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The power of home work.

Over the last couple of weeks, how many times have you looked at your list of |things to do' and mentally segregated those you could reserve for home, after hours. Or, do you have a part-time occupation, in addition to your current full-time job. (No, golf doesn't count.)

Admit it or not, you are probably one of the estimated three million Canadians who are already "Home Workers".


A new work pattern is evolving, in direct response to technological change. Work-at-home is more accepted, and is now more possible than ever, through the use of telecommunications, and information transfer.

Work-at-home is not a new concept. Cottaging, or co-oping are all reflections of a form of it; but, the current trend has long term implications. It is no longer a marginal activity, restricted to women, and unemployable underachievers. It is a reflection of evolving economic, demographic, and technological norms. And, it is here to stay.




A number of high profide Canadian companies have already begun pilot testing telecommuting programs. Telecommuting is a term which describes an employee who is networked to a central location to facilitate home or satellite location work, while under the supervision of the employer. Put into another context, it is a serious transportation alternative. Telecommuting allows the movement of information to people, instead of commuting people to information.

Telecommuting is more than just a new |human resource gimmick'. There is adequate data which confirms that allowing the right employees to reduce their commute, and work off-site part time, can produce such startling and measurable benefits, to the firm, the employees and finally, to the surrounding area, that it simply cannot afford to be ignored.


Sooner or later, an individual in your company will become what we refer to as a |telecommuting champion'. This is the person who will act as the catalyst for change, at management and employee levels.

A number of variables are already converging to accelerate the process. The new work ethic of the Boomer labour force reflects the desire for the integration of life and work. There are new and long term competitive demands pressuring the micro economics of the Canadian firm, and finally the beleaguered local and provincial governments are looking to shrink energy and transit spending out of economic necessity.

Add to this the clear and measurable cost savings to the firm, and you have the potential for as significant a change to the corporate work ethic as anything seen since the Industrial Revolution.



According to Link Resources, US, a research and consulting firm, there are 4.6 million employees in the U.S., who's employers allow them to work part-time from home during regular business hours: the number of |corporate telecommuters' is up 35% versus only one year ago. A non-random survey conducted in Canada indicated that the numbers of all telecommuters, both firm and self-employed, had increased a full 60% between 1991, and 1992. Link projects that the U.S. telecommuting population will double in the next five years. No growth projections are available for Can-ada.



Telecommuting is growing rapidly, especially among very large, and very small organizations with a high constituent of ideal candidates; employees who do a lot of individual work, in front of a computer, or those employees who have location-independent tasks. Candidates are not restricted to technology bound engineering, management, or science and information workers. Bell Canada is one Canadian company which has installed a program among its team of maintenance and repair personnel. Orders are distributed in the morning to the technicians homes, to recoup the commute time, as well as its associated energy costs.

Westcoast Energy Inc., a Western Canada gas and oil company has tested the feasibility of allowing a group of engineers to stay home part-time, to work. Instead of encountering a daily commute, (the average commute in Vancouver has doubled from 30 minutes to an hour in ten years), their day begins when they walk over, log-on their computer, and announce to their boss that they are "at work".

Westcoast occupies prime down-town real estate. If the program goes ahead, two of their three downtown locations will be eliminated, and one shared location will remain, creating significant cost savings.

You might be surprised to find one of your competitors is already involved in telecommuting. Some of the highest profile companies in Canada are piloting and running programs. Because of the significant firm cost savings, it has become a new competitive advantage.



So, what if you should decide to consider such a competitive edge for your organization. Telecommuting pilots rarely fail. But if not properly introduced, they can fail to roll-out, denying all those cost savings.

Telecommuting program failures can usually be traced to a number of classic errors, committed before the pilot even gets off the ground. Here is a list of common, costly mistakes.

1. Caught up in the excitement:

Facilitating the implementation of a telecommuting program can be a heady experience. Every eye in the organization is on you. The approval is often hard won, and the tendency is just to surge ahead, without the benefit of any experienced input.

2. Failing to benchmark:

Once the champion gets the go ahead, they frequently forget that a pilot, is "a test". They neglect to |benchmark the before', so as to have a comparison for |the after'.

3. Assuming Productivity is just too hard to measure:

When there has been a change in the delineation of human resources, positive or negative changes in productivity will result. Just as your plant manager would never make a line change, or your most junior product manager launch a program without first proving that it liquidates to produce revenue, why should a telecommuting program be exempt from your firm's most basic procedures?

4. Going to the library for instant expertise:

There are some excellent articles and a few books on the subject of telecommuting. However, do-it-yourself may be better relegated to your weekend activities: setting the benchmark, selecting the right employees, and proving to management that this should roll-out to hundreds, maybe thousands of employees, is a task which should not be trivialized.

5. Assuming employees innately know how to work at home:

One of the reasons that the failure rate of small and home businesses is so high, is that entrepreneurs assume they can take what they did for their employer, and translate it into a steady job for themselves. They are dead wrong, and studies show that successful homepreneurs willingly admit that |what they planned to do, and what they ended up profitably doing' are two very different things. Employees simply do not come into this world with all the innate knowledge of how to work from home. The skills must be acquired. The training of employees, to be successful home or satellite workers will be one of the most important investments your firm ever makes.

6. Neglecting to recognize the seriousness of the responsibility:

Because the benefits to employees are so overwhelmingly visually and verbally positive, most pilots are extremely successful for those participating. The death knoll of the program does not often come from the participants, unless they have been badly selected. It comes from the implementing team's failure to be able to provide answers to the hard questions which invariably come at the "prove it" stage, just preceeding roll-out. If, as a team, you are unable to put hard dollars and facts down on paper, the program will either wander for the foreseeable future, or be cancelled, and roll-out will not occur.

A well-managed program is simply not enough. Failure to produce evidence can mean that you and your team could be single-handedly mortgaging your own telecommuting future, as well as that of every employee in your firm.

7. Failure to involve union management:

Many of the protections unions offer to their members may be seen to be compromised once an employee is off-site. Immediate, and up-front involvement of union management, even if you are only examining a program for your non-unionized workers, just makes sense. Their insight, input and support are valuable assets.

Just what kind of bottom line cost savings are there in letting a number of your most productive employees telecommute, one or two days a week from home or a satellite office? Data indicates telecommuter productivity goes up by anywhere from 15% - 45%. These tracked increases are a result of many factors, one of which is recapturing time usually spent commuting. An average Toronto or Vancouver commuter, telecommuting 2 days per week had immediately reduced their commuting time by 40% per week. This means an extra 9.6 hours per month, per employee, of recaptured time. Added to the reduction in off-site work distractions, this means that the worker gets more of your work done, and simultaneously gains more time to live their lives.

Overall absenteeism goes down, retention of valuable employees up. Employee quality and quantity of work goes up, as does loyalty and job satisfaction. There are also hard cost savings to the employee, in the form of after tax earnings not spent on gas, insurance, lunch, and clothing.

Telecommuting, dispersing work forces, to increase productivity, and save money is well on its way to becoming the pervasive work style of this and future decades. But, it is not just a matter of firm productivity, and cost savings. It is a matter of commute control and energy saving. For a quarter of a century we have continued to examine transportation options which do little more than enhance the ever elongating commute. This path fails to take into account that the best trip will always be the trip which has not been made.

Study after study has shown that systematically reducing commuters need to get on the road, can produce billions in transportation infrastructure cost avoidances, energy, and pollution emissions. In addition to the hard savings at the firm level, telecommuting is a transportation and energy alternative, in the form of an employment enhancement, that we just cannot afford to ignore any longer.


Private Sector Companies
Employer Employee
Productivity Job Commitment
Quality Quality of Life
Quantity Output/Satisfaction
Lost Days Auto Insurance
Rental Costs Parking/Gas
Recruiting/Training Lost Commuting Time

Source: C.T.I.Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Linda M. Russell is the toronto based senior partner in the firm Telecommuting Consultants International, Inc. With her Vancouver partner, J. Dale Michaels, Russell is an expert in home work, and implementation, integration and monitoring of dispersed workforces. She sits on a number of industry and government task forces, and has done extensive research in the areas of work-at-home, and telecommuting.
COPYRIGHT 1992 Canadian Institute of Management
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:telecommuting
Author:Russell, Linda
Publication:Canadian Manager
Date:Jun 22, 1992
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