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A traffic jam
By not commuting the average Canadian saves around 48 minutes a day. Image: Deposit Photos

A cultural shift towards working from home will be the silver lining of the pandemic

COVID-19 has brought with it a black cloud of pandemic, illness and civil unrest. Students and working people have had to grapple with a sudden shift to online work and isolation from friends and coworkers, which has caused widespread harm to Canadians mental health. 

And while the possibility for a post-pandemic future seems to be within reach, the national vaccination process is moving with all of the speed of a Porsche on cinder blocks.

A black cloud, indeed. But while we collectively hold our breath in anxious anticipation of what the future holds, we should bear in mind that even black clouds have silver linings.

In a time of such broad societal change, there is one specific evolution that will impact virtually every element of our society in a positive way: a massive cultural and societal shift towards working from home. The impacts of this will be felt in every facet of our lives; be it labour rights, the physical and mental health of Canadians, combating climate change or just having more time to spend with friends and family. We students are the future of Canada’s workforce, and we should see to it that we fight tooth and nail to maintain this cultural shift even after the pandemic is long gone.

Let’s start with an obvious statement: working from home means we don’t have to go to the office. Simple, but what are the deeper implications of this? Well for starters, the average Canadian will save around 48 minutes a day by not commuting, which is roughly four hours a week, 200-ish hours a year and the equivalent of eight days of saved time per year. The 20 per cent of Canadians who have commutes of more than 60 minutes would save two hours a day, 10 hours a week, and 520 hours a year. That’s the equivalent three entire weeks of saved time per year.

While these time savings are already significant, it’s important to remember that a student who enters the working world in their 20s can expect to work for 40 odd years until retirement. If you factor in the time saved without a commute across an entire lifetime, then the average Canadian will save 8,000 hours, which is the equivalent of 333 days or roughly five and a half months. The 20 per cent of Canadians who commute longer than 60 minutes would, across a lifetime, save 20,800 hours, which adds up to 866 saved days is almost three years.

In addition to time saved by working from home, there’s a pretty significant potential for cost savings, too. Statistics Canada has a handy fuel consumption tool that can give us an idea of annual gas expenses: for example, someone driving a 2015 Honda Civic can expect to pay between $1,775 and $1,925 a year in gas. While most people use their cars for groceries and leisure drives as well as commuting, cutting out the daily drives to and from the office would lead to some pretty obvious savings. And, if an individual lives reasonably close to grocery stores and public transit, cutting out a car entirely may be an option, leading to savings both on the initial purchase, gas and insurance.

It’s also worth noting that, were Canadians all to significantly reduce their vehicular emissions, we would as a nation have a much easier time reaching our goal of net-zero emissions by 2050.

Another potential area of improvement is health. Less time spent commuting and more freedom to take breaks will mean that workers spend less time doing the unhealthy task known as sitting. Additionally, working at home means that you have easy access to your kitchen and the ability to cook your own meals, which is much healthier than swinging by Tim Hortons for breakfast and grabbing a burger for lunch. And with all that free time now available after freeing yourself from your commute, it may become easier to squeeze in a workout here or there.

We’ve discussed time, money and health, but there are still other potential benefits. The political and economic distinctions of rural versus urban Canada could be completely turned on their head by a cultural shift to working from home. Part of the reason that downtown apartments in metropolitan areas are so expensive is because they are in close proximity to workplaces and office buildings; if workers shift to online working, these buildings may no longer be necessary for businesses to function. How would that impact cities and workers? Would many people leave their expensive downtown residences for more affordable housing outside of the city? With less demand, would landlords need to lower the prices of apartments? Without thousands of commuters, would municipal governments decide to turn the downtown core into pedestrian-only spaces? And what about the old office buildings, could they become new housing? The possibilities here are legitimately endless, and with 68 per cent of the world expected to live in cities by 2050, the potential changes may make life easier and more affordable for the majority of the world. Additionally, how would a sudden influx of white-collar workers into small towns and rural areas impact the political dimensions of the urban or rural divide in Canada? The idea of Conservative rural voters and Liberal urban voters could theoretically disappear forever.

These are all just some of the ways that a cultural shift towards working from home could positively impact the world going forward. There is no need for workers to have to cram themselves into traffic and waste away in a cubicle for 40 years; the pandemic has shown us this in spades. As students, we need to push our future employers to make sure that working from home options become the new norm.