Logo StatCan COVID-19: Data to Insights for a Better CanadaRunning the economy remotely: Potential for working from home during and after COVID-19

by Zechuan Deng, René Morissette and Derek Messacar

Physical distancing measures to stop the spread of COVID-19 have resulted in a large number of Canadians working from home, many for the first time.Note  This sudden transition in how the economy is operating raises questions about how many jobs can reasonably be performed from home. While working from home is a temporary response to the pandemic for many people, for others this transition might serve as the catalyst for a new way of doing business for years to come.

To provide new insights into this important issue, this article estimates the number of jobs in Canada that can plausibly be performed from home under normal circumstances—the “telework capacity” of the economy—and compares that estimate with actual telework activity reported early into the pandemic.Note  Then, it considers which types of jobs can be done from home, where they are located and who holds them.

Overall, approximately four in ten (38.9%) Canadian workers are in jobs that can plausibly be carried out from home (Chart 1).Note  By comparison, Statistics Canada’s March 2020 Perspectives Survey Series found that as many workers (39.1%) were teleworking during the last full week of March (Statistics Canada 2020). Taken together, these findings suggest the Canadian labour market responded very quickly to the onset of the pandemic by increasing its prevalence of telework to the maximum capacity.

Chart 1 Telework capacity in 2019, by province or industry

Data table for Chart 1 
Data table for Chart 1
Table summary
This table displays the results of Data table for Chart 1. The information is grouped by By province (appearing as row headers), Telework capacity, calculated using percent units of measure (appearing as column headers).
By province Telework capacity
percent
Full labour force 38.9
Ontario 41.7
Quebec 38.8
British Columbia 38.6
New Brunswick 36.3
Alberta 36.0
Manitoba 34.3
Nova Scotia 33.8
Saskatchewan 33.2
Prince Edward Island 31.3
Newfoundland and Labrador 31.3
By industry
Finance, insurance 85.3
Educational services 84.6
Professional, scientific and technical services 83.9
Information, cultural industries 68.5
Public administration 58.2
Wholesale trade 57.3
Real estate, rental and leasing 47.8
Arts, entertainment, recreation 40.1
Utilities 38.6
Administrative and support, waste management, remediation 35.1
Other services (except public administration) 31.4
Health care, social assistance 28.8
Transportation, warehousing 24.5
Mining, quarrying, oil and gas extraction 23.9
Retail trade 22.0
Manufacturing 19.1
Construction 11.1
Accommodation, food services 5.6
Agriculture, forestry, fishing, hunting 3.9

Telework capacity varies substantially across industries (Chart 1). Most jobs in finance and insurance (85%), educational services (85%), and professional, scientific and technical services (84%) can potentially be performed from home while those in accommodation and food services (6%) and agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting (4%) have almost no telework capacity.Note 

Telework capacity also varies across provinces (Chart 1). This is important since measures to re-open the economy are province-specific. Three of the six provinces with low telework capacity have relatively large shares of workers in mining, oil and gas extraction (i.e., Alberta, Saskatchewan and Newfoundland and Labrador). The inability to work from home in the agricultural industry may help explain the low telework capacities in the Prairies and possibly Prince Edward Island.

Financially vulnerable workers appear to have the lowest telework capacities, including those who are under the age of 25 (21%) and who have a high school diploma (25%) or less than a high school diploma (13%) (Table 1). Since these characteristics are often associated with minimum-wage and low-income workers, the pandemic might be reducing workhours to a greater extent among them than among other workers.Note 


Table 1
Telework capacity in 2019, by selected characteristics
Table summary
This table displays the results of Telework capacity in 2019 Both sexes, Female and Male, calculated using telework capacity (percent) units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Both sexes Female Male
telework capacity (percent)
Full labour force 38.9 46.4 32.1
Age group
Less than 25 20.5 23.5 17.5
25 to 34 40.7 48.4 33.5
35 to 44 44.2 52.7 36.4
45 to 54 42.9 50.5 35.8
55 to 64 38.5 48.5 29.8
65 and over 39.6 46.3 35.2
Education
Less than high school 12.7 16.8 10.3
High school diploma 25.0 34.5 18.0
Some postsecondary 28.1 34.3 22.2
Trades certificate or diploma 19.5 34.7 12.8
College diploma 39.7 46.5 31.6
University certificate below Bachelor's 47.0 51.3 41.7
Bachelor's degree or higher 60.0 60.7 59.2

Conclusion

About four in ten Canadian workers are in jobs that can plausibly be done at home. In contrast, the percentage of employees usually doing any scheduled hours from home changed very little from 2000 to 2018: it varied from 10% to 11% from 2000 to 2008 (Turcotte 2010) and stood at about 13% in 2018 (Statistics Canada 2018). These findings suggest that there was unused capacity in the economy for telework before the pandemic began.

It should be emphasized that the numbers presented in this study do not fully capture the degree to which workers can participate in the economy during the pandemic. Many workers who need to work outside home either provide essential services or hold jobs that can be performed with proper physical distancing measures.

An important question is the extent to which telework arrangements will persist as the new norm in some sectors when the economy is fully reopened. An increase in telework is likely to have far-reaching social and economic implications, including reduced traffic congestion and air pollution and perhaps, increases in online learning in colleges and universities. Whether the growth in telework will improve workers’ mental health, their work-life balance and productivity remains to be seen.

References

Dingel, J.I., and B. Neiman. 2020. How many jobs can be done at home? NBER Working Paper, no. 26948. Cambridge: National Bureau of Economic Research.

Statistics Canada. 2018. General Social Survey, 2016. Ottawa: Statistics Canada.

Statistics Canada. 2020. “Canadian Perspectives Survey Series 1: Impacts of COVID-19 on job security and personal finances, 2020.” The Daily. Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 11-001-X. Ottawa: Statistics Canada.

Turcotte, M. 2010. “Working at Home: An Update.” Canadian Social Trends. Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 11-008-X. Ottawa: Statistics Canada.

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