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March 2021: Rotman experts on how remote work has transformed cities and why the fight against COVID-19 may never end

March 2021: Rotman experts on how remote work has transformed cities and why the fight against COVID-19 may never end

In March 2021, national COVID-19 vaccination campaigns were underway, businesses and governments were contemplating the future of work and urban centres. Here’s what our professors had to say.

In their piece for The Hamilton Spectator, Peter Zhang (PharmD/MBA ’22) and Ming Hu, a Distinguished Professor of Business Operations and Analytics at U of T and the Rotman School, emphasize how pharmacists will be critical to Canada’s COVID-19 vaccination roll-out. The authors explain that the more than 45,000 licensed pharmacists across the country can be trusted to safely deliver these shots, making them ideal for leading Canada’s public vaccination effort.

“By leveraging digital solutions and standardizing vaccine distribution processes, Canada has an opportunity to make its community vaccination plan a national success,” they write.

With public vaccination programs underway, local governments and city planners are wondering what cities might look like in a few months. In his piece for The Wall Street Journal, Richard Florida reflects on how remote work is reshaping America’s urban geography. Florida, who is a University Professor and professor of economic analysis and policy at the Rotman School, and his co-author look at how urban professionals have vacated expensive cities in search of smaller, affordable communities that offer better quality of life in recent months. When the economy fully reopens, Florida suspects that cities will shift their focus away from attracting large companies and towards incentivizing employees and families with better schools and public services, safer streets and walkable neighborhoods.

Meanwhile, Anita McGahan and her colleagues at U of T’s Munk School consider what remote work and emptier cities could mean for innovation in their piece for The Financial Post. McGahan, who is a University Professor at U of T and a professor of Strategic Management at Rotman, looks at how the social gatherings and interactions that occurred in densely-populated urban areas before the pandemic were conducive to the exchange of ideas, which could in turn lead to innovation.

As cities look to rebuild and reopen following this pandemic, the authors urge policymakers to “think carefully about how to build greater resilience into plans that prepare us for a more livable urban future — one that includes an emphasis on city centres as key places of innovation.”

Before cities and communities start planning for post-pandemic life, Joshua Gans jolts us back to reality by explaining why our fight against COVID-19 may never really be over. In his piece for Policy Options, Gans — the Jeffrey S. Skoll Chair of Technical Innovation and Entrepreneurship and a professor of Strategic Management at the Rotman School — writes that COVID-19 will likely morph into a seasonal illness and become endemic. He advises policy makers to start adequately preparing for this future by making plans now and investing heavily in treatment strategies and virus surveillance.

In their piece for The Toronto Star, Heski Bar-Isaac and Ambarish Chandra respond to the news that Empire Co, the parent company of Sobeys, announced plans to take over the Longo’s grocery chain, and its Grocery Gateway delivery service. The authors find this news especially concerning given that major Canadian grocers have never faced serious legal consequences despite evidence of collusion with suppliers and competitors. (Loblaws admitted to price-fixing practices years ago and three major Canadian grocery chains are known to have co-ordinated paying lower wages to store workers across the country last year.)

“Any further consolidation of this sector will only worsen such behaviour,” write Bar-Issac, a professor of Economic Analysis and Policy, and Chandra, an associate professor of Economic Analysis and Policy, who is cross-appointed to the Rotman School from the Department of Management at the University of Toronto Scarborough. They believe the Competition Bureau should come down hard on these companies and block the takeover. 

Finally, Sarah Kaplan thinks that the polls miss the point when it comes to introducing affordable child care in Canada. In her piece for The Hill Times, she explains how politicians might have wrongly concluded that a national child care plan is not worth the fiscal and political expense. She argues that polls measuring voter intentions and attitudes around this policy underestimate women and their solidarity with one another and unfairly ask people to rank a policy option that most do not have the benefit of experiencing and can’t fully imagine. And, generally, Canadians undervalue, under-resource and under-recognize care.

Kaplan, who is the director of the Institute for Gender and the Economy and a professor of Strategic Management at Rotman, knows that childcare is a no-brainer. “A Canada-wide system of high-quality early childhood education and child care ticks almost all the boxes: it’s good for kids, it more than pays for itself, it generates increased revenues for governments, it creates jobs, it fosters gender equality, it’s an anti-poverty measure, and it massively assists parents, especially women, in remaining in the workforce,” she writes.


Peter Zhang (MBA/PharmD ’22) is a candidate in the Combined PharmD-MBA program at the University of Toronto’s Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy and the Rotman School.

Ming Hu is a University of Toronto Distinguished Professor of Business Operations and Analytics and a Professor of Operations Management at the Rotman. He serves as the editor-in-chief of Naval Research Logistics, co-editor of a special issue of Manufacturing & Service Operations Management, associate editor of Operations Research and Manufacturing and Service Operations Management, and senior editor of Production and Operations Management.

Richard Florida is University Professor at the Rotman School and the School of Cities at the University of Toronto. He is author of the global best-sellers The Rise of the Creative Class, The Flight of the Creative Class and Cities and the Creative Class, as well as Who's Your City?

Anita M. McGahan is a University Professor and the George E. Connell Professor of Organizations and Society at the Rotman School and Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy. Her research is focused on industry change, sustainable competitive advantage and the establishment of new fields.

Heski Bar-Isaac is a Professor of Integrative Thinking and Economic Analysis and Policy at the Rotman School.

Ambarish Chandra is an Associate Professor of Economic Analysis and Policy with the Department of Management at the University of Toronto Scarborough. He studies competition and public policy in a number of industries, with particular emphasis on the airline, automobile and newspaper industries.

Sarah Kaplan is Director of the Institute for Gender and the Economy, a Distinguished Professor of Gender and the Economy and a Professor of Strategic Management at the Rotman School. Her latest book, The 360° Corporation: From Stakeholder Trade-offs to Transformation was published in September 2019.