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‘Remote work can actually be more productive’: More Hub readers respond to the work-from-home phenomenon

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Here at The Hub we are convinced that delays in getting back to the office and now the rise of so-called “quiet quitting” risk having significant consequences for individual Canadians, the economy, and our broader society that need to be better understood and debated.

We recently ran an editorial that made the case for getting back to the office, but we don’t want to have the last word on the subject. We put out the call for Hub readers to respond with their own experiences and are delighted to share the latest sample of comments and feedback. We will continue to share your feedback as it comes in.

If you would like to tell us about your own empty office experience or contribute to this discussion, please email us at editorial@thehub.ca or contact us anonymously via our online submission form.

Remote work can actually be more productive

I’m a manager for ten-plus finance professionals at a resource-based employer in Western Canada. We worked from home very effectively through the pandemic, churning out scenario after scenario, and analyzing the range of potential business outcomes due to the pandemic disruption. Our team knocked it out of the park while working from home, and leadership noticed. I found my team’s quality was up because distractions were down, young parents were more rested, and we all understood that this was our opportunity to show that this operating model had merit. We engage via video regularly and have set up chats for the typical office banter.

In my experience, the most resistant managers are those that didn’t want remote work to ever be successful because they are not disciplined enough to self-manage and had not already established the authority and relationships to effectively pivot their teams when needed. They are not able to lead remotely so they push to get back to face to face. Oh, and they are typically over 50, white, and male. They feel a much strong sense of “belonging” in the office than the rest of us. If you want something to fail, it will. We want the remote model to succeed and I’m confident it will. If not today, then in five years when they have all moved on. Patience, grasshoppers.

Government unions are the real issue

The real issue is allowing unions in a monopoly environment. With no competition, government unionized employees will always get much more than private employees.

Work from home solidifies class privilege

Your Hub Roundtable discussion about the return to the office (or resistance to doing so) on the part of the public sector had a more practical edge that was very useful. The public sector’s attempts to transform the privilege of working from home into a right is indeed problematic from the perspective of social justice. Unfortunately, it is almost invisible to unions, the government as an employer, and most public servants after years of interpreting “privilege” and social justice solely in terms of race and gender. Class considerations are almost considered a red herring. For certain jobs, hybrid or remote work makes sense. For others, it does not. In either case, its widespread practice solidifies and exacerbates privilege, even if such work arrangements make sense and are a serious boon to individuals.

As a public servant myself, it is disturbing to see how few of my colleagues are willing to see beyond their interests as public servants to the interests of the public service itself—or are simply uninterested in doing so. But there are consequences for both individual public servants and the public service as a whole. We are going to become increasingly hated by the Canadian public, and one day there will be a well-deserved reckoning that will result in significant layoffs and real damage to the public service. Most of us are motivated by a genuine desire to serve our fellow citizens, yet some are unable to see beyond their own convenience.

Over the past week or so, I have been annoyed by the typical antipathy to the public service expressed by The Hub, but that is independent of the real concerns that have been raised about the direction things are going. The balance will reinstate itself, but the further it weighs on one side of the scale, the uglier the correction will be.

Have YIMBYs won the development debate?

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Canadians keep having to earn more to rent or buy a place to live. Nowhere is that issue more prominent in Canada than Vancouver or Toronto, two of the world’s most expensive cities.

Although unaffordability has affected Canadians for years, this year’s municipal elections have seen overtly pro-development and pro-affordability, or YIMBY (Yes In My Back Yard), candidates take centre stage. 

It’s a marked change from the past, where the conventional wisdom has assumed that homeowners, who make up the majority of voters, will always oppose development out of self-interest. Now some candidates are betting that a political sea change is underway and are hoping to ride the first wave of pro-development votes.

Mark Marissen, a long-time federal Liberal strategist, is running for mayor in Vancouver as the candidate for Progress Vancouver, a party he helped found in 2018. Progress is also running a full slate of candidates for city council. 

In a plan called “Housing for All”, Progress declares changing Vancouver’s zoning laws as crucial to new developments aimed at boosting supply and lowering the cost of renting and buying property. 

The average cost of a house in Vancouver is over $1 million, which Marissen says drives younger generations away to the suburbs. 

“The average young Canadian family that doesn’t have access to an inheritance, they’re never gonna be able to buy one of these homes,” says Marissen. “We need young families in our neighbourhoods.” 

Progress wants to end a municipal ban on six-storey rental and four-storey strata buildings in parts of Vancouver currently zoned for single-family homes, specifically around schools and transit hubs. 

Upwards of 75 percent of Vancouver is zoned for detached, single-family houses, leaving little space for densification outside the downtown core. 

Their goal targets 15,000 new units per year, half rentals—a goal to be aided by a streamlined development approval process. 

A recent 25-storey tower proposed for Vancouver’s downtown was originally pitched as a rental development, but the proposal was altered last week to become solely condominiums. Marissen says a lack of new rental housing resulted from the federal government’s scaling back of incentives for developers to build them. 

“This is a legacy of 30 years of housing policy that hasn’t been working,” says Marissen. “The last time we built a lot of purpose-built rentals was back in the sixties.” 

Marissen says cooperation between different labels of government is required to solve the housing crisis, and that process will require pressure from the municipal level to begin. 

“I think more and more people are becoming aware of how important this is,” says Marissen “It’s been ground zero here in Vancouver, so it’s understandable that we are a few years ahead of people on this stuff.” 

In Toronto, incumbent mayor John Tory is facing challenges from Gil Peñalosa, founder of the non-profit 8 80 Cities, and Stephen Punwasi, an entrepreneur and founder of Better Dwelling, a housing news website. Both Peñalosa and Punwasi have made affordability central to their platforms, though Punwasi has a history of criticizing YIMBYs and proposes alternate plans

Sushil Tailor is a YIMBY advocate in Toronto. He says both Vancouver and Toronto face the same problems because of their existing zoning laws. Toronto recently outpriced Vancouver as the most expensive city in Canada. 

“These cities are primarily facing the same issues as it relates to housing: there is not enough supply to accommodate demand,” says Tailor. “Municipal regulations ensure we are not allowed to build net new housing on about 70 percent of land in both Toronto and Vancouver.” 

Tailor says people long-believed housing was a bubble, and that managing demand was the solution, like tighter restrictions on development. However, Tailor calls that approach a “charade”, and that new regulations made it much harder for new housing. 

Marissen says candidates can no longer reliably win municipal elections by running on stopping development and building new homes. 

“That just shows how much the scene has changed and how especially for young people, young families, anybody under 40,” says Marissen. “That kind of rhetoric that people used to use to get elected municipally is Boomer rhetoric that doesn’t appeal to them.” 

In 2018, Marissen wrote an op-ed stating that YIMBYs would dominate Vancouver politics in the future. According to a poll last week where he placed fourth, Marissen faces an uphill battle to win the mayoral race. 

Vancouver’s incumbent mayor Kennedy Stewart has called for 220,000 new homes in Vancouver over 10 years, while Toronto mayor John Tory has promised reform and increased density in Toronto. 

Critics have pointed out both mayors had years to help boost the housing supply, but say it is a positive sign they are talking about it. 

“It feels like the wait is over, long-running debates have been settled, and public opinion is beginning to accept that if we want housing affordability we first need to be able to build new housing without hindrance,” says Tailor.