Written by Catherin Morin
With the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting pivot to remote work, the ability to work from home or not has exposed social inequalities, according to a new study by Statistics Canada.
The report, published Monday, reveals that only 40 per cent of Canadians have a job that can be reasonably performed from home.
Workers in service industries, such as phone customer support, for example, are far more likely to continue working from home than employees in goods-producing sectors like manufacturing.
Statistics Canada found that the feasibility of working from home rises with income and education level. This tendency puts financially vulnerable families at a disproportionate risk of losing their job or having their hours reduced during the epidemic, which can further increase disparity in family earnings.
The report also highlights inequalities between genders. Around 50 per cent of single women have positions that allow them to carry out their usual tasks from home, compared with about one-third of single men. Nearly 62 per cent of women in dual-income families can work remotely, compared with 38 per cent for men.
The fact that several positions in male-dominated sectors like construction or agriculture cannot be performed from home would partly explain these results, according to the statistical agency.
The current crisis also seems to amplify inequalities when it comes to financial and work-life balance benefits. In a recent article, Ugo Lachapelle and Georges A. Tanguay, professors of Urban Studies and Economics at Université du Québec à Montréal, point out that teleworkers enjoy potential benefits stemming from a flexible schedule, such as reduced commute time. They also note that people who work from home spend less on food, clothing and transportation.
“Those unable to work remotely, most of them low-income workers, are unable to reap these lifestyle and financial benefits,” Lachapelle and Tanguay explain.
They consider that broader future adoption of remote work would mean a significant portion of the population would be disadvantaged.
With influential companies having signalled their intent to allow employees to work from home permanently, such as Twitter and Shopify, the trend seems likely to become a norm in the aftermath of the crisis.
Statistics Canada said in its report that it deems necessary to monitor the long-term impact of this change in work culture on families after the end of the pandemic.