Research to Insights: Working from home in Canada

Release date: January 18, 2023

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About Research to Insights

The Research to Insights series of presentations features a broad range of findings on selected research topics. Each presentation draws from and integrates evidence from various studies that use innovative and high-quality data and methods to better understand relevant and complex policy issues.

Based on applied research of valuable data, the series is intended to provide decision makers, and Canadians more broadly, a comprehensive and horizontal view of the current economic, social and health issues we face in a changing world.

Background

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

  • The COVID-19 pandemic triggered a substantial change in work arrangements in Canada. The percentage of Canadians usually working most of the time from home has risen sharply since the mid-2010s, increasing from 7.1% in May 2016 to 24.3% in May 2021. It was 20.1% in May 2023.
  • This increase in work-from-home arrangements has potentially important implications for numerous aspects of the economy and society, such as the housing market, office rental space and economic activity in downtown areas, productivity, wage growth, worker turnover, family–work balance and child care, commuting, public transit, and greenhouse gas emissions.
  • To shed light on these issues, this presentation synthesizes what has been learned to date about working from home in Canada.

After rising to about 40% in April 2020, the percentage of Canadians working most of their hours from home in a given week was 20% in November 2023

  • In April 2020, Statistics Canada introduced questions in the Labour Force Survey (LFS) aimed at estimating the number and percentage of Canadians working most of their hours from home and their usual work locations.
  • LFS data show that after rising to about 40% in April 2020, the percentage of Canadians working most of their hours from home during the LFS reference week declined to almost 30% in January 2022 and was about 20% in 2023.

Chart 1

Data table for Chart 1 
Data table for Chart 1
Table summary
This table displays the results of Data table for Chart 1 Percent (appearing as column headers).
Percent
2020
Jan. 7.2
Feb. 7.2
Mar. 24.2
Apr. 41.1
May 37.8
June 30.6
July 28.4
Aug. 26.2
Sept. 25.4
Oct. 25.9
Nov. 27.2
Dec. 28.3
2021
Jan. 33.1
Feb. 30.9
Mar. 29.1
Apr. 30.7
May 30.6
June 27.9
July 25.9
Aug. 24.1
Sept. 23.8
Oct. 23.7
Nov. 23.5
Dec. 23.8
2022
Jan. 28.8
Feb. 24.6
Mar. 22.4
Apr. 22.4
May 24.0
June 23.8
July 24.2
Aug. 23.4
Sept. 22.1
Oct. 21.8
Nov. 21.9
Dec. 22.1
2023
Jan. 21.9
Feb. 21.6
Mar. 21.3
Apr. 21.1
May 20.8
June 20.7
July 20.5
Aug. 20.4
Sept. 20.2
Oct. 19.9
Nov. 19.7

While roughly 40% of Canadian jobs can be done from home, telework capacity varies substantially across industries

  • In 2019, roughly 4 in 10 Canadian jobs (39%) could, in principle, be done from home. A similar percentage is observed in the United States (37%).
  • Telework capacity—the percentage of jobs that can be done from home—varies substantially across regions, education levels, wage deciles, industries and population groups.
  • These differences largely reflect the degree to which different groups of workers have office jobs, many of which can be done from home, and the prevalence of these jobs in different regions.

Chart 2

Data table for Chart 2 
Data table for Chart 2
Table summary
This table displays the results of Data table for Chart 2 Percent (appearing as column headers).
Percent
Agriculture, forestry, hunting and fishing 3.9
Accommodation and food services 5.6
Construction 11.1
Manufacturing 19.1
Retail trade 22.0
Mining, quarrying, oil and gas extraction 23.9
Transportation and warehousing 24.5
Health care and social assistance 28.8
Other services (except public administration) 31.4
ASWMRS 35.1
Utilities 38.6
All industries 38.9
Arts, entertainment and recreation 40.1
Real estate, rental and leasing 47.8
Wholesale trade 57.3
Public administration 58.2
Information and cultural industries 68.5
Professional, scientific and technical services 83.9
Educational services 84.6
Finance and insurance 85.3

Telework capacity effectively predicted the degree to which workers in various regions and groups worked from home during the COVID-19 pandemic

  • Groups of workers with high telework capacity generally displayed high rates of work from home during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • For example, in 45% of dual-earner salaried couples in the top 10% of the earnings distribution, both spouses worked from home from April 2020 to June 2021. This was nine times the rate of 5% observed for their counterparts in the bottom 10% of the earnings distribution.
  • 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. The corresponding percentage for dual-earner salaried couples in the bottom 10% of the earnings distribution was 11%.

Chart 3

Data table for Chart 3 
Data table for Chart 3
Table summary
This table displays the results of Data table for Chart 3 Jobs that can be done from home and Workers working most of their hours from home , calculated using percent units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Jobs that can be done from home Workers working most of their hours from home
percent
Avalon Peninsula 35.9 16.1
South Coast--Burin Peninsula and Notre Dame--Central Bonavista Bay 25.1 8.6
West Coast--Northern Peninsula--Labrador 25.0 7.3
Prince Edward Island 37.5 17.4
Cape Breton 29.4 10.7
North Shore 28.3 12.4
Annapolis Valley 31.6 13.6
Southern 27.6 11.5
Halifax 43.7 21.9
Campbellton--Miramichi 29.7 11.8
Moncton--Richibucto 39.2 20.4
Saint John--St. Stephen 34.7 16.0
Fredericton--Oromocto 47.3 18.8
Edmundston--Woodstock 26.6 9.0
Gaspésie--Îles-de-la-Madeleine 30.7 11.7
Bas-Saint-Laurent 30.8 11.3
Capitale-Nationale 44.8 24.3
Chaudière-Appalaches 35.9 17.6
Estrie 38.1 15.9
Centre-du-Québec 30.2 11.6
Montérégie 41.9 22.0
Montréal 52.2 30.0
Laval 44.9 23.2
Lanaudière 33.6 13.3
Laurentides 40.1 20.4
Outaouais 50.6 34.2
Abitibi-Témiscamingue 31.1 10.0
Mauricie 29.8 13.0
Saguenay--Lac-Saint-Jean 32.9 11.6
Côte-Nord et Nord-du-Québec 30.9 6.7
Ottawa 52.8 37.0
Kingston--Pembroke 37.5 16.4
Muskoka--Kawarthas 35.3 15.5
Toronto 51.9 32.2
Kitchener--Waterloo--Barrie 40.4 21.7
Hamilton--Niagara Peninsula 39.3 20.9
London 38.2 19.4
Windsor--Sarnia 32.7 13.2
Stratford--Bruce Peninsula 33.4 18.0
Northeast 33.9 13.6
Northwest 32.6 9.6
Southeast 32.2 12.8
South Central and North Central 25.4 10.3
Southwest 30.7 8.5
Winnipeg 42.0 17.4
Interlake 39.2 13.0
Parklands and North 30.9 7.8
Regina--Moose Mountain 39.4 12.1
Swift Current--Moose Jaw 28.7 14.0
Saskatoon--Biggar 36.8 13.3
Yorkton--Melville 24.8 11.3
Prince Albert and Northern 28.7 9.5
Lethbridge--Medicine Hat 27.2 8.7
Camrose--Drumheller 26.0 10.0
Calgary 47.1 22.0
Banff--Jasper--Rocky Mountain House and Athabasca--Grande Prairie--Peace River 27.5 10.4
Red Deer 34.0 15.9
Edmonton 38.7 17.6
Wood Buffalo--Cold Lake 28.3 7.2
Vancouver Island and Coast 39.7 18.5
Lower Mainland--Southwest 44.8 23.5
Thompson--Okanagan 34.9 17.9
Kootenay 33.6 11.7
Cariboo 28.8 9.2
North Coast and Nechako 30.3 10.2
Northeast 31.0 8.6

Different groups of workers worked from home to varying degrees during the COVID-19 pandemic, largely because of differences in the degree to which they held office jobs

  • Partly because they are overrepresented in the finance and insurance sector and the professional, scientific and technical services sector—two sectors where the vast majority of jobs can be done from home—a relatively high proportion (43%) of Chinese men worked from home during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • This was almost three times the rate of 15% observed among Filipino men.
  • Likewise, the propensity to work from home was substantially higher among Chinese women (49%) than among Filipino women (19%).
  • In Ottawa, close to half (47%) of all workers—many of whom work for the federal public administration—performed their tasks from home during the pandemic.

Chart 4

Data table for Chart 4 
Data table for Chart 4
Table summary
This table displays the results of Data table for Chart 4 Percent (appearing as column headers).
Percent
Population group
Chinese womenData table for Chart 4 Note  49.0
Filipino womenData table for Chart 4 Note  19.0
Economic region
Ottawa 47.5
Outaouais 40.6
Cape Breton 12.0
Hourly wage deciles
Top wage decile 62.5
Bottom wage decile 7.9
Industry
Finance and insurance 72.9
Construction 9.7
Education level
Above bachelor's degree 57.9
High school 14.0

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the vast majority of new teleworkers reported being at least as productive at home as they were in their usual place of work

  • In February 2021, 90% of new teleworkers—employees who usually worked outside the home before the COVID-19 pandemic but worked most of their hours at home during the LFS reference week—reported accomplishing at least as much work per hour at home as they did in the office.
  • Whether Canadian employers’ assessments of teleworkers’ productivity align with those of their employees remains an open question.
  • The fact that jobs and tasks are generally quite diverse suggests that the productivity effects of working from home will likely vary across firms, sectors of the economy and types of work arrangements (hybrid work arrangements versus exclusive telework).

Chart 5

Data table for Chart 5 
Data table for Chart 5
Table summary
This table displays the results of Data table for Chart 5 Accomplishes less work per hour, Accomplishes about the same
amount of work per hour and Accomplishes more work per hour, calculated using percent units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Accomplishes less work per hour Accomplishes about the same
amount of work per hour
Accomplishes more work per hour
percent
Men 9.7 59.5 30.8
Women 9.4 56.7 33.9

An important consideration for employers: Employees’ preferences about working from home are diverse

  • Of all employees usually working from home, almost one in four would ideally work a greater proportion of their hours from home than they did in the reference week of August 2023.
  • In contrast, about one in eight would ideally work a smaller proportion of their hours from home than they did during that week.
  • One challenge for employers seeking to implement telework is to accommodate this diversity of preferences.
  • A mismatch between employees’ preferences for telework and the hours they work from home may negatively affect employee retention.

Chart 6

Data table for Chart 6 
Data table for Chart 6
Table summary
This table displays the results of Data table for Chart 6 Prefer more hours from home, Prefer same hours and Prefer fewer hours from home, calculated using percent units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Prefer more hours from home Prefer same hours Prefer fewer hours from home
percent
Jobs can be done from home 32.3 59.4 8.3
Employee usually works from home 23.8 64.7 11.5
Employee does not usually work from home 42.6 53.0 4.4

Hybrid work arrangements have been gaining ground since the beginning of 2022

  • As more employees returned to the office, hybrid work arrangements gained ground in 2022.
  • Some employees were far more likely than others to work exclusively from home in 2022: highly educated workers; highly paid workers; employees in the information and cultural industries sector, the finance and insurance sector, the professional, scientific and technical services sector, and the public administration sector; and those in large firms.
  • The percentage of employees working exclusively from home had an inverted U-shape pattern across age groups.
  • Women were slightly more likely than men to work exclusively from home.

Chart 7

Data table for Chart 7 
Data table for Chart 7
Table summary
This table displays the results of Data table for Chart 7 Hybrid and Exclusively from home, calculated using percent units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Hybrid Exclusively from home
percent
2022
Jan. 3.6 24.3
Feb. 4.5 22.5
Mar. 5.9 20.7
Apr. 5.8 19
May 6.3 19.2
June 6.7 17.9
July 7.9 18
Aug. 8.6 16.8
Sept. 8.6 16.3
Oct. 9 15.8
Nov. 9.4 15.6
Dec. 9.6 15.8
2023
Jan. 9.7 15.5
Feb. 9.8 15.2
Mar. 9.8 15.0
Apr. 9.9 14.7
May 10.0 14.4
June 10.1 14.1
July 10.2 13.9
Aug. 10.3 13.6
Sept. 10.8 13.3
Oct. 11.2 12.9
Nov. 11.7 12.6

Although working from home has increased the pool of workers available to employers, relatively few Canadians work from home for an employer located in another province or abroad

  • The substantial increase in work from home observed since March 2020 raises the possibility that, in the near future, some Canadian workers might be able to work from home for an employer located in another country, in another province or territory, or far within their province.
  • A recent Statistics Canada study estimates that in 2016, 12,600 Canadian employees worked from home for an employer located in another province, up from 3,500 in 2001.
  • LFS data from June 2022 show that 5.3% of all Canadian employees who work from home (179,000 employees) reported to a worksite located in another province.
  • Taken together, these numbers indicate that the number of Canadians working from home for an employer located in another province has grown markedly—albeit from a small base—since 2016.
  • LFS data also show that in June 2022, 87,000 employees working from home reported to an office or worksite located in a different country.

Chart 8

Data table for Chart 8 
Data table for Chart 8
Table summary
This table displays the results of Data table for Chart 8 Number of employees (appearing as column headers).
Number of employees
2001 3,500
2016 12,600
2022 179,000

The increase in work from home has reduced commuting

  • In May 2023, 15.9 million Canadians (79.9% of all 19.9 million workers—data not seasonally adjusted) were usually commuting to a location outside their home.
  • Had the percentage of Canadians working from home stood at 7.1% in May 2023 (instead of 20.1%), the corresponding number would have been 18.5 million (92.9% of 19.9 million workers).
  • Thus, the increase in the number of employees who worked from home from 2016 to 2023 potentially reduced the number of commuters by about 2.6 million during that period.

Chart 9

Data table for Chart 9 
Data table for Chart 9
Table summary
This table displays the results of Data table for Chart 9 Number (millions) (appearing as column headers).
Number (millions)
Number of commuters in May 2016 15.4
Number of commuters in May 2021 12.6
Number of commuters in May 2023 15.9
Hypothetical number of commuters in May 2023 if 7.1% of workers had worked from home in May 2023 18.5

The increase in work from home has reduced public transit use

  • The percentage of commuters using public transit fell from 12.6% in May 2016 to 10.1% in May 2023. Several factors may explain this decline:
    1. Increases in telework reduced the number of passenger-trips of former public transit commuters who now work from home.
    2. By reducing traffic, such increases may also have led some non-teleworkers to switch from public transit to car commuting.
    3. Health concerns triggered by COVID-19, stay-at-home orders and physical distancing measures may have led some individuals to leave public transit permanently.
    4. The reduction in the number of routes—whenever it happened—may also be a contributing factor.

Chart 10

Data table for Chart 10 
Data table for Chart 10
Table summary
This table displays the results of Data table for Chart 10 Work from home and Passenger-trips, calculated using percent and number (10 millions) units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Work from home Passenger-trips
percent number (10 millions)
2020
Jan. 7.2 16.4
Feb. 7.2 16.1
Mar. 24.2 8.9
Apr. 41.1 2.6
May 37.8 2.8
June 30.6 3.9
July 28.4 5.4
Aug. 26.2 5.6
Sept. 25.4 6.3
Oct. 25.9 5.8
Nov. 27.2 5.8
Dec. 28.3 5.4
2021
Jan. 33.1 4.6
Feb. 30.9 4.9
Mar. 29.1 5.5
Apr. 30.7 5.2
May 30.6 5.2
June 27.9 5.5
July 25.9 6.2
Aug. 24.1 6.5
Sept. 23.8 8.2
Oct. 23.7 8.7
Nov. 23.5 9.1
Dec. 23.8 8.2
2022
Jan. 28.8 6.5
Feb. 24.6 7.6
Mar. 22.4 8.9
Apr. 22.4 9.2
May 24.0 9.6
June 23.8 9.7
July 24.2 9.4
Aug. 23.4 9.7
Sept. 22.1 11.7
Oct. 21.8 11.7
Nov. 21.9 11.7
Dec. 22.1 10.5
2023
Jan. 21.9 11.4
Feb. 21.6 10.9
Mar. 21.3 12.6
Apr. 21.1 11.4
May 20.8 12.3
June 20.7 12.0
July 20.5 11.1
Aug. 20.4 11.9

The increase in work from home likely reduced greenhouse gas emissions from transportation

  • A recent Statistics Canada study estimates that if all Canadians whose job could be done from home in 2015 and who worked on-site that year had started working exclusively from home, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from transportation could have fallen by 9.5 megatons of carbon dioxide equivalent on an annual basis. This represents 12% of households’ direct GHG emissions from transportation in 2015.
  • Since not all Canadians currently work exclusively from home, the reduction in households’ direct GHG emissions from transportation triggered by the increase in working from home from May 2016 to May 2023 is, on an annual basis, likely lower than 12%.
  • Another consideration is that, if personal homes are less energy efficient than large office buildings, part of the reduction in GHG emissions triggered by reduced commuting could be offset by emissions associated with households’ increased energy use required for heating or providing air conditioning. The magnitude of this offsetting effect is currently unknown.

Chart 11

Data table for Chart 11 
Data table for Chart 11
Table summary
This table displays the results of Data table for Chart 11 Megatons of CO2 equivalent (appearing as column headers).
Megatons of CO2 equivalent
Newfoundland 0.11
Prince Edward Island 0.03
Nova Scotia 0.24
New Brunswick 0.20
Québec 2.15
Ontario 4.23
Manitoba 0.29
Saskatchewan 0.24
Alberta 1.10
British Columbia 0.92

The increase in work from home potentially generated time savings for many Canadians

  • By eliminating or reducing the need to commute, increases in work from home potentially generated time savings for many Canadians.
  • A Statistics Canada study estimated that if all Canadians who could work from home in 2015 had started working from home instead of commuting, they could have saved about 55 minutes per day, on average, by no longer commuting.
  • Workers in large cities would have experienced the largest time savings. Those in Toronto could have saved an average of 72 minutes per day, while their counterparts in Montréal (64 minutes) or Vancouver (60 minutes) could also have experienced higher-than-average time savings.
  • In contrast, the average time savings of workers living in St. John’s or Regina could amount to roughly 36 minutes per day.

Chart 12

Data table for Chart 12 
Data table for Chart 12
Table summary
This table displays the results of Data table for Chart 12 Daily time savings, calculated using minutes units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Daily time savings
minutes
Canada 55.3
Toronto 72.1
Ottawa–Gatineau 57.8
Montréal 64.3
Calgary 54.6
Vancouver 60.4
St. John's 35.5
Edmunston, N.B. 24.5
Sarnia 32.6
Regina 35.7
Red Deer 33.6

Summary of key findings

  • The increase in work from home observed in recent years potentially generated time savings for many Canadians, reduced commuting and likely reduced households’ direct GHG emissions from transportation.
  • It also reduced the demand for public transit, thereby putting financial pressures on urban transit systems.
  • Employees’ assessments of their productivity while working from home during the pandemic were generally favourable, but whether these assessments align with those of their employers remains to be seen.
  • The increase in work from home was unevenly distributed across regions and groups of workers. Regions that had a high telework capacity—many of which include large cities—ended up having a relatively large proportion of their workforce working from home. Because they often hold jobs that can be done from home, highly educated workers and highly paid workers ended up working from home to a far greater extent than their less educated or lower-paid counterparts.
  • Recent evidence shows that among employees who usually work from home, preferences do not fully align with the proportion of hours they work from home in a given week. Such a mismatch may have important implications for employee retention.
  • Although working from home has increased the pool of workers available to employers—through the recent refinement of telework-enabling technologies—the number of Canadians working from home and reporting to a worksite located abroad or in another province has remained fairly low to date.

For more information, please contact
analyticalstudies-etudesanalytiques@statcan.gc.ca

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