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Survey: Pandemic’s changes to travel and other business practices appear permanent

In August, Research Co. and Glacier Media asked Canadians about the “ Great Break-Up ,” or the notion that the pandemic had enabled couples to realize that they were not meant to be together.
Pollster Mario Canseco finds Liberal lead over Conservatives has narrowed quickly since election call. | BIV

In August, Research Co. and Glacier Media asked Canadians about the “Great Break-Up,” or the notion that the pandemic had enabled couples to realize that they were not meant to be together. Late last month, we studied another concept that spawned out after we became familiar with COVID-19: the “Great Resignation.”

Since 2020, we have queried British Columbians about their jobs. The fact that mandates and restrictions are now behind us provides a unique opportunity to analyze if the return to the office is going as hoped.

For those who expected 2022 to be the same as 2019, there may be a shock. Companies have chosen to continue to embrace technology, even if the pandemic is no longer forcing employees to keep away from each other. When we asked employed British Columbians about meetings, the popularity of a hybrid model is clear, with just under three in 10 telling us that they are now experiencing more in-person staff meetings (27 per cent) and more virtual staff meetings (28 per cent) than during the pandemic.

A similar situation is observed when we discuss business development efforts. Similar proportions of employed British Columbians say they are experiencing more virtual meetings (24 per cent) and in-person meetings (21 per cent) with prospective clients than at the height of COVID-19 concerns. On this indicator, there is again no clear leader as far as companies entirely favouring one system.

One area where the pandemic’s effect appears to be more permanent is travel. While 15 per cent of employees say they are noticing more business trips between offices than during the pandemic, 27 per cent report an increase in virtual communications between offices.

The experience of the more than half of British Columbians who worked from home at least temporarily during the COVID-19 pandemic is broad. Just over three in 10 of these “home employees” (31 per cent) are still labouring from home five days a week –including 47 per cent of those aged 55 and over.

Similar proportions of pandemic “home employees” avoid the commute three to four times a week (25 per cent) or once or twice a week (32 per cent). Only 11 per cent of pandemic “home employees” are not working from home at all anymore.

There seems to be a perfect balance in the way British Columbians who worked from home during the pandemic are feeling about their current situation. More than three in five (63 per cent) say they are happy with their arrangement, but about one in five are either staying at home (19 per cent) or going to the office (18 per cent) more often than they would prefer.

For pandemic “home employees” aged 18 to 34, the discrepancies are more radical. While 19 per cent say they are working from home less often than they would like to, 29 per cent say they are would like to be out more often than now. The province’s youngest adults are more likely to feel the urge to get away from the kitchen table than their older counterparts.

At this stage, the numbers do not suggest that British Columbia will avoid the “Great Resignation” if the right opportunities come along. Just under one in 10 pandemic “home employees” (eight per cent) say they already left their previous job to be at one where they can work from home more often, including 11 per cent of women and 16 per cent of those who live in the Fraser Valley.

More than half of pandemic “home employees” (53 per cent) say they are “very likely” or “moderately likely” to seek a different job if their current company does not meet their wishes to avoid the commute.

Compared with what we reported at the start of the year, the needle has not moved significantly on the likelihood of pandemic “home employees” searching for more flexible options in a different company located in their own metropolitan area (66 per cent, up two points), in other areas of British Columbia (59 per cent, up two points) or in another Canadian province (45%, unchanged).

The province’s youngest pandemic “home employees” remain a massive conundrum for human resources departments. While these workers aged 18 to 34 are more likely to say that they are happy with their labour conditions right now, they are also willing to jump ship if a suitable offer comes along. Three in four of them (75 per cent) are ready to seek a different job in their own metropolitan area that would grant them the flexibility they crave. There could be a swift change in the type of “young go-getter” that companies attract and keep.

Mario Canseco is president of Research Co.

Results are based on an online study conducted from September 28 to September 30, 2022, among 700 adults who work in British Columbia. The data has been statistically weighted according to Canadian census figures for age, gender and region in British Columbia. The margin of error – which measures sample variability – is plus or minus 3.7 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.