productive when working remotely.
There are interesting differences by province. Nova Scotia workers and Newfoundland and Labrador workers are more likely to consider themselves as less rather than more productive.
Recent studies have found that while a remote workforce can result in many time saving advantages for employees (e.g. less commute time, reduced employee expenses, increased efficiencies), it can also have negative impacts in terms of declines in productivity, increased isolation, decreased efficiencies and less collaboration. Many working remotely can likely relate to weariness with remote meetings, repeated calls of ‘you’re on mute’ and unexpected interruptions from other members of their household. There are definitely challenges to creating a productive and satisfying work-from-home setup.
Despite the obvious issues presented by working remotely, workers across the region are for the most part complimentary of their employers’ efforts during the pandemic. Not only are they generally satisfied with their employers’ response to the pandemic, the vast majority consider employee health and safety to have been made a priority. Most working Atlantic Canadians consider their coworkers to have been treated fairly during this period. Further, across the region, the vast majority of working Atlantic Canadians consider their employment secure, regardless of whether they worked remotely. And despite the aforementioned difficulties in collaborating, clearly employees banded together in this tough time, with most indicating that they were able to work well as a team during the pandemic.
When given the choice, half of working Atlantic Canadians say they would prefer to continue working from home, while one-third (32%) would not like to do so, and two in ten (18%) are not sure. With such divided opinions, this leaves employers with some difficult decisions going forward. A huge number of businesses have made significant financial investments in infrastructure. A permanent shift to a remote workforce can have serious financial implications when considerations such as long-term leases, bricks and mortar assets, office equipment, and the workplace culture are taken into account. This type of change could ultimately alter the dynamics of a corporate brand, disrupt team collaboration, and potentially influence employee recruitment and retention.
While remote work may be highly effective for some, it’s clearly not a one size fits all solution. Further, the ripple effects of remote workplaces on other small businesses (e.g. restaurants) and commercial centres cannot be ignored.
Businesses must decide how long current remote working arrangements will stay in place and to what degree permanent changes are appropriate by assessing the impact remote work has on productivity, profitability and collaboration. Having metrics in place to assess productivity has never been more important.
Businesses also need to understand employee perceptions vis-à-vis remote work, so decisions do not negatively impact employee recruitment and retention in our increasingly competitive marketplace.
HOW THE DATA WAS GATHERED: Results presented here are from an online survey conducted August 5 – 9 with more than 3,300 Atlantic Canadian residents, (including 1,799 working Atlantic Canadians).
Margaret Brigley, CEO, and Margaret Chapman, COO, are business partners at Narrative Research, a national market research company based in Halifax. Their passion is digging into data to uncover insights.