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Working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic, April 2020 to June 2021

Released: 2021-08-04

Working from home: a new experiment for many Canadian workers and employers

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the work location of thousands of Canadian workers. From April 2020 to June 2021, 30% of employees aged 15 to 64 who worked during the Labour Force Survey (LFS) reference week had performed most of their hours from home. In contrast, about 4% of employees did so in 2016.

These unprecedented changes in the proportion of Canadians working from home raise several questions for employees and employers regarding the work arrangements that should prevail once the COVID-19 pandemic is over.

For employers, the optimal amount of telework will likely depend on many factors, including the degree to which working from home affects productivity and worker turnover, facilitates the hiring of employees living far from the workplace, fosters or inhibits teamwork, makes training more or less difficult, and affects employees' sense of belonging. These factors are likely to impact the types of investments that businesses will make in the near future to improve employee training, office design, and the security and performance of their telework systems.

In contrast, workers' preferences for telework will likely depend on how much working from home will lower their commuting expenses, affect their ability to perform most of their tasks, reduce their social interactions, and facilitate or hinder work–life balance. For the first time, the February 2021 Labour Force Survey measured the preferences of Canadian employees regarding working from home in a post-COVID-19 context. For more information on workers' preferences for telework, see the study titled "Working from home: Productivity and preferences."

To inform discussions on these issues, today Statistics Canada sketches a detailed profile of workers and families who worked from home from April 2020 to June 2021.

High-income families were more likely to work from home

Canadians have worked from home to varying degrees since April 2020.

From April 2020 to June 2021, 45% of dual-earner salaried couples in the top 10% of the earnings distribution had both spouses working from home. This was nine times the rate of 5% observed for their counterparts in the bottom 10% of the earnings distribution.

The greater propensity of high-income families to work from home largely reflects the fact that these couples generally hold jobs that are more amenable to telework than lower-income couples.

For example, in 57% of dual-earner salaried couples in the top 10% of the earnings distribution, both spouses held jobs that could in principle be done from home. For dual-earner salaried couples in the bottom 10% of the earnings distribution, the rate was 11%.

Chart 1  Chart 1: Percentage of dual-earner salaried couples where both spouses worked from home, April 2020 to June 2021, by weekly earnings decile
Percentage of dual-earner salaried couples where both spouses worked from home, April 2020 to June 2021, by weekly earnings decile

Roughly 7 in 10 workers in finance and insurance, as well as in professional, scientific and technical services, worked from home

As expected, the propensity to work from home varied substantially across industries. Roughly 7 in 10 individuals in the finance and insurance and professional, scientific and technical services sectors worked from home from April 2020 to June 2021. At the other end of the spectrum, 5% of workers in accommodation and food services performed their jobs from home during that period.

Working from home was also fairly frequent in information and cultural industries (65%) and public administration (56%).

In many industries, employees in large firms—those with 500 employees or more—were more likely to work from home than those in small firms (those with fewer than 20 employees).

For example, 80% of employees of large firms in professional, scientific and technical services worked from home from April 2020 to June 2021. In contrast, 54% of their counterparts employed in small firms worked from home during that period.

In the private sector, 36% of employees of large firms worked from home, twice the rate of 18% observed for those working in small firms.

The large differences observed across industries and firm sizes from April 2020 to June 2021 suggest that employers' preferences for telework in a post-COVID-19 context might differ along these two dimensions.

The propensity to work from home varied substantially across regions and provinces

Partly because of regional differences in industrial structure, the degree to which Canadians worked from home from April 2020 to June 2021 differed substantially across regions and provinces.

Of all Ontario workers—employees and self-employed—aged 15 to 64 who were working during the LFS reference week, 37% worked from home from April 2020 to June 2021. The corresponding percentage for Quebec workers was 30%.

In contrast, between 17% and 23% of workers in the Atlantic provinces worked from home during that period. In Saskatchewan, 20% did so.

These differences have potential implications for public transit. They likely explain—at least in part—why the number of passenger trips in urban transit systems fell more in Quebec and Ontario than it did in the Atlantic provinces since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. From January 2020 to April 2021, the number of passenger trips in urban transit systems dropped by 72% in Quebec and Ontario combined, compared with 48% in the Atlantic provinces (Statistics Canada Table 23-10-0251-01). For more information on the relationship between working from home and public transit, see the study titled "Working from home: Potential implications for public transit and greenhouse gas emissions."

Larger differences in the propensity to work from home were observed across economic regions, with large regions generally displaying higher rates of telework than small towns or communities.

Ottawa had the highest rate of people working from home, with close to half (47%) of all workers—many of whom are employed in the federal public administration—performing their tasks from home from April 2020 to June 2021. In contrast, at most 12% of workers did so in smaller regions such as Cape Breton, Gaspésie–Îles-de-la-Madeleine, South Coast–Burin Peninsula and Notre Dame–Central Bonavista Bay.

In Outaouais, Montréal and Toronto, between 41% and 44% of workers worked from home from April 2020 to June 2021.

Virtually all self-employed workers who could work from home did so

Working from home was more frequent among self-employed workers than among employees.

Of all self-employed workers aged 15 to 64 who were working during the LFS reference week, 38% worked from home from April 2020 to June 2021. Since 39% of them held jobs that could actually be done from home, these numbers indicate that virtually all self-employed workers who could work from home did so.

This was not the case for employees. While 43% of them held jobs that could be done from home, 30% worked most of their hours from home from April 2020 to June 2021.

Overall, 31% of all workers—employees and self-employed—worked from home during that period.

The propensity to work from home increased with educational attainment, in line with the fact that highly educated workers hold jobs that are more conducive to telework, compared with less educated workers. For example, 58% of workers who have more than a bachelor's degree performed most of their hours from home, compared with 7% of workers with no high school diploma.

Likewise, highly paid employees were more likely than other employees to work from home. For instance, 63% of employees in the top 10% of the hourly wage distribution worked from home from April 2020 to June 2021, almost eight times the rate of 8% observed for their counterparts in the bottom 10% of the distribution.

Chart 2  Chart 2: Percentage of workers who worked from home, by education level, April 2020 to June 2021
Percentage of workers who worked from home, by education level, April 2020 to June 2021

Men and young workers were less likely to work from home

Partly because they are overrepresented in retail trade as well as accommodation and food services—two sectors where working from home is rarely feasible—workers aged 15 to 24 were at least half as likely to work from home than older workers.

To illustrate, 16% of women aged 15 to 24 worked from home from April 2020 to June 2021, compared with 36% of women aged 45 to 54. The corresponding percentages were 12% for men aged 15 to 24 and 28% for those aged 45 to 54.

Regardless of marital status and whether they had children or not, men worked from home to a lesser extent than women. For example, 30% of married men with children worked from home from April 2020 to June 2021, compared with 39% for their female counterparts.

Overall, 27% of men worked from home, while 35% of women did so.

The propensity to work from home varied across population groups

In July 2020, the Labour Force Survey started collecting data on Canada's population groups. These data help to improve our understanding of the degree to which Canadians worked from home during the pandemic.

From July 2020 to June 2021, the degree to which Canadian workers worked from home varied across population groups. Partly because they are overrepresented in finance and insurance and in professional, scientific and technical services—two sectors where the vast majority of jobs can be done home—a relatively high proportion (43%) of men of Chinese origin worked from home during that period. This was almost three times the rate of 15% observed among men of Filipino origin. Furthermore, 37% of men of South Asian origin and 27% of Black men worked from home from July 2020 to June 2021.

Similar differences were observed among women. The propensity to work from home was substantially higher among women of Chinese origin (49%), South Asian origin (36%) and Black women (33%) than among Filipino women (19%).

Overall, 29% of Canadians worked from home from July 2020 to June 2021.



  Note to readers

The data in this release are from the April 2020 to June 2021 cycles of the Labour Force Survey and reflect averages observed during this period in the 10 Canadian provinces.

Worker-level results are based on a sample comprising individuals aged 15 to 64 who were employed and were working (i.e., who were not absent) during the LFS reference week. Unless otherwise noted, both self-employed workers and employees are included in the estimates. In all cases, full-time students, full-time members of the Armed Forces and legislators are excluded.

Results for dual-earner salaried couples are based on a sample comprising husband-wife couples (married or living common-law) in which both spouses are aged 18 to 64 and are employees working during the LFS reference week. Couples in which at least one spouse is a full-time student, a full-time member of the Armed Forces or a legislator are excluded.

Jobs that in principle can be done from home are identified using the methodology outlined in Deng, Morissette and Messacar (2020).

In this release, the term "worked from home" refers to workers who worked most of their hours from home during the LFS reference week. The term "married" refers to individuals who are married or in a common-law relationship.

Additional information is available in the paper titled "Running the economy remotely: Potential for working from home during and after COVID-19", which is part of the series StatCan COVID-19: Data to Insights for a Better Canada, Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 45-28-0001

Contact information

For more information, or to enquire about the concepts, methods or data quality of this release, contact René Morissette (rene.morissette@canada.ca), Social Analysis and Modelling Division, or call (toll-free 1-800-263-1136; 514-283-8300; STATCAN.infostats-infostats.STATCAN@canada.ca) or Media Relations (613-951-4636; STATCAN.mediahotline-ligneinfomedias.STATCAN@canada.ca).

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