work from home ontario

Ontario government still wants you to work from home if you possibly can

Love it or hate it, this "work-from-home all the time" thing is more permanent than most of us would have guessed back in March, when the province first declared a state of emergency and we all jumped into our sweatpants with glee.

Seven more of Ontario's 34 public health regions are set to enter Stage 3 of the province's reopening plan tomorrow, joining 24 regions that advanced last week, leaving only Toronto, Peel and Windsor-Essex behind.

For some people, this will mark a return to the workplace as dine-in restaurants, bars, fitness centres, theatres, casinos, team sports and live event venues resume operations (with strict safety measures in place, of course, to prevent the spread of COVID-19.)

For others, it will mean absolutely nothing.

Those of us who've been working full-time from home since the lockdown period began will likely continue perfoming the same daily work routine as we have been for the past four months. Again and again. Again and again.

While office buildings don't expicitly appear on the province's list of "places and activities not yet safe to open" under Stage 3, public health officials are still asking anyone who can work from home to do so.

"Workplaces must put the necessary measures in place to protect the health of their workers and the public, including safe physical distancing and frequent and thorough hand-washing," reads the province's advice for businesses and employers.

"Work from home arrangements should continue where possible."

If you work in tech, media, design, development, finance, marketing, accounting, advertising or any other sort of business or studio environment, this likely applies to you.

Statistics Canada reported in late May that roughly 40 per cent of Canadians can effectively do their jobs outside of their primary workplace. The results of a survey from Angus Reid published in June suggest that about a third of Canada's population has been working from home since the pandemic began.

Only 36 per cent of that third felt confident saying they'd go back to the office once COVID-19 concerns subside, and with trendsetting employers like Shopify and Facebook annoucing permanent work-from-home policies for most employees, it's looking more and more like some Ontarians won't be returning to the office this year — if ever.

Several major banks in Toronto have told their corporate employees that January of 2021 is the earliest possible date they can expect to go back to the office, and even then, it likely won't be all employees at the same time due to space constraints and the need for physical distancing.

"The advice to work from home or remotely as much as possible still stands," said a spokesperson for Ontario's Ministry of Finance to CTV on Thursday, noting that Stage 3 will last for the forseeable future.

The advice may change once a vaccine is developed and widely adopted, but by that point the work-from-home system may be so entrenched that some employers choose it in favour of paying for office space.

"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," wrote StatsCan in a preliminary evaluation of COVID's impact on working conditions on May 28.

"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," the report continues.

"Whether the growth in telework will improve workers' mental health, their work-life balance and productivity remains to be seen."

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