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How remote work helped our business grow 

Embracing Work-from-Home at the beginning of the COVID pandemic led to a major shift in recruitment, retention and employee satisfaction at Trillium Architectural Products, a full-service commercial door and ironmongery distributor in Toronto, Canada. Todd Farrell reports

Back in March of 2020, when COVID was new, spreading and scary, the management team at Trillium Architectural Products asked employees to work from home.  Everyone whose role could be performed remotely packed up their gear and headed home, leaving only our warehouse staff, technicians and a few others in the office.   

Our bustling in-house team of 75 people was reduced to 15 almost overnight. Like many other businesses, we thought a two-week ‘circuit breaker’ would be enough to get us through the worst of the situation. We all know that it didn’t work out that way.  The pandemic dragged on and on.  

Our head office and most of our staff are located in Toronto, Canada, which had some of the longest-running public health restrictions in North America.  Our home province of Ontario was locked down and non-essential construction projects were shuttered. 

The first few months of remote work were a major struggle for our team as we faced the same challenges that many other companies did.  Like everyone else, we adapted out of necessity. Staff figured out how to handle virtual meetings, resolved connectivity issues and carved out office space in their homes.  

Trillium Architectural Hardware supplied a full packaged to Delta Hotel, a 46 storey, four star hotel in Toronto

Meanwhile, our management team continued to plan for a full return to the office.  After all, we provide opening products for corporate interior fit-outs. Shouldn’t we set an example and blaze the trail back to the office?   

But every time we came close to inviting staff back, a new variant or spike in local infection rates convinced us that it just wasn’t safe. 

In spite of some initial hiccups and general resistance from staff, something unexpected happened as time rolled on. Managers and employees began to realize major benefits from remote work.  

People proved that they were dedicated and disciplined enough to work effectively on their own. Employees maintained our exceptional corporate culture and team atmosphere, even when we couldn’t be in-person.  Managers learned how to support and lead their people in new ways.  

And, surprisingly, our business grew. Coming out of the pandemic, we decided to fully embrace remote work and allow our employees to choose where and how they wanted to work. 

Here are some of the reasons why. 

No place like home  

Though many of our staff initially resisted remote work, the vast majority now prefer it to our previous in-office model.   

When given the opportunity, over 70% of eligible employees decided to continue working from home. For many, the decision was easy.   

Toronto consistently ranks amongst the worst cities for commuting in North America. (Better luck next time, Los Angeles!). Some employees would spend 90 minutes or more commuting to and from work each day. 

People who used to drive or take public transit to the office have saved thousands of dollars in travel costs. More importantly, they are gaining hours of their lives back.  For these employees, going back to the old way of doing things would just seem foolish. 

Those who have children or live with elderly parents are better able to support their families while working remotely.  The ability to work from home when a child is unwell, for example, makes life that much easier and less stressful. 

“It’s nothing short of life-changing,” remarked one manager who commuted 80 kilometers each day for the past 20 years and lives with his elderly father. “Being around for my dad is huge for my peace of mind. I’m even eating better than I used to by making my lunch everyday instead of getting takeout.” 

There are trade-offs, of course.  Many of us miss the social side of work and seeing our colleagues face-to-face.  Still, when given the choice, our team overwhelmingly decided to keep working remotely. 

The fact that such a large majority decided to work from home was a factor too. If only a handful of workers stayed remote, it would be easier to think of them as a separate entity.  When nearly everyone is remote, including several senior managers, it levels the playing field. 

Photo by Major Tom Agency on Unsplash
Work from home…. or anywhere  

Disconnecting work from the office has paid off for employees in other ways. Some people have taken advantage of their remote situation by taking working vacations. 

“It was fantastic. Just fantastic. You have to try it!” reported one employee who recently spent time on a working vacation in Hawaii. “The time difference meant I could work from about 2am to 10am, when everyone at head office would also be working.  Then I had the rest of the day to enjoy the beach and tour the island.” 

By working during these sojourns, employees don’t use up their vacation days and can stay in their destinations for longer periods of time, immersing themselves in local culture and getting more out of their visits.   

Other people are heading out of the city to work from their cottages for the summer. 

We’ve even had some people permanently relocate to other countries. Our chief estimator decided to return to Europe to be closer to family.  In the past, a move like this would have meant losing a great contributor when his circumstances changed. Instead, it was easy to keep him on board with almost no interruption to his team or our clients.  

Now that we have truly embraced remote work, it simply doesn’t make a difference whether an employee logs in from down the hall or the other side of the world.  

Recruitment Advantage 

This philosophy also helped us solve a major operational issue. Recruitment. Ironmongery is a niche industry. It is hard to find talented, experienced people. Even in a region with about six million people, we always struggled to find local candidates for roles that require detailed, technical industry knowledge. 

Once we embraced the idea of having a remote workforce – and learned how to manage it effectively – we found ourselves able to recruit from a much larger talent pool. 

We have extended our recruitment efforts across Canada and internationally, which has helped us bring on highly qualified candidates we never would have found in our local market. 

Once we embraced the idea of having a remote workforce – and learned how to manage it effectively – we found ourselves able to recruit from a much larger talent pool. 

This includes successful recruitment through the GAI, where we’ve found a number of exceptional and experienced candidates who are now fully integrated into our team.  We’re even assisting some of them with their plans to immigrate to Canada.

The numbers speak for themselves:  

  • Trillium has hired 22 new fully remote employees since the pandemic began.  
  • Half are in the Toronto area, but prefer to work from home 
  • The other half are spread across Canada, the US, UK and Middle East. 
  • Nine of the people who filled technical roles that require detailed industry knowledge (ex. consultants, project managers) are workers from outside our region.  

The impact of that last statistic is massive. There is absolutely no chance we could have ramped up the company’s overall technical expertise this quickly if we only hired from our local talent pool.  

Offering remote work has made us more attractive as an employer as well.  Two valuable, experienced people came work for us specifically because their former employers – our direct competitors who are based in our area – insisted that they return to the office.   

It’s clear. Embracing remote work has helped us scale up, gives us a serious advantage and has made us a much stronger company overall. 


Before the pandemic hit, Trillium had tried remote work on a small scale. Our IT team had experience setting up remote users and were aware of some of the tools required to keep someone connected. 

Still, flipping a considerable portion of our employees over to remote work almost overnight presented many challenges. With time, managers and employees were able to clear these hurdles and realize the benefits of remote work. 

There are still challenges that need to be faced. How should we repurpose our nearly empty office space? What happens to events like our annual golf tournament now that many of us are overseas? Can we develop the same loyalty and connection to the company with people who have never set foot in our office? It will take some effort to address these issues, so we know our shift to remote work isn’t complete. 

Even so, the advantages far outweigh the negatives for our employees and the company as a whole. At this point, it is hard to imagine ever going back to the way things were. Here’s to the new normal. 

Todd Farrell is director of HR & Communications at Trillium Architectural Products.

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