Canadians can all be overjoyed about the progress we have seen in recent days and weeks with COVID-19 vaccine approvals, and with vaccinations now taking place in our communities.
This progress, beyond the obvious impacts, likely means that 2021 will be a very different year than 2020 in terms of where and how we work — especially for Canada’s booming tech sector, which continues to be a major economic driver and occupier of office space.
Canada’s information and communications technology sector (ICT) alone brought in $210 billion in revenue in 2019 and Canada’s tech industry will continue to need space to work.
But decision time is coming for Canada’s tech employers and their landlords about how to best position themselves and cope with what increasingly appears will be a hybridized work model next year, with many tech workers splitting their time between home and the office.
Most tech companies and their workspace providers are having important conversations right now about how to position their offices to be attractive, convenient, productive, purposeful and fun.
For example, what is the right mix for a hybridized work situation? How often should workers be in the office? Two days? Three days? And should tech companies be embracing a flexible shift schedule, with teams spending different times at the office on a regular basis?
Among other considerations, tech firms can assess how their employees interact, and how the workplace can be used to generate ideas, innovations, productivity and social health.
Tech employers might also think about how their work spaces will service the different types of work they do. How can those spaces be arranged or shaped to assist with focused, individual work; creative and collaborative work; team meetings and socializing? Many companies consider it important to provide the same access and opportunities for workers at home as employees who choose to attend the workplace five days a week.
Recent data provides future glimpse
A study released by the Brookfield Institute in 2019 about Canada’s tech industry showed that more than half (53%) of Canada’s tech workers were ages 25 to 44, compared to 38 per cent of workers aged 45 to 64.
A separate and recent survey released by ADP Canada noted that younger workers are particularly drawn to remote work. The survey found that 61% of workers aged 18 to 34 preferred to work remotely at least three days a week compared to 43% of workers over age 35 who indicated that preference — showing a disparity in the appetite to work from home among age groups. Younger workers, however, are often those in most need of coaching, mentorship and knowledge transfer, much of which has been lacking as we work from home.
The data, taken together, suggests there could be a large appetite among Canada’s younger tech workers to embrace a hybrid working model.
Education is another factor to consider. The Brookfield Institute report showed that Canada’s tech workers on average have higher formal education than non-tech workers. A majority of tech workers in Canada (nearly 58%) hold at least a Bachelor’s degree, compared to 39% of non-tech workers in the survey.
StatsCanada indicated that those with higher levels of education were more likely to work from home than those with lower levels of schooling, suggesting that the tech industry in particular will need to address the work-from-home model creatively and effectively as we move through 2021.
Feelings in the market
In recent weeks, the general sentiment in the local market is that most workers are expecting to return to their offices in 2021, and they expect to be at least partially remote.
And let’s not lose sight of the benefits for shared work environments that promote collaboration, culture, social health and creativity.
Plenty of tech work can be done privately, from anywhere, with an internet connection. But the creative thinking, idea development and networking required to cause sales, contracts and projects that generate the bulk of tech work continue to require togetherness and shared work environments.
To put it another way: Will there be as much work for people to do remotely if we can’t return to the spaces that helped generate the ideas and work in the first place?
Keep an eye on the giants
Actions by the tech giants during the pandemic also suggest that tech office space is not about to go extinct.
In August, in the middle of the pandemic, Amazon announced it was expanding its physical offices in six U.S. cities and adding thousands of corporate jobs to those work spaces.
It’s a clear sign the tech giant is making long-term plans around office work. Facebook and Microsoft made similar commitments even while publicly announcing more flexible, long-term work-from-home policies.
Closer to home, Amazon reaffirmed in September plans to grow its bricks and mortar footprint in Vancouver. The company initially said it would hire another 3,000 corporate and tech employees in Vancouver and another 500 in Toronto.
To accommodate those workers, Amazon will move into a new 1.1-million-square-foot building in Vancouver, called The Post. Amazon has since taken up more office space at the site and plans to have more than 6,000 workers there once the building opens in 2023.
Google recently said it would be pushing back its planned return to the office by a few months to September, 2021, but noted as part of its return to office policy it would be testing out a flexible work week. Workers would be expected to work at least three days a week in the office for what The New York Times reported would be “collaboration days”. Staff will be able to work from home the rest of the week.
These signs point to a continued confidence in securing physical space to perform tech work, but don’t diminish the need for Canada’s tech companies to take some time now to answer important questions about their space needs in 2021 and beyond.
Ultimately, tech employers should be developing strategies now to maintain office environments that are purposeful, productive and viable to find the ideal synergy for what will likely become a hybridized work model in 2021.
Determining the right blend of in-office days and work-from-home days; tailoring spaces to stoke collaborative interactions, networking and innovation; and understanding the purpose behind each part of the office represent key actions that tech employers can take to ensure they’re ready for hybrid working next year.
Matt Carlson is Executive Vice President and Tech Sector Leader at Colliers International.