indicatorThe Owl

It’s off to work (from home) I go

The option of working from home is not evenly distributed across the economy or Canadians.

By ATB Economics 1 June 2020 2 min read

A recent edition of The Owl pointed out that, if people working from home because of the pandemic keep doing so after the economy reopens, this could exacerbate the already high vacancy rates that were plaguing the office space sector in Calgary and Edmonton before COVID-19 came to Alberta.

This raises a key question: how many jobs can actually be done from home? To answer this question, Statistics Canada has prepared an estimate of the number of jobs in Canada that can “plausibly be performed from home under normal circumstances.”

It’s less than half, but at 39 per cent, the proportion of current jobs in Canada that can be done from home is still a large slice of the total pie. The estimate for Alberta is 36 per cent. 

This doesn’t mean that all of these jobs are done from home, only that they could be. Before the pandemic, roughly 13 per cent of employees spent some of their scheduled hours working from home. 

Other Statistics Canada research shows that the percentage of Canadians working from home during the pandemic reached 39 per cent. This suggests that “the Canadian labour market responded very quickly to the onset of the pandemic by increasing its prevalence of telework to the maximum capacity.”

The option of working from home, however, is not evenly distributed across the economy or Canadians. Over 8 in 10 jobs in finance and insurance can be done from home compared to less than 1 in 10 in the accommodation and food services sector (see the chart below).

The type of education you have is another key factor with 60 per cent of workers with a bachelor’s degree or higher able to work from home compared to 25 per cent for those with a high school diploma, 20 per cent for those with a trade certificate or diploma, and 13 per cent for those with less than high school. 

A larger percentage of women (46) can do their job from home than men (32).

We will have to wait to see if the rise in the number of people working from home during the pandemic will be part of the new normal or just a temporary blip. However, even if only a portion of the jobs now being done from home stay that way, this could be enough to have a noticeable impact on everything from downtown coffee shops to new office tower construction to transit ridership.

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