Of all the things the Internet has done for society, changing the image of the workplace is one of the most exciting. Canadian businesses are embracing the idea of remote (telecommuting or mobile) workers, due to increasing evidence of the many benefits of a flexible workforce. Organizations like WORKshift are expanding to provide guidance on a national level.
A Bank of Montreal (BMO) study, Canadian Businesses Report Significant Divide on the Benefits of Telecommuting, indicates 23% of Canadian businesses offer some form of telecommuting or mobile options. 22% of small businesses offered telecommuting options, compared to 47% of large businesses.
"In an evolving workforce, Canadian businesses are fighting to be flexible, innovative and enticing by offering incentives that will benefit not only the organization, but also their employees," said Steve Murphy, senior vice-president of commercial banking for BMO. "These flexible work arrangements help employees achieve greater work-life balance, improve workplace productivity and strengthen employee morale."
The number of benefits companies enjoy with a remote workforce are impressive and far-reaching. This new work structure is where we're all headed and many businesses are already testing the waters. Both small and large businesses are finding it to be a feasible direction to move in, reporting a profound reduction in expenses and staff turnover.
If there's one benefit of home-based staff that cannot be argued, it's the cost savings. A WORKshift Canada report, The Bottom Line on Telework, demonstrated employers can save over $10,000 per year for every employee that telecommutes only two days each week. The report also said that 4.3 million Canadians who have suitable jobs and want to work from their home office could save Canadian businesses a total of $53 billion each year. The estimates included the financial benefits of lower overhead, reduced absenteeism and turnover, and increased productivity. Telus was able to reduce their real estate footprint by more than a million square feet, with a goal of a $50 million dollar reduction in lease expenses by 2016.
Many companies have taken mobile commuting to a whole new level, making their entire company "virtual" with staff spread out across the country and around the World. Shama Kabani, author of The Zen of Social Media Marketing and owner of Marketing Zen Group, employs an entirely virtual staff of 30 based all over the World. She says she loves the unique culture it fosters, built on a foundation of trust, faith and confidence in the employees' ability to get the job done without micro-management.
The Top 10 Benefits of a Remote Workplace
- Remote workers use their own equipment and workspace, which saves money in overhead.
- New employees will often accept lower wages for the option to work at home. Not only because they want to work from home, but also because they save money on commuting, wardrobe and other expenses.
- Employees are more productive, if for no other reason than wanting to keep the option to work from home. Many also work longer hours. A Citrix study showed 18% of small businesses in the United States, Canada and Australia are enjoying a 30% increase in productivity through the adoption of mobile work styles.
- New hires become affordable and practical for small businesses. They may even opt to work under an independent contract instead of a traditional hire, releasing the company from obligations like health benefits and tax deductions.
- Happy employees mean a lower turnover. A Richard Ivey School of Business study indicated 100% of Telus' mobile and at-home workers were considered low-risk of leaving.
- Less sick time and childcare issues.
- No commuting issues to make employees late, such as backed-up traffic or typically bad Canadian Winter weather.
- A natural disaster at the office doesn't necessarily mean your business grinds to a halt.
- Your talent pool is virtually global. For example, I've personally worked for companies and individuals from across Canada, the US and the UK, all from my home office in British Columbia.
- It reduces the corporate environmental footprint, including lower real estate requirements and less individual commuters. Telus, for example, was able to reduce their CO2 emissions by 20,000 tonnes in just two years.
There is no reason why many jobs can't be done from a home office using technology, such as sales or customer support. Some of today's careers are even more suitable for it, such as internet marketing, website management, content production or copywriting.
Employers only have to shift their focus to results, rather than office hours. Where or when the work is done isn't a major concern. In practice, it is no different than contracting someone to do a job. The employee works independently and the job gets done according to your specifications. Office hours and visual contact can still be part of the remote arrangement if necessary. It can be tough for managers to let go of on-site supervision, but companies must learn to trust their employees and adapt to today's mobile workforce.
"Organizations that continue to resist are going to find themselves in an awkward position in the coming years," Robyn Bews told The Calgary Herald. "Let's face it, the people have already left the building. Driving to work en masse in so-called rush hour often to sit at a desk and do something you could easily do from home or closer to home is a behaviour that is choking our cities, killing our productivity and harming our health."