Working from home – On March 23rd 2020, the Quebec government announced the closure of all non-essential commercial activities and services in the province, except for teleworking and e-commerce businesses. It was expected to be for just a few weeks, but it was not until May when some re-openings were allowed – with the Greater Montreal area permitted to follow a few weeks later. Now most businesses have re-opened, but with strict protocols to follow. Some have not been able to survive and have shut permanently, while others are still struggling. Especially hard hit are the small businesses and Mom-and-Pop stores.
A significant part of the problem began from the start, as most people turned to working from home. Telecommuting made it possible for many companies to keep their business alive and employees to keep their jobs. All one needed was a computer with access to the Internet, email and a telephone. However, now that restrictions have loosened and businesses reopened, many people are still working from home – with no plans to return to the office or workplace anytime soon. It has brought forth an unprecedented challenge for small businesses who are hanging on by a thread. Their survival is at stake.
Office buildings, especially in the downtown area
On social media, people are lamenting the loss of a favourite business they have visited for years, some for decades. From restaurants, bakeries, shoe and bookstores to clothing stores, record stores and more – they are posting pictures and sharing memories as each one closes their doors. Office buildings, especially in the downtown area, are empty for the most part with only a few essential employees needing to be physically there – and that translates into less customers. Across the Island, many other companies also have employees working from home – and it is greatly reducing the number people small businesses depend on for their income. The ‘foreseeable’ future for them is blurry at best.
A new survey by ADP Canada (providing solutions for human resource challenges for close to 70 years and listed on Fortune Magazine’s World’s Most Admired Companies list for 12 consecutive years) and Maru/Blue (a respected data services firm providing reliable global data connections for brands, agencies and market research) suggests that many employees who have been working remotely due to the COVID-19 pandemic would like to continue working from home indefinitely and that employers have an opportunity to embrace flexible work options beyond the pandemic.
Would most Canadians like to work remotely?
The study found that ‘45% percent of working Canadians would prefer to work remotely at least three days a week and more than one quarter would prefer to work flex hours. Respondents, including managers and front-line employees, also said that remote work did not have a significant impact on productivity, quality of work and hours of work. While over half of employees surveyed (55%) say their employer has continued to allow remote and flexible work throughout COVID-19’. They also found that ‘the younger generation of workers appear particularly drawn to remote work, with 61% of workers aged 18 to 34 saying they prefer to work remotely at least three days a week, compared to 43% of workers over 35. Additionally, only 13% of workers aged 18 to 34 said their job does not allow remote work, compared to one quarter of workers aged over 35. The bottom line: if small businesses are to survive, they need support. Going a little out your way for a few items or shopping local, can go a long way.