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In 2020, we experienced an unprecedented shift in the world of work. The COVID-19 pandemic transformed when, how, and where work happens, leading to the widespread adoption of full-time remote work. In 2021, over 25% of core-age employees in Canada were working remotely.
These changes paved the way for the rapid adoption of remote work practices and ushered in a paradigm shift that challenged outdated ideas about work and working.
However, as the labour market recovers from pandemic-related disruptions, uncertainty persists among employers about the value and future of remote work.
In this context, LMIC is embarking on a research initiative focused on the motivations and dynamics that underpin remote work in Canada’s labour market.
As a precursor to the launch of our full research report and findings, this blog article explores some of the current dynamics at play in the arguments for and against remote work in Canada, as well as the LMIC staff team’s reflections on how the shift to remote work has impacted them.
The benefits and challenges of remote work
The benefits and challenges of remote work are well documented in academic literature and across reports, policy analysis, and other public dialogue.
The research shows that, for both employers and employees, the benefits of remote work are numerous.
A diversified talent pool, cost savings, productive teams
For employers, the widespread adoption of remote work practices has facilitated access to a global pool of talent without the constraints of physical location, enabling them to tap into diverse skills and expertise from around the world.
The transition to remote work has also led to notable cost-saving advantages, as reduced reliance on physical office spaces and utilities contributes to streamlined operational expenses.
While critics argue that the lack of physical presence in traditional office spaces hinders collaboration, stifles creativity, and diminishes overall productivity, a review of research-based evidence reveals that remote work can grant employees the autonomy to align their lifestyles and work patterns with personal preferences, familial responsibilities, and productivity rhythms. It can decrease the stress linked to office environments and raise employee contentment, bolster collaboration, reduce impediments to spontaneous exchanges, and enhance the calibre of data sharing and communication.
Increased inclusion, job satisfaction, quality of work
Moreover, the literature reveals that the evolving landscape presents newfound opportunities to engage in the workforce for individuals historically excluded from the workforce due to physical workplace constraints. This inclusiveness can encourage diversity and help utilize the potential of a more expansive talent pool.
In Canada, recent research by the Future Skills Centre (FSC) reveals that remote workers exhibit significantly higher levels of job satisfaction and overall job quality than on-site workers, with satisfaction rates often exceeding those of on-site employees by more than ten percentage points across 14 different metrics. Additionally, between 70% and 83% of remote workers express satisfaction with various aspects, including co-worker respect, job independence, work methods, job security, work-life balance, and meaningful engagement. Moreover, remote workers report improved well-being, including greater hopefulness, enhanced self-rated mental health, and heightened life satisfaction.
However, many Canadian employers have opted to mandate a return to traditional office setups. Why is this, given the well-documented benefits of remote work? Our research seeks to find out.
LMIC staff reflect on the personal impact of remote work
At LMIC, we are resolute in not mandating a return to office for our pan-Canadian team of employees. This decision reflects the benefits of remote work and our commitment to modelling evidence-based best practices in the world of work.
We asked LMIC staff about their perspectives on remote work. Their experiences shed light on the effectiveness of a remote work model and how it aligns with the changing landscape of modern work environments.
Our team members echo many benefits of remote work that emerge from research.
Reflecting on their experiences, LMIC team members highlighted improvements in work-life balance facilitated by remote work. Consistent with much of the existing literature (see, for example, Elnanto & Suharti 2021), team members shared that remote work significantly and positively influenced their work-life balance.
“Remote work has significantly impacted my work-life balance by blurring the lines between work and personal life that were once rigidly defined by the physical office. This shift has enabled me to seamlessly merge work and life aspects, giving me greater control over my time and productivity. Instead of compartmentalizing my identity into office and home personas, I now embody a unified self. When I worked in the office, I had the physical boundary to separate my work half and home half, which felt like the best way to ensure a work-life balance, but I have learned that isn’t true for me. I am the type of person who does my best when I can jump between things, be it thoughts, projects, or work locations. Remote work has granted me the freedom to utilize breaks for chores, leisure activities, or even extended work periods to capitalize on productive flows, subsequently reallocating my "me time" elsewhere in the day. This adaptability empowers me to attune to my body and mind, facilitating optimal productivity.”
“Switching to remote work has really boosted my work-life balance. Now, I get to spend more time with my partner, use my old commute time for things like rest, chores, and self-care, and even enjoy my lunch breaks outside gardening or walking my dogs. It's made a huge and positive impact to my sense of well-being and in my mental well-being.”
“Remote work has allowed for greater work-life balance and higher quality of life. Instead of dedicating one and a half hours to commuting time that left me depleted and often too tired to be productive for a full workday, I have more time to dedicate to activities that boost my wellness levels, productivity, and that support my mental health.”
“Remote work has been a game-changer for me, especially considering my ADHD. The flexible environment allows me to structure my day in ways that accommodate my attention shifts and impulses. Previously, in an office setting, I found it challenging to maintain focus and adhere to a rigid schedule, which often led to frustration and burnout. Now, with remote work, I can switch between tasks and take short breaks to recharge when needed, all while still being productive. It's like having a customized work arrangement that fits my cognitive patterns, and this has significantly improved my work-life balance and overall well-being.”
Consistent with previous intersectional research that demonstrates that remote work can offer the opportunity to support family members, facilitate the integration of work and family roles, and provide employees with the flexibility to adapt their work schedules according to household needs and caregiving responsibilities (Shirmohammadi, & Beigi 2022) team members at LMIC shared how remote work offers them, as parents and family caregivers, better work-life balance by providing the flexibility to fulfill their caregiving responsibilities while managing their work commitments.
“Remote work has been a game-changer for me as a single mother. Balancing my job while taking care of my kids would be nearly impossible without the flexibility it provides. From school drop-offs and pick-ups to doctor's appointments, remote work has allowed me to be there for my children's important moments without compromising my career. It's not just about convenience – it's about being able to give my best at both work and at home.”
“Remote work has truly been a lifeline for managing my family responsibilities. When my mother became ill, and I needed to be with her, I could fulfill my familial obligations while remaining focused and productive thanks to remote work. Being able to provide care and support to my mother during a challenging time without sacrificing my job was priceless.”
Improved focus and productivity
Aligned with the growing body of research demonstrating that remote work can boost productivity (this, for example), many LMIC team members echoed this sentiment and shared how remote work, characterized by fewer distractions and interruptions, empowers them to focus more effectively and complete tasks with enhanced efficiency.
“Remote work has enabled me to be productive and efficient in my work. Having control over where and how I work, along with greater autonomy, has significantly boosted my work output and positively impacted my mental well-being. Dealing with outside noise and distractions has always been a headache for me, hampering my productivity. However, being able to shape my own work environment and having the space to work in solitude has amped up my productivity and overall happiness in my job.
“Personally, remote work serves as a way for me to steer clear of social distractions. In my former job, our morning routine at the office involved dropping off our equipment at our desks at 8 a.m., followed by a coffee break where we'd engage in chit-chat. This routine inadvertently consumed valuable working hours. With the flexibility of working from home, I can sidestep such distractions and focus better on my tasks.”
A growing body of research (this, for example) has shed light on how remote work arrangements may allow for greater labour market participation for those living with a disability, with at least some of the employment barriers faced by workers with disabilities being lessened by working from home.
For instance, consider the experience of one LMIC team member navigating anxiety and neurodiversity in the workplace. Working in a traditional office setting often exacerbated their anxiety due to the bustling environment, constant interactions, and the pressure to perform in front of others.
“Before transitioning to remote work, my anxiety made each workday an uphill battle. The crowded office space and the constant need to interact with colleagues triggered my anxiety to an overwhelming degree. Remote work has offered a lifeline. Working from the comfort of my home allows me to create a peaceful and controlled environment. The absence of overstimulation and the ability to take short breaks as needed have significantly eased my anxiety. Now, I can dedicate my energy to my tasks and responsibilities without constantly battling anxious thoughts.”
Breaking geographic barriers
Remote work has introduced a paradigm shift in the traditional understanding of where work takes place, with the flexibility of remote work transcending geographical constraints, offering team members the opportunity to contribute effectively from various locations.
The demands of specific careers, like that of an RCMP officer, often entail geographic mobility, requiring individuals and their families to adapt to new locations frequently. In the case of one of our team members, the introduction of remote work has paved the way for a solution to this challenge.
“Throughout the pandemic, it was incredibly challenging to see and stay with family. Remote work’s flexibility means I can extend visits by working from their location.”
“My partner is an RCMP officer. My family's life is marked by frequent relocations across different regions of Canada. With the flexibility of remote work, I've been able to maintain my career while supporting my partner’s law enforcement commitments. Remote work allows us to stay together as a family without the constant upheaval of changing jobs with every move. It's given me the freedom to focus on my professional aspirations, all while embracing the unique demands of the RCMP lifestyle.”
“Pre-pandemic, I lived in a small downtown apartment in the city. In 2022, we were faced with a situation where we needed to leave our apartment, but due to soaring rents and job instability caused by the pandemic, I was no longer able to afford to continue living in the city. I have since moved to a small town about an hour outside of the city, where the cost of living is significantly lower. This is only made possible by remote work. There is no market for my profession in my small town.”
“With multiple graduate degrees and a strong educational background, I've always sought intellectually engaging work. However, due to geographical constraints in certain parts of the country, opportunities in my field have been limited. Remote work with LMIC has been a revelation, allowing me to contribute meaningfully from anywhere. For me, it’s not about what I prefer– remote work empowers individuals like me, enabling knowledge workers from across the country to collaborate and make a real impact. It's a game-changer that breaks geographical barriers and opens doors to meaningful work."
The insights shared by LMIC team members reflect the wide range of advantages remote work can offer. From enhanced work-life balance and increased job satisfaction to improved productivity and reduced costs, remote work, while not entirely without disadvantages, emerges as a transformative strategy capable of reshaping the landscape of modern work.
The narratives shared here demonstrate the power of remote work to break geographic barriers, accommodate diverse needs, and foster a more inclusive and adaptable work environment. As we continue our journey of investigation, LMIC remains committed to further understanding the nuances of remote work, embracing its potential to redefine work norms, promote well-being, and unleash the untapped potential of the Canadian workforce.
The path forward: LMIC’s research on remote work in Canada
Our upcoming research will unravel the complexities surrounding employers' decisions to mandate a return to in-office work despite the well-documented advantages of remote work.
This comprehensive investigation will explore the core factors driving these choices, seeking to understand the nuanced interplay between organizational culture, perceived productivity, and collaboration dynamics. We will also examine the role of employee preferences and feedback in shaping the trajectory of return-to-work mandates. Moreover, our research will uncover whether specific industries and occupations are more likely to require a return to in-person work.
To achieve these objectives, our research strategy encompasses qualitative and groundbreaking methodologies.
Our qualitative research approach involves in-depth interviews with industry leaders and advocates of return-to-work transitions, offering invaluable insights into the complex decision-making processes behind this shift.
Concurrently, we will harness innovative research methodologies by analyzing online job postings to uncover prevailing trends in remote work, hybrid models, and in-person work across industries and occupations. This approach will allow us to track the evolution of remote work to discern the underlying motivations and demands that contribute to employer decision-making around remote work.
Through this research, we hope to foster a nuanced understanding of the evolving world of work and establish a cornerstone for informed decision-making for employers and employees.
Elnanto, J. G., & Suharti, L. (2021). The Impact of Work from Home to Work Life-Balance and Its Implication to Employee Happiness. International Journal of Social Science and Business, 5(3), 311-318.
Fan, W., & Moen, P. (2023). Ongoing Remote Work, Returning to Working at Work, or In-between During COVID-19: What Promotes Subjective Well-being? Journal of health and social behavior, 64(1), 152-171.
Marcus, S. (2022). COVID-19 and the shift to remote work. Bruegel Policy Contribution Issue n˚ 09/22. June 2022.
Shirmohammadi, M., Au, W. C., & Beigi, M. (2022). Remote work and work-life balance: Lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic and suggestions for HRD practitioners. Human Resource Development International, 25(2), 163-181.
Tursunbayeva, A., Di Lauro, S., & Antonelli, G. (2022). Remote work at the time of COVID-19 pandemic and beyond: A scoping review. HR Analytics and Digital HR Practices: Digitalization post COVID-19, 127-169.
Dr. Suzanne Spiteri is a sociologist with several years of experience in both qualitative and mixed-methods data analysis. She leads labour-related projects that explore labour market tightness and the labour market outcomes of under-represented groups.