This article was written in partnership with HSBC Bank Canada. Together we thrive.
Ever visit a cafe on a Tuesday afternoon and wonder why so many of your fellow patrons are staring diligently at their laptop screens rather than idly chatting with friends? The answer is simple: they’re working, or to be more specific, remote working.
When Sunny Hundle reflects on the evolution of the remote working scene in Vancouver, one word springs to mind: growth. In the decade since Sunny’s business partner Kevin Penstock founded The Profile – a co-working space in Vancouver – their business and the wider remote working sector in the city has grown massively.
Speaking on the expedited growth of the company, Sunny is quick to point out their humble beginnings:
“The Profile actually began from an office space in Gastown where Kevin put out a number of ads and filled the office very quickly, and from there The Profile began.”
In the intervening years, The Profile has grown considerably and now has three different co-working spaces dotted around Vancouver.
“We’re also operating cafes in these spaces, and we have 15 meeting rooms for virtual offices, as well as private offices, hot desks and an inclusive community membership program.”
Remote working hubs like The Profile cater to the needs of an ever-expanding cohort of remote workers, freelancers and digital nomads who aren’t tied to the typical office-based working environments of the past. What’s more, the seismic growth of WeWork, which has several locations in Montreal, Vancouver and Toronto as well as plans for new spaces in Calgary in the near future, offers further proof of the viability of shared work spaces. While the continued expansion of other co-working spaces (CoWorker.com offers more than 330 different shared working spaces in most major cities across Canada) highlights that remote working is more than just a fad or passing trend; it’s here to stay.
A recent survey from Regus Canada indicates that almost half (47 percent) of Canadian employees surveyed said they work from outside their main office for half the week. Although this may seem like a relatively high percentage to some, the reality is that Canada is below the global average (54 percent), and also trails well behind countries like China, India and Mexico, who score between 60 and 65 percent respectively, in this category.
In the past a perception existed that almost all traditional jobs took place in a defined office environment, on a strict 9 to 5 basis. Things are different in Canada today with more and more traditional sectors seeing the benefits remote working offers. There are many reasons posited to explain this shift in attitudes towards remote working. Everything from digital infrastructural improvements (better wifi networks), improved communication tools (see Slack), and expensive house prices in many Canadian cities are provided as reasons to explain this phenomenon. And while it may be difficult to single out just one explanation for this shift towards remote working, the reality is that it is happening across all industries in Canada.
Earlier this year, the Canadian federal government began exploratory work into the viability of establishing a shared working environment in designated residential hubs in Ottawa. Their thinking is that this would give public sector employees in the nation’s capital a more convenient alternative to traditional office environments that often come with traffic headaches and other commuting concerns. And while Public Services and Procurement Canada, the department responsible for this exploratory process, has yet to make a final decision on this proposal, the appetite is clearly there for such a development among public servants – a point highlighted by a 2016 public engagement survey which found that 73 percent of 1,200 public sector respondents had asked for flexible work accommodations.
While it is clear that the trend towards remote working is on the rise across Canada, it is important to ask why? From an employer perspective, the benefits that come with having a remote-based team are obvious. Greater autonomy and self-motivation is invaluable for all companies, especially ones that want to instill a culture of ownership and individual decision-making in their team. From a more practical perspective, the ability to hire staff from across the country, rather than one town or city, is a major boon, and can ensure that the best candidate is hired rather than the closest one. Another win is that overheads in terms of rents on large and often expensive office space can be replaced in favour of shared co-working locations.