The physical distancing rules we’ve all been following in order to help stop the spread of COVID-19 have resulted in a large number of Canadians working from home, many for the first time.
This sudden transition to how we do business raises interesting questions about just how many jobs can reasonably be done remotely. While working from home may be a temporary response to the pandemic for many people, for others this transition might serve as the experiment that proves teleworking could be a viable option for the long term as well.
Statistics Canada looked into that. Last week the data agency released a report called Running the economy remotely: Potential for working from home during and after COVID-19.
Stats Can found that roughly 40 per cent (38.9%) of Canadian workers are in jobs that can plausibly be carried out from home. Similarly, they reported that this many workers (39.1%) were teleworking during the last full week of March. So those who can feasibly work from home right now are doing so.
The capacity to work from home naturally depends on the nature of your industry. Stats Can found that workers in the finance, insurance and educational sectors have the greatest ability to work remotely with 85 per cent of them working from home.
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A close second at 84 per cent were those workers in the broad category of professional, scientific and technical services.
At the other end of the spectrum, jobs in fields such as retail, manufacturing, construction, accommodation and food services, as well as agriculture, forestry, fishing, and hunting have very low potential for being done remotely.
The potential for working from home varies by province, largely due to the industries that play the greatest part in the regional economies.
Ontario and Quebec have the highest percent of people working in those industries that can be done remotely. On the flip side, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Newfoundland and Labrador have a lower amount of people working from home because these provinces have more people in fields such as mining, and oil and gas extraction.
New Brunswick falls right around the middle, with 36.3 per cent of workers being able to do their jobs remotely. (Just below the national average of 38.9 per cent.)
So, while roughly 40 per cent of Canadian workers can plausibly be done at home, most weren’t doing so before the pandemic. From 2000 to 2018 only about 10 to 11 per cent of people spent any time at all working from home. By 2018 that number had reached about 13 per cent. This incremental increase makes the sudden surge to 40 per cent in 2020 all the more striking.
The next question is to see how many of us keep it up and continue working remotely when the lockdown eases and traditional workplaces are allowed to open up again.