KITCHENER -- Keean Sarani knows all too well the meaning of "pivot."

As the co-founder and Chief Operating Officer of a biopharma tech company in Waterloo Region, he’s been forced to get his employees to do what they can from home.

“Prior to the pandemic everybody was in the lab. It was all hands on deck,” says Sarani, COO of Avro Life Science.

The COVID-19 pandemic has allowed Sarani and his team to embrace the “new normal.”

“For a science company like ourselves, I think there is a silver lining for working from home as we are really able to get our books in order. Get everything from pen and paper digitized, and really organize the lab work we do.”

He adds that, if it weren’t for the lab work, his company would likely consider making working from home permanent.

“I think companies that don’t need chemistry equipment or actual physical resources definitely will be making the switch,” he says.

A number of larger high tech firms have announced the switch will be more permanent.

At the end of April, Waterloo Region’s OpenText announced a restructuring plan that would allow half of its global workforce to continue working from.

Last month, the head of Shopify, another Canadian tech giant with an office in Waterloo Region, declared “office centricity is over.”

Their CEO, Tobias Lutke, announced that Shopify will be a "digital by default company." The company also announced that all their offices will remain closed for the rest of the year, with a reimagined office space in the future. 

The executive director of Velocity, Waterloo Region’s high-tech start up incubator, says it’s a trend for younger companies as well, but notes the work-from-home model isn’t always ideal.

“Some activities have accelerated because they have been able to connect more quickly because people are more available and sensitized to being able to use a video call to communicate,” says Adrien Cote.

"There’s some challenges in getting in touch with customers and trying to execute sale. So it’s a mixture of positives and negatives."

But high tech office spaces in Waterloo Region will likely not be abandoned.

In fact since the pandemic, it was the only place in Canada where the office space market saw a decrease in vacancy rates. According to CBRE, Waterloo Region’s vacancy rate dipped to 6.3 per cent in Q2 2020.

Ted Overbaugh, Southwestern Ontario Manager for CBRE, says affordability for young families and proximity to two well-known universities make Waterloo Region an ideal location for high tech companies settling in the area.

“When you look at the post-secondary institutions in the region, they are world class,” he says.

“All that kind of decision-making that a company has to make and that talent is a real driver. I think there’s a really compelling story for Waterloo Region. It’s been like that for 10-plus years and I just think that’s just going to continue.”

This will likely be the reason why more starts up will continue to pop up in Waterloo Region, adding to the more than 1,500 tech companies that already exist.  Cote adds that the pandemic accelerated the growth in the region’s biopharma sector especially.

“It’s a new and emerging tech area in the region,” he says.

Sarani agrees: Avro Life Science is a high-tech pharmaceutical and startup company. He also believes that face-to-face interactions will still be part of the tech sector in Waterloo Region.

“I think the biggest thing for companies is ensuring is that they still have that sense of community, that sense of team that’s sometimes lost when all your communications are through a video call.”

This is part three of a series. You can read part one, The Future of School, here, and part two, The Future of Health Care, here.