Telework Offers Canadians The 10 Second Commute

Written by Posted On Monday, 27 March 2006 16:00

Clogged highways, multi-hour commutes, escalating fuel prices, rising smog levels and the human toll in lost hours and accidents are the price Canadians pay for the recent suburban real estate explosion. While we wait for governments to play catch-up through public transit expansions and other people-moving solutions, we may be overlooking a readily-available, relatively-inexpensive answer to addressing many of these problems that simply keeps people off the road -- telecommuting.

More than 1.5 million Canadians already telecommute or telework , that is, work from home at least a day or two a week and connect with their employer and fellow-workers by phone, fax and email. Experts say with this low level, we're lagging behind and losing too much time to unproductive, high-stress commuting.

"To understand Canada and what's missing, it is important to understand what other countries are doing--we seem to be the odd duck out," said Bob Fortier, President of The Canadian Telework Association , a 1500-member, virtual nonprofit hosted on the site Fortier maintains for his Ottawa-based telework and flex-work consultancy, InnoVisions Canada.

"As a country, we are not grabbing on to [telecommuting] as much. A large part of that reason is due to the governments. They don't take the time to understand the implications, the benefits for Canada as a country, as provinces, as cities, in terms of transportation and productivity. Our governments, at all levels, do not appear to understand the many benefits for their own jurisdictions -- the many significant benefits which many other countries have capitalized on."

Fortier explains that Canadian governments have not followed the lead of other countries and adopted policies that actively promote telework strategies, nor have they offered tax benefits or grants to employers who support non-commuting workers.

Are concerns about home-based productivity behind this?

"Over time, this is getting to be less of an issue, but [the concern] is over 'out of sight, out of mind' or 'will they just mow the lawn or watch soaps' or 'I operate on crisis mode and I like to have the troops around at all times' thinking," said Fortier, explaining that productivity typically increases 10 to 15 percent since the home environment is quieter. "One way or the other, they think this will cost more money. That's where good solid information will paint an accurate picture. Telecommuting is not for everyone or every company or every employee."

Despite of lack of formal initiatives, technology facilitates remote working. You or your organization may be doing it without the telework label. After a client visit, do you take your paperwork home to finish and e-file instead of driving all the way back to the office? Do you work from home at report-writing or budget-planning time to get the job done without interruptions? Do you take your notebook to the cottage so you won't have to head home in Sunday traffic jams, but you'll still be in touch first thing Monday morning? Whatever you call it, that's telecommuting.

Barbara McCutcheon, who has teleworked full-time since 1996 and part-time before then, was driven to it by a long commute that got longer. Years ago, her employer offered her a remote-work opportunity to reduce its office overheads. She had the choice of continuing to lose 3 hours on the road each day or to telecommute.

"Telework was great as it gave me 3 hours a day I would not have had," said McCutheon, who used reclaimed commuting time to turn a hobby into a very successful sports photography career that took her to the Olympics. "The big advantage is you can do things on your lunch hour others wish they could do. You can overlap a lot of things with telework. I have a 10 second commute and all that extra time is mine. There are pluses and minuses. There's no such thing as a snow day. Telecommuting will take space out of your house, but if you feel the pluses, this is no big sacrifice."

Don't think that telework is less demanding that going to the office. McCutcheon shares these realities:

  • Drop the picture of spending the day in your pjs and bunny slippers. Treat it like a job. Get up every day, shower and blow dry your hair just as if you're going out.

  • With instant messaging, you'll have to keep to business hours and be there when you're supposed to be.

  • If you have small children, they must go elsewhere during work hours. Many employers have this as a stipulation. Telework is not a babysitting service.

McCutheon describes the telework compromise this way: "I don't miss the water cooler, but that doesn't mean that when vamping for a conference call I won't ask 'How's the weather in Montreal.' It would be nice to be there for birthday cakes, but I personally appreciate the time. I'm social, but not in a business sense. I like controlling my work environment. I can choose the noise that is around me. But telework is a privilege not a right. When I show up to meetings, I must be very professional so I'm not seen as a hermit that works out of her house."

McCutcheon feels she saves a fortune not going into the office since she does not maintain a formal work wardrobe, doesn't pay for transit or operating her car, and can eat lunch at home. She credits these savings with enabling her to buy her own home and pay off the mortgage.

It's real estate, not work, that's all about location. If you have a "do-it-anywhere" job or you'd like to move to the country but not spend hours in traffic, consider a telework solution.

  • Fortier's advice is: "Go to a site like ours and rummage around and you'll start to see the benefits, the themes and that will give you a better idea if your employer and your work is suited to this concept."

  • McCutcheon suggests: "Find out if your company has an official telework policy. If not, put together a business case to prove its value and explain what you expect to do and what you expect the company to do."

"[Telecommuting] is a great experience," said McCutcheon. "I love it. I'm the poster child for teleworking."

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