Only 1 in 5 Canadians want to go back to the office, finds PwC

24 September 2020 3 min. read

Only 1 in 5 Canadians want to go back to the office full-time, according to a recent PwC Canada report. The consulting firm surveyed more than 1500 employees and 500 employers in July to examine perceptions of productivity and willingness to return to the workplace.

The report found that most employees want the flexibility to choose where they work, that remote work is a mixed bag in terms of productivity, and that upskilling is a useful investment.

Remote work here to stay

Before the pandemic 82% of Canadian employees worked primarily at an office; that number has now decreased to 27%, with 57% now working remotely. While most employers (78%) expect at least a partial return to the office in the next three months, only 20% of employees say they want to return to the workplace full-time.

Regionally, employees in Ontario and Quebec have a greater preference for remote work – at least partly due to crushing commute times in Toronto and Montreal and elevated Covid-19 rates in the provinces relative to the rest of the country. Ontarians were the least comfortable (30%) returning to the workplace in the next three months, while employees in Alberta (47%) and Atlantic Canada (45%) were the most comfortable.

Employee preference to work primarily/entirely remotely, by industry
By industry, manufacturing employees were the least likely to prefer working primarily remotely (18%), probably since much manufacturing work requires being on-site. Financial services employees, whose work can be conducted remotely for the most part, were mostly likely to prefer a remote work environment (58%).

Engagement in the digital workplace

The top three work challenges identified by employees was work-life balance (47%), maintaining productivity (46%), and team communication and connectivity (45%). Maintaining work-life balance was most difficult for working parents, many of whom have had to deal with disrupted schooling and childcare arrangements during the pandemic.

Though workers pointed to challenges in maintaining productivity, 40% said they experienced no change while 35% said their productivity increased. Remote productivity perceptions were relatively stable across industries, with financial services workers being the likeliest to report productivity increases (46%)

Employers said their top three work challenges during the pandemic have been maintaining morale and company culture, adjusting to shifting customer needs, and managing connectivity in a virtual environment. 

Employees assess if they have the necessary tools to be successful

Investing in people and training

According to PwC, the two-thirds of Canadian employees who said they were provided upskilling opportunities were likelier to report increased productivity and increased confidence in their company leaders.

 "As remote working environments become the new norm, the need for digital upskilling is heightened. This was clearly demonstrated in our survey findings. Forty percent of employees who were provided upskilling opportunities, such as learning a new digital program, prior to COVID-19 experienced a jump in productivity during the pandemic," said Jean McClellan, national consulting people and organization leader, PwC Canada

Most employees said they had the right tools to do their job, but this varied by industry. Energy and utility workers (90%) and financial services and tech/telecom workers (86%) were likeliest to feel they have the necessary tools and technology to be successful at their job during the pandemic. Public sector workers in government (70%) and education (65%) were least likely to have the necessary tools – as digital processes for public servants to work off-site have been underdeveloped or slow to adapt, and virtual learning infrastructure remains in its early stages of adoption.