Joining CUI host Mary W. Rowe for our ongoing series of candid conversations –How is the pandemic transforming the way we work? – are Armine Yalnizyan, Economist and Atkinson Fellow on the Future of Workers; Vicki Saunders, Founder of SheEO; Elizabeth Ha, Equity Vice-President at the Ontario Federation of Labour; Anila Lee Yuen, President & CEO at the Centre for Newcomers; and Gretchen Gscheidle, Founder and CEO at GM Gscheidle R+D.
How is the pandemic transforming the way we work?
A roundup of the most compelling ideas, themes and quotes from this candid conversation
1. COVID has exacerbated Canada’s digital divide
While Canada’s digital divide is often spoken of in terms of the disproportionate internet access felt by northern and remote communities, it is also important to identify growing disparities within Canadian cities. As a large portion of Canadian life is shifted online, those who lack access to vital technologies are facing greater barriers to employment. Anila Lee Yuen highlights the disproportionate effect this has on Canadian newcomers faced with the dual challenge of searching for a job in the midst of a pandemic and adapting to Canadian life in a virtual setting.
2. Canada has a responsibility to ensure the safety of migrant workers
As a resident of Windsor, Ontario, Elizabeth Ha seeks to place the focus on Canadian migrant workers. Outbreaks of COVID-19 amongst migrant farm workers have shed light on unsafe living conditions. Migrant workers travel to Canada on an annual basis in order to help put food on our tables and have become integral contributors to the Canadian economy. Elizabeth contends that the Canadian government has a responsibility to ensure the protection of these workers.
3. ‘Productivity’ is not always a useful buzzword
COVID-19 may represent a valuable opportunity to transform the way we talk about work. Canadians with the privilege to be able to work from home have benefited from increased flexibility and new forms of relationship building. Instead of focusing on productivity, Vicki Saunders argues that businesses should speak more in terms of individual capability and capacity. As children run around in the background of zoom calls, we are reminded that life is incredibly complex and that workplaces should be built in recognition of these complexities.
4. There will be no economic recovery without a ‘She-Covery’
Women are among those who have been most severely impacted by COVID-19. Women with young children, in particular, have struggled to regain employment and have been more likely than men to experience reduced hours. Armine Yalnizyan argues that there will be no economic recovery without a ‘She-Covery’ and there will be no ‘She-Covery’ without accessible childcare. If women do not return to work, household income and household spending will not recover. This is particularly concerning given that 57 percent of Canadian GDP is driven by household spending.
5. Canadians will return to congregate workspaces
While many Canadians are currently working from home, Gretchen Gscheidle has little doubt that we will return to congregate workspaces. However, it remains largely unclear how physical office spaces will be structured and what purpose they will serve moving forward. COVID-19 has forced businesses to rethink how they structure and design their physical office space. Gretchen offers higher education institutions as a potential model for businesses. While university students travel to campus in order to participate in seminars and group meetings, the bulk of their work is completed at home.