The past few years has witnessed a significant shift in the work practices of large companies across Canada. Driven by the growing acceptance of remote work – also known as telework, work-from-home, or hybrid work – it has allowed businesses to access a wider pool of talent while offering employees greater flexibility in how and, importantly, where they work.
This recent movement of people across the country has been largely shaped by the widespread adoption of telework practices originally put in place due to the stay-at-home regulations of the COVID-19 pandemic. In Western Canada, this led to sizable shifts in population patterns as both individuals and families sought new opportunities and lifestyle changes in response to the evolving landscape of work.
And in a post-pandemic era, telework remains a very common practice.
Many roads lead to Alberta
One of the most notable trends has been the movement of people from large urban centres, such as Vancouver, Calgary, and even Toronto, to smaller communities or more rural areas. This has been driven by a desire for affordable at-home office space, lower living costs, and a closer proximity to nature.
With telework allowing individuals to work from anywhere with a high-speed internet connection, many have taken advantage of this newfound flexibility to escape the high costs and stresses of city life.
During a recent Calgary Real Estate Forum, Shawn Abbott, partner in an investment firm Inovia Capital, noted that many young grads that have left Calgary to go to school and work in Toronto came back home during COVID. According to Abbott, “these [young grads] are the people who decide where the companies are. This is what decides the shape of real estate. This is what decides the needs of space.”
This trend is supported by a CBC News article that reported “close to 10,000 young people moved to Alberta between 2021 and 2022” according to data from Statistics Canada.
At the same time, telework has offered opportunities for more individuals from across the nation to pursue opportunities in Western Canada that were previously out-of-reach. For example, people who would have been unable to relocate to Calgary and Edmonton due to work restrictions or limited job opportunities are now able to do so thanks to telework. Even with inflation factored in, Alberta remains an attractive place to live as the cost of living is comparatively lower than other major Canadian cities.
And in a highly competitive labour market, companies can tap into a much larger pool of talent; by allowing employees to work from anywhere, businesses can attract people with a wider range of skills and experience.
A Work-Life balance. Or is it?
Telework also offers greater flexibility in how we work day-to-day. This has been a rapidly growing trend in recent years, as employees seek greater work-life balance and the benefits of working from home. The pandemic has highlighted the importance of having a comfortable home that can also support remote work.
As more people experience the personal (if not productivity) benefits of telework, it’s doubtful they will want to go back to the ‘old normal’.
Telework has allowed many to live and work in a community with others who share their values and interests. A rural or suburban centre could provide an opportunity for people to physically connect with like-minded neighbours, collaborate on local projects, and enjoy a sense of community that can be hard to find when working remotely in a more urban setting.
For example, the moderately large urban centre of Fort McMurray has seen an increase in younger people and families relocating to other communities as remote work opened up new work options.
With this renewed sense of community and work-life-balance, indications are that employees tend to be happier and more motivated. This in turn helps companies retain top talent by offering flexible work arrangements that allow employees to better balance their personal and professional lives.
However, for individuals who are now working primarily from home, it's important to recognize how this could affect their mental health. While working from home can lead to increased flexibility and cost savings, it can also lead to feelings of isolation and burnout. It's vital for individuals to set boundaries between work and personal life, and to take breaks to maintain their mental health.
What does this mean for agents?
This movement of people across Canada, and Western Canada in particular, over the past few years has been heavily influenced by the adoption of telework practices. As more and more companies embrace flexible work arrangements, we can expect to see continued growth in remote work and the resulting changes in population patterns. This trend is likely to have long-lasting impacts on the social and economic landscape of Western Canada.
In general, the shift towards the suburbs has led to increased demand for suburban homes and decreased demand for city homes, which has resulted in higher home prices in the suburbs and lower home prices in the cities. According to the Bank of Canada, before the pandemic the price gap between houses in the suburbs and those downtown was closing slowly but steadily. This house price gap narrowed faster during the pandemic, consistent with a preference shift toward more living space in the most coveted of destinations.
As a result, suburban home sales have surged, with many properties receiving multiple offers and selling above asking price. Calgary assessor Eddie Lee says that the real estate market has struggled to keep up, and with more hybrid working or telework positions becoming available, being close to the downtown is not as important as it once was.
An illustrative example of this phenomenon is Airdrie, a small city just north of Calgary within the Calgary-Edmonton corridor. With the help of nearby mountains, friendly neighbourhoods, affordability, and attractive quality-of-life considerations, Airdrie has experienced one of the highest growth rates in Canada and is currently the fastest-growing city in Alberta.
The movement of people from cities to suburbs or rural areas has had a significant impact on the real estate market, with suburban and rural homes becoming more expensive and city homes becoming more affordable. The real estate industry is seeing this in the short-term; time will tell if this is a clear trend in the long-term.
Keeping in the know
Check out our blog series Home is Where the Work Is? based on our research on telework in Alberta. Through these blog posts, we will cover topics such as:
Understanding how remote work is changing the real estate industry
How telework led people to move from the downtown core to suburban and rural areas
Green tips for working-from-home
How telework has changed how we design and use spaces
Find all our resources – and all our blog posts in this series – at www.AlbertaTelework.ca. Presented by the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology and RFS Consulting, and funded by the Alberta Real Estate Foundation.