For nearly a year, medical professionals and politicians have been asking Canadians to stay home and work remotely where possible.

The public health message has sparked a massive shift across the workforce.

Kara Kennedy owns a clothing and consignment shop in midtown Toronto called Little White Sneakers. She said the business model has changed dramatically within the past year.

“When I look back a year ago, 25 per cent of our sales were online, now 100 per cent of our sales are online,” Kennedy said.

She said the biggest challenge for her has been figuring out how to forge connections with her clients, while following public health protocols. She said one method that has been successful is offering people guided shopping trips by Zoom.

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“We have a bunch of customers across North America, so that’s actually opened up the window, where can actually have virtual shopping appointments with them,” Kennedy said.

“Traditionally they have just gone on the website and purchased things.”

Other industries have not been able to bridge the gap in the same way. For restaurants in Toronto’s downtown core, the combination of sky-high rent and decreased foot traffic has been a nightmare.

“People are not going downtown anymore,” said James Rilett, vice-president of Restaurants Canada. “They are not working downtown; there are no tourists going downtown, so they just don’t have the customers.”

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Experts suggest more changes could be on the horizon when it comes to how people use their office space. A recent survey conducted by EY Canada found that of more than 700 employers, 78 per cent are planning changes to remote work strategies.

For 74 per cent of those companies, that will mean moderate to extensive physical changes to their offices. Fifty-one per cent of those companies say they are re-evaluating their policies on shared work spaces and meeting rooms.”

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However, even though the physical landscape is shifting, some experts say the idea of the corporate office setting disappearing entirely is unlikely.

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“I don’t think the office is going away,” said Mark Vrooman of EY Canada. “I spoke to one of my clients and they believe quite strongly that while people may work remotely more in the future, there is still a level of company culture that is driven from being together physically in an office setting.”

Kennedy said for a small business like hers, finding work and life balance can be a struggle. When her three kids have been home for remote learning, she has to focus on their needs and will often put off her own work until after they are asleep for the night.

But the one unexpected benefit is her family has been seeing more of what it takes to run a business, especially her 11-year-old daughter, Chloe.

“I find it interesting to see what she does, and sometimes I don’t see that because I’m at school,” Chloe said. “That’s really interesting and really inspirational to me.”

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