Industry experts applaud Shopify's shift to remote working

Business leaders in Ottawa are praising Shopify for the company's decision to move to a permanent work-from-home model. 

Company announced Thursday most employees will continue working from home permanently

The CEO of Ottawa-based e-commerce company Shopify, which surpassed RBC as Canada's most valuable company earlier this month, announced Thursday most of its staff will continue working remotely, even after the pandemic. (Jean Delisle/CBC)

Business leaders in Ottawa are praising Shopify for the company's decision to move to a permanent work-from-home model

On Thursday, the company announced it will keep its offices closed until 2021, and said most of its more than 5,000 employees will continue working remotely after that.

"There are a lot of emotions," Shopify's chief talent officer Brittany Forsyth told CBC. "There is a sense of loss going on ... while also a sense of optimism toward the future."

Invest Ottawa CEO Michael Tremblay believes tech companies should have made the move long ago. 

"We've had the tech forever to do it. This has purely been a cultural decision to hang out in buildings," he said.

Tremblay said the trend toward remote work arrangements will have a positive effect on the industry, and on the city as a whole.

"This is just going to help us to build, scale and grow without having to put up a whole bunch of buildings," he said. "I think a [roadblock] for our region has been our commercial real estates availability. It's been a blocker."

Tremblay believes more companies will follow Shopify's lead, and said the pandemic has prepared many employees to make the transition to working from home. He also believes the local tech industry could become involved in developing work-from-home solutions to make that transition go smoothly.

Michael Tremblay, president and CEO of Invest Ottawa and Bayview Yards, said more companies should follow Shopify's lead. (Giacomo Panico/CBC)

Reimagining workspaces

Shopify, which employs more than 1,000 people in Ottawa, moved into its large, modern office space on Elgin Street just over five years ago.

On Friday, Forsyth told CBC's Ottawa Morning the company will continue to have offices and continue to invest in its host cities, but will be reimagining those workspaces.

While the move does open the door to hiring more globally, she said the company will grow its Canadian presence at the same time.

Tyler Chamberlain, an associate professor at the University of Ottawa's Telfer School of Management, said the trend also creates an opportunity to reinvest in the city's downtown core.

"There's also the potential then to repurpose some of these buildings toward something like residential housing," he said.

With fewer people needing to live near their work, Chamberlain believes it's also an opportunity for the smaller municipalities surrounding the city.

"I think of it as a great opportunity, potentially, for small towns to be able to attract people for a potentially lower cost of living, and arguably a higher quality of life," he said.

While there's some concern over what this will mean for small businesses such as coffee shops that rely on central employment hubs, Forsyth said she's confident Shopify employees will begin supporting businesses nearer their home offices, creating the potential for new growth in other areas.


Natalia is a multi-platform journalist in Ottawa. She has also worked for CBC in P.E.I. and Newfoundland and Labrador.

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