Before the pandemic, work was a place. A physical building you commuted to, a desk where you answered emails and boardrooms where you met with coworkers.
A year later, the concept of work has shifted. For many, to virtual tasks and gatherings that can be done from anywhere with an internet connection. This new remote workforce has not only freed employees from the commuting grind but has opened the talent pool to include a more diverse group of people, including those with disabilities and employees in wide-spread geographic locations.
At the beginning of the pandemic while businesses were adjusting their operations, closing down locations or limiting hours, Canada saw a decrease in activities that supported workplace hiring and inclusion efforts of people with disabilities. Businesses were concerned about lengthy training needs, particularly regarding new or modified safety and health protocols implemented in response to COVID-19.
One organization in BC did the opposite. Working with the BC Partners in Workforce Innovation, the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia (ICBC) took significant steps during the pandemic to keep inclusion moving forward and ensure people with disabilities were part of their diverse team.
“We’ve worked our recruitment process to be more inclusive for persons with disabilities, and we’ve made practical changes like changing the language in our job postings,” said Magda Trespalacios, Organizational Development Consultant at ICBC. “We invite candidates to let us know if there are any adjustments they’d need made to perform at their best.”
These types of adjustments—flexible works hours or specialized computer equipment—allow more people with disabilities to enter the workforce or to work in their existing positions more comfortably. Even seemingly small adjustments, like access to online chat features, can make a difference.
“I have a speech disability, specifically a stutter,” explained Meenakshi Das, a software engineer who’s been working from home during the pandemic. “Work from home has been great for me—I use the chat feature in online meetings to share my thoughts.”
The pandemic has revealed that the kinds of modifications that facilitate the inclusion of people with disabilities are the same changes that have enabled us to adjust to the unexpected challenge of the pandemic, said Lacey Croft, a researcher on the Invisibility to Inclusion project based at the University of Guelph. Yet, until COVID happened, these kinds of accommodations were often resisted by employers.
“Pre COVID, work from home was generally not popular, and disabled people had to try hard to get these accommodations,” said Das. “It took a pandemic for people to realize how accommodations are low cost and totally doable. I hope it stays that way.”
People with disabilities aren’t the only workers who have enjoyed the new work-from-home reality. According to research by the Pew Research Center, 54% of people who can do their job from home want to continue to do so either all or most of the time post pandemic. A third said they’d want to work remotely some of the time. Just 11% report rarely or never wanting to work from home.
“The pandemic has revealed that the kinds of modifications that facilitate the inclusion of people with disabilities are the same changes that have enabled us to adjust to the unexpected challenge of the pandemic.”
“The ability for many jobs to be performed outside the workplace has given employers a unique opportunity to extend their candidate searches well beyond typical geographic boundaries to access a much deeper talent pool,” said David King, Canadian Senior District President of global staffing firm Robert Half. “As the Canadian labour market evolves and organizations position themselves for recovery and growth, this will continue to be an important strategy for organizations looking to fill in-demand roles with specific and hard-to-find skillsets.”
Without geographic boundaries limiting a search, companies are free to open their employment searches to include people in other cities and provinces while searching for the right fit. This can help bring a wealth of experience to the company and add additional freedom for current employees who’d like to keep their current roles but move to a new location.
A recent study by Robert Half shows relocation is a big consideration for professionals and employers right now. 44 percent of surveyed workers said they’d consider moving to a different city if their company offered long-term remote arrangements. Another 3 percent have already made a move.
Sophie Chen and her husband had been toying with the idea of moving from Toronto to the suburbs for years. The couple was expecting their second child and eager to find a home with more room. But it wasn’t until the pandemic hit that they finally did it. In May the couple upgraded from their small three-bedroom home in the city to a 4,500-square-foot house with four bedrooms, four bathrooms and a finished, walkout basement in Aurora, a 50 kilometer drive north of Toronto.
Over the last year, many urban dwellers stuck at home working from their dining room table in an impossibly small apartment made a similarly quick decision to flee the big city and relocate to small towns, the country or in some cases, a different province.
“Most organizations transitioned to remote work because of the pandemic, and employees have proven they don’t need to be in the office to be productive,” said King. “Now that companies are set up to support working from home, workers are more likely to pursue moving to an area that will enhance their standard of living and quality of life.”
Statistics Canada data shows that between the beginning of July 2019 and the start of July 2020, a period that includes the early months of the COVID-19 emergency, Toronto saw 50,375 more people leaving the city for other areas of Ontario than making the opposite move.
Montreal experienced a similar net outflow of 24,880 people, although both cities still saw overall population growth thanks to international immigration. Data suggests some homebuyers looking to stretch their dollar went as far as the Maritimes, with Halifax seeing a net inflow of 1,584 people from other provinces.
“Whether employees are considering permanent or temporary moves, the pandemic has accelerated the shift to an anywhere workforce and forever changed the way companies operate and manage employees,” added King. “Flexibility and trust will both be critical as teams become more dispersed and organizations navigate ongoing change.”
This flexibility will have a lasting effect on the Canadian workforce going forward. With the ability to not only work from home, but also to work from anywhere, employers are able, more than ever before, to fill their company with the best and brightest from across the country.