More firms plan to offer teleworking over next few years: Survey

But work scheduling, loss of productivity, security of company material among concerns
By Amanda Silliker
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 08/16/2011

For years, teleworking has been offered as a panacea for employers and workers. Benefits for companies include higher engagement and lower office costs while employees love the flexibility and not having to spend time commuting to work. But despite the potential upside, many employers remain wary. Concerns include productivity, security of company material and loss of control over the employee. To get a handle on where organizations are today when it comes to telecommuting, and where they think it's going in the future, Canadian HR Reporter and the Human Resources Professionals Association teamed up to conduct a Pulse Survey.

More firms plan to offer teleworking over next few years: Survey

Is it telework’s time... again? (Analysis) 


More firms plan to offer teleworking over next few years: Survey

By Amanda Silliker

As president of John Wolfe Construction in Radium Hot Springs, B.C., Peter Horkoff likes the freedom of telecommuting to complete his work from home on evenings and weekends.

“When I put in a day at the office, I can spend a couple hours at home completing what I didn’t get done which, to me, is really important because then I can start the next day off fresh,” he said.

He also likes the ability to monitor the business when he’s out of town or on vacation and access the information he needs “without having to worry about it.”

Like Horkoff, many employers are embracing telecommuting and expect it to continue to be a significant part of the workforce in years to come, according to the latest Pulse Survey. The vast majority (85.8 per cent) of respondents said there will be at least somewhat of an increase in the number of employees who work remotely in the next few years, according to the survey of 608 Canadian HR Reporter readers and members of the Human Resources Professionals Association (HRPA).

This increase is largely due to the fact employees are looking for more flexibility and work-life balance, said Marni Johnson, vice-president of human resources and communications at North Shore Credit Union in North Vancouver, B.C.

“If they need to leave the office early to go home, have dinner, play with the kids and then check email at night because that works best for them, they still get their job done but they’re getting that flexibility and balance that they want in their lives,” she said.

At her organization, about 20 per cent of the 315 employees have access to the company network at home and one-third are given BlackBerrys or other PDAs. While few employees regularly work from home, this access gives them the flexibility to do so in case of an emergency or unforeseen situation, such as a doctor’s appointment or waiting for a repairperson, or to finish up their work from home, said Johnson.

Some organizations are more telecommuting-friendly than others, with 13.9 per cent of respondents saying their company is very friendly and 29.7 per cent saying it is somewhat so. Nearly one-fifth (19.9 per cent) of respondents said their organization is not at all telecommuting-friendly.

“They’re just not that open to it. They want people to be seen so that’s why they want them in the office,” said Donna Matys, human resources manager at Interfast, a stocking distributor for specialty fasteners in Toronto. “We’re not actively doing anything to promote it.”

Matys is hoping there will be a small increase in telecommuting in her organization over the next few years but that’s likely “wishful thinking,” she said.

Nearly one-third (31.5 per cent) of survey respondents don’t expect to see any increase in remote working at their organization over the next year or two.

“I would like to see it offered even just for occasional work from home,” said Matys. “Just have trust in your employees that they’re going to do their work.”

Employees who don’t work as hard when they are out of sight is at least somewhat of a concern for 44.2 per cent of respondents.

“It’s important to get past that mentality that if you’re not in your chair at the office, you’re not working,” said Johnson. “Things have really changed; attitudes toward work have changed.”

If this is a concern for a particular employee, he should not be allowed to work remotely, said Matys. This privilege should only go to those who are disciplined and honest, she said.

More than one-half (54.5 per cent) of respondents said a loss of productivity is a concern surrounding telecommuting, but 48 per cent said employees who work remotely are more productive.

“They can actually stay at home, do all the work that is required and — probably because they don’t have the distraction of the office and interaction with different colleagues interrupting them — they would get the work done sooner, probably more accurately and perhaps accomplish a little more,” said Horkoff, whose company has 35 employees.

But to ensure employees are productive when working from home, they need to have a dedicated space that’s free from distractions, be disciplined and manage the expectations of their family, said Johnson.

More than one-half (50.4 per cent) of survey respondents are concerned telework will pose challenges to work scheduling.

“That’s part of the importance of communication — making sure the rules are established upfront so if you are going to telecommute, you need to be coming into the office every Friday and Tuesday for a team meeting,” said Johnson.

Good communication is crucial to managing employees working remotely, said Horkoff. It can help reduce problems within teams — which are at least somewhat of a concern for 57.6 per cent of respondents.

“You don’t have to be sitting face-to-face to be a team — you can Skype everybody in and have your meetings,” said Horkoff. “I actually think as you use communication techniques away from the office more, key work will be just as strong, if not stronger.”

The security of company material is at least somewhat of a concern for 50.6 per cent of respondents. At North Shore Credit Union, Johnson has clear guidelines in place and strict policies to maintain corporate privacy and confidentiality, such as not allowing employees to access the network from a home computer (only from a device that has been provided by the company).

“Because there are so many issues with firewalls and viruses and everything, we can’t have employees working on the same devices that their kids are checking their Facebook on,” she said.

Even with all the concerns, telecommuting will, ultimately, be very beneficial to organizations, said Horkoff.

“I think companies need to seriously consider this type of working system just for the benefit of improved morale and improved productivity.”

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Is it telework’s time... again? (Analysis)

Most HR professionals expect an increase in teleworkers — though moderate

By Claude Balthazard

Predicting the future is tricky at best and remote working (or telecommuting) is an example of this. Back in the 1990s, the number of employees with some kind of remote working arrangement increased steadily.

It was thought the trend would continue but it didn’t — the number of employees with some kind of remote working arrangement flattened out in the 2000s.

But there are a several factors that have some predicting we are on the cusp of a dramatic increase in the number of teleworkers — a new cohort of employees who place a greater value on work-life balance, increasing levels of congestion in our cities giving rise to increased commute times, the high price of gas and, perhaps most importantly, new communication technologies that make working remotely easier than ever.

So, are we in for a dramatic increase in the number of employees working remotely?

Some believe remote working levelled off because the jobs most conducive to this have already implemented remote working, at least to some extent. Others believe remote working would be more widespread were it not for the attitudes of some managers.

HR professionals believe there will be an increase in the number of employees working remotely, but this increase is most likely to be moderate, according to the latest Pulse Survey.

Twenty-nine per cent said there will be a significant increase in the number of employees working remotely, 56.7 per cent said there will be a moderate increase and 13.2 per cent said the number will stay the same. Only one per cent expect a decrease in the number of employees working remotely over the next few years.

In regards to how supportive organizations are, 36.5 per cent of respondents indicated their organizations are a bit remote worker-friendly, 19.9 per cent said their organizations are not at all, 29.7 per cent said their organizations are somewhat remote worker-friendly and 13.9 per cent said their organizations are very much remote worker-friendly.

The proportion of the workforce working remotely at least some of the time is still quite low, however. The most frequent response was from one per cent to four per cent, according to 35.1 per cent of respondents. Using midpoint substitution, we calculate about 12.7 per cent of the workforce works remotely at least some of the time.

Interestingly, 48 per cent believe remote working at least some of the time is linked to increased productivity, 15.1 per cent don’t believe it is linked to increased productivity and 36.9 per cent just don’t know. As one might expect, the proportion who believe remote working at least some of the time is linked to increased productivity is related to seniority, from 60.5 per cent at entry level dropping steadily to 37.5 per cent at the executive level.

It is understood remote working is not appropriate for all jobs, but the most frequently cited reasons for why it’s not as popular as it could be are management attitudes towards remote work. We asked about a number of such concerns. Collapsing the top two ratings (“somewhat of an issue” and “very much of an issue”), the proportion of organizations for which the listed drawbacks and concerns are an 0issue for management is quite close to each other.

The most frequent issue for managers is the belief telecommuting creates problems with teams (57.6 per cent), followed by loss of control over employees (55.4 per cent), a loss of productivity (54.5 per cent), the security of company materials (50.6 per cent), challenges to work scheduling (50.4 per cent) and the belief employees just don’t work as hard when they are out of sight (44.2 per cent).

More than three-quarters (77.9 per cent) of respondents noted they worked remotely at least some of the time. Indeed, a little more than one-half (53.3 per cent) indicated that between one per cent and 19 per cent of their work is done remotely. Again, using midpoint substitution, we can calculate, on average, 17.5 per cent of the work of survey respondents is done remotely.

Claude Balthazard is director of HR excellence and registrar at the Human Resources Professionals Association in Toronto. He can be reached at cbalthazard@hrpa.ca.

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