Will Canadians Continue to Work, Play, and Live Online After COVID-19?

Will Canadians Continue to Work, Play, and Live Online After COVID-19?

The pandemic has significantly accelerated the shift towards remote work, at-home entertainment and virtual connections. How might this shape the future of Canada's labour market in the decade ahead?
Heather Russek
Collaborator, Innovation Design + Futures
Jessica Thornton
Collaborator
Darren Elias
Collaborator
February 10, 2021
Print Page

From spending Saturday nights streaming Netflix at home, to a growing adoption of remote work policies, more and more Canadians have been making the shift from in-person activities to virtual ones. COVID-19 has significantly accelerated this shift, meaning that more and more Canadains are living, working, and playing online. However, not all Canadians have sufficient access to internet or digital skills to participate in the online economy, while others may prefer face-to-face engagement when possible, which over time may limit the growth of this trend.

In our new report, Yesterday’s Gone: Exploring possible futures of Canada’s labour market in a post-COVID world, produced in partnership with the Future Skills Centre, we’ve identified 34 meso-trends that could impact the future work in Canada. This report uses futures research and expert workshops to explore a broad range of trends—many of which have been accelerated, disrupted, or created by COVID-19—that have the potential to impact Canada’s labour market over the coming decade. This report is not meant to be a comprehensive overview, a prediction of the future, or a deep analysis of any one trend. It’s meant to explore and consider the potential for different trends to interact in ways that are not always obvious, as well as how these trends may impact populations and demographic groups differently. Here, we explore meso-trends related to our lives online that could shape Canada’s labour market in the decade ahead.

1. Permanent Remote Work

According to Statistics Canada, 40% of workers shifted to working from home as a result of pandemic lockdowns. This is expected to continue once restrictions lift. In May 2020, Shopify announced they would be digital by default and in July 2020, the Conference Board of Canada announced that it was selling its head office. The concept of work-from-anywhere is also emerging, with Barbados offering 12-month remote work visas for visitors. While remote work enables greater flexibility, Canadians are also working more, with 55% of remote employees working through the weekend. As companies and workers adjust to the new reality of virtual and geographically distributed teams, this may contribute to changes in talent recruitment, a greater blurring of lines between work and leisure, and social isolation. In addition, it may impact urban economic hubs—an example being Calgary, whose downtown was already experiencing high office vacancy rates, and hit nearly 30% in September 2020. This may also mean the loss of mainstreet retail and restaurants, as well a reduced demand for work-related travel and conferences. 

However... many essential workers are unable to work remotely, 48% of Canadian employers do not intend to continue their flexible working policies once the pandemic is over, and workers may face pay cuts, with Facebook introducing reduced pay if employees move to cheaper areas to work from home.

In 2030 this could mean:

  • There may be greater societal polarization between people who are able to work from home (with flexibility) and people who are not.
  • Employers may need to find new ways to establish institutional culture and enable knowledge transfer, and this may result in new types of jobs.
  • Workers may be able to participate in “collaborative telepresence,” making a full sensory immersion possible, even from different locations.
  • Time zones may become a leading consideration in hiring rather than residence in a specific country or city.

Potential labour market implications:

  • There may be a shift to global workforces, with implications for tax policy.
  • Growth in services to support virtual collaboration may emerge, such as new virtual collaboration spaces and virtual interface design to support innovation and creativity.
  • There could be growth in mental health–related services to respond to social isolation and burnout as well as the loss of social capital and interpersonal skills.

Signal Maturity: Emerging

2. Rural Boom

Approximately 18% of Canada’s total population lives in rural areas, a number that has been on a steady decline since the 1960s. However, since the pandemic began, Ontario, British Columbia, and Atlantic Canada have all seen a record number of Canadians leaving big cities for greener spaces. Given skyrocketing urban housing markets, increasing remote work opportunities, and growing desires for bigger houses (for home offices and remote learning), Canada’s rural areas may experience unprecedented population growth in the coming years. Local economic development opportunities may follow as demand for restaurants, shops, services, and other businesses is created, while growth in rural-based start-ups may also occur, as signaled by the decision by Ryerson’s tech accelerator, DMZ, to explore expansion across Canada with a focus on rural locations

However… Montreal house prices are up 12.5% from last fall, and the Toronto real estate market saw its biggest September on record, suggesting not everyone is ready to move out of urban areas. Furthermore, not all workers have the ability to work remotely, the digital skills necessary, or the financial means to make the move. 

In 2030 this could mean:

  • There may be  greater demographic diversity in Canada’s rural communities.
  • There could be an increase in rural housing prices while cities become more affordable.
  • Expansive growth of digital public services and supportive broadband infrastructure may occur.
  • There may be a return of thriving mainstreets in rural communities across Canada.

Potential labour market implications:

  • As employers become more comfortable managing a remote workforce, there may be an increase in cross-border hiring, and subsequent changes to employment eligibility laws. 
  • Employers might need to compete for talent based on their ability to provide a thriving remote work culture.
  • Rural governments may explore new forms of taxation for home offices to cover service costs associated with population growth.

Signal Maturity: Weak Signal

3. Post-Secondary, Disrupted

There are 103 universities across Canada, employing 310,000 people and with 1.4 million students participating in programs. However, the traditional in-person post-secondary experience is shifting to online instruction, using various platforms including virtual and augmented reality. According to ABI Research, global spending on virtual reality in education will reach $640 billion by 2023. Employer requirements and investments in training are also changing, with companies like Google offering six-week career certificates that they accept instead of a four-year degree, and some states reducing occupational licensing requirements. Together, these changes may result in significant changes to the post-secondary ecosystem over the next decade.

However… enrollment at post-secondary institutions is continuing at almost the same rate as before the pandemic.

In 2030 this could mean:

  • Workers may have non-linear careers, creating an even greater demand for micro-credentials, tailored learning products, and services for mid-career workers.
  • Reverse internships could become the norm, where interns pay employers for relevant experience.
  • Instead of credentials, AI could increasingly be used to determine compatibility during the hiring process, further impacting post-secondary learning expectations.

Potential labour market implications:

  • The traditional post-secondary education sector may be disrupted, including through reduced reliance on physical infrastructure and faculty in major cities across the country, in favour of digital environments and learning from anywhere.
  • A wider, global pool of potential students who might not otherwise have been able to access certain training programs may gain access, increasing Canada’s talent pool.
  • A continued expansion of virtual learning environments and workplaces may create a greater demand for social, emotional, and metacognitive skills.

Signal Maturity: Emerging

4. Immersive Digital Leisure

Rapid technological advancements and hyper-realistic user experiences have led to a recent boom in demand for digital recreation. The Esports market, for example, is expected to be worth over $600 million by 2022. COVID-19–induced physical distancing requirements and more downtime have accelerated the adoption of escapist entertainment like VR, immersive gaming, and 3D creation platforms like Roblox, which has spiked to over 250 million monthly users this year. The restrictions on crowds at in-person events has led to many creative virtual fan experiences, including a Travis Scott concert that took place in Fortnite, Balenciaga’s fashion show that occurred fully in VR, and sports leagues like the NBA bringing fans virtually into stadiums to simulate the in-person experience. 2020 has also seen the incorporation of these technologies beyond the entertainment sector, with VR corporate team-building events, for example. This could increase demand for digital fluency in extended reality (XR) environments, while online gaming, telecoms, and digital accelerators may all experience growth.

However… entertainers are finding creative solutions for in-person shows. For example, the Flaming Lips performed a concert in bubbles, to a crowd in bubbles.

In 2030 this could mean:

  • There could be increased mental health concerns, with more people spending time alone.
  • There could be a rise in digital conferences and VR tourism that may reduce both business and leisure travel.
  • Some people might work entirely in virtual or augmented reality.
  • The adoption of DIY immersive digital content creation could disrupt and democratize the entertainment and video game industries.
  • Written (and not verbal) communications could become the norm.

Potential labour market implications:

  • This trend may lead to the mass gamification of education, work, and retail, which could have significant impacts on skill requirements in these areas.
  • Active engagement with immersive digital tools in recreational environments as a learning tool, for example in rural areas, could lead to greater diversity in supply of XR-fluent talent.
  • A decline in in-person interaction could lead to an evolution of workplace social skills.  

Signal Maturity: Emerging

Share

For media enquiries, please contact Lianne George, Director of Strategic Communications at the Brookfield Institute for Innovation + Entrepreneurship.

Heather Russek
Collaborator, Innovation Design + Futures
Jessica Thornton
Collaborator
Darren Elias
Collaborator
February 10, 2021
Print Page

Share