We should care about Canada falling behind on return-to-work

Sunira Chaudhri

Sunira Chaudhri

Toronto Employment Lawyer

As long as employees stay home week after week, resources, transit and infrastructure that we used to enjoy in our cities may begin to vanish before our very eyes.

Hybrid work arrangements are all the rage but are we considering the risks here in Canada as our offices sit vacant more often than they are attended?


A recent Globe and Mail article reported Toronto office attendance has fallen behind major cities in the United States. Downtown office buildings have a 43% attendance rate, while the U.S. is closer to 50%.


North America, however, is lagging behind much of the rest of the world in office attendance. According to research conducted by Jones Lang Lasalle, Europe and the Middle East have had office attendance return to 70% to 90% while Asia is even higher at 80% to 110%. Some Asian regions hit over 100% as workers are spending more time in office now than before the pandemic.


Office attendance is good for companies and employees. More than that, office attendance supports our economy and businesses in Canadian cities. Employees that go to work, frequent restaurants, buy new clothes and attend city events. They take the subway.


Coming into work means more municipal investment in our public transit systems and infrastructure. Attendance on the TTC significantly plummeted over the pandemic and has never rebounded. Reduced patronage on our buses and subways isn’t good for the city.


Lower office attendance in Toronto will result eventually in higher building vacancies as companies shift priorities away from brick and mortar assets. In the long run, not having a place to work from (other than from home) isn’t sustainable for certain employees. Some employees don’t have the resources to work productively at home and others have unsafe living situations (ie domestic violence). Others still suffer psychological impacts from the lack of social connection.


Take the current federal worker strike as an example. A live negotiating issue for PSAC members is the future of remote work. While it may be easy to advocate for hybrid work, the fact is, the hybrid working model is largely still in its nascent stages and we don’t yet know the true cost of it.


As the government has had to cover the costs and maintenance of government buildings that are not well attended by employees, workers have still enjoyed the same compensation and perks as well as additional benefits to help facilitate working from home.


Hybrid work has required employers to maintain traditional working models and create a whole new infrastructure to have employees work remotely like investing in cloud computing, online security, new software, home office allowances and more. Costs for employers straddling in-office/remote work paradigms can only go up.


We should care if our offices are not attended. It’s good for employees. It’s good for employers. But if the employment angle doesn’t convince you, consider the economy of our Canadian cities. As long as employees stay home week after week, resources, transit and infrastructure that we used to enjoy in our cities may begin to vanish before our very eyes.


Have a workplace issue? Maybe I can help! Email me at sunira@worklylaw.com and your question may be featured in a future column.


The content of this article is general information only and is not legal advice.

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