An Introduction to Telework

An Introduction to Telework

by Bob Fortier

In the next few years, can you see yourself working from home some or all of the time? If so, you are not alone: according to the latest polls, over two thirds of Canadians want to telework from home. Telework, also known as telecommuting, occurs where employees or paid workers work away from their normal place of work, usually from home. And it's growing at a phenomenal rate -- exponentially and directly proportional to the growth of information technology. Currently, more than 1 million Canadians telework, and there are an estimated 18 million teleworkers in the US and over 2 million in Europe.

This growth is not surprising. In general, people have less time than ever before, and employees increasingly need flexibility and a balance between their work lives and their personal lives. The fewer interruptions and increased efficiency of telework helps them catch up on their work and reduces stress, commuting time, and the costs of "going to work." This is very pertinent to Canadians who, on average, spend the equivalent of six to eight workweeks traveling to and from the job each year.

From a business angle, it's hard to beat the benefits of telework. For example, teleworking two to three days per week increases overall weekly productivity by 10 to 20 percent. Telework can help alleviate the office space crunch and is a great alternative to expensive new buildings. By combining telework with new strategies such as office sharing and hoteling (the use of non-designated offices by employees who are off-site on a regular basis), organizations can save one office for every three remote employees, or about $2,000 per teleworker.

Telework contributes to the reduction of absenteeism due to illness, child care, eldercare, and the need to be home to take care of personal business -- all of which can average several days per year. Telework can even be the solution to business disruption posed by strikes, floods, bad weather, and other emergencies. The ice storm of 1998, for example, knocked out power for hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses in the eastern US and Canada. Yet, thousands of workers still had power and worked via the information highway.

From an HR standpoint, telework is an attractive and no-cost recruitment option. Dozens of large-scale surveys show that today's workers place a high value on telework. Some show that employees often would choose telework over a salary raise. Others show that employees would quit their jobs if offered another similar job, but with telework. Given this demand, it makes sense for companies to offer the telework option.

Moreover, there are many advantages on a public policy level. One million employees who telework one day a week can save a country billions of kilometers of use on our highways and streets, along with millions of tons of air pollution, untold litres of fuel, vehicles on our roads and their corresponding gridlock, and hours that could have been spent with families or non-work lives.

This is not to say that telework is a panacea, because it is not. Not all jobs are "teleworkable," and the concept is not for everyone or every situation. In addition, some teleworkers have the potential for isolation and overwork. Furthermore, there are upfront and adjustment costs, but these invariably can be recouped if telework is implemented properly.

Telework is something that we're going to be hearing even more about as time goes on. It's a time-saver, a stress-saver, a money-saver, a space-saver, an environment-saver, a traffic-jam-cure, and a productivity tool, and something with so many benefits is worth knowing more about.