Cross-border telecommuting on the rise in Canada

When Lorraine Menezes signed up to handle the accounts of Oracle Corp. Canada’s U.S. and other international clients from home rather than an office cubicle some two-and-a-half years ago, she had no idea she was riding the crest of a worldwide workplace trend.

Menezes is among a growing number of Canadian cross-border telecommuters – Canada-based teleworkers who work for or provide some service to companies or customers in the U.S. and other parts of the world.

Read related article: Becoming a successful, and satisfied, teleworker – an expert shows how

“At the time the option to work from home was not a primary concern,” said the business analyst who formerly worked out of Oracle Canada’s office in Mississauga, Ont. “I was more attracted by the prospect of working with international clients.”

It’s difficult to get an exact count of Canadian cross-border telecommuters but most human resources (HR) firms and worker groups agree their growing numbers can be linked to the swelling ranks of teleworkers in the country.

And this is a worldwide phenomenon.

Research firm Gartner Inc. in Stamford, Conn. estimates there are more than 137 million global teleworkers.

“This growth will mushroom as companies learn more about telework benefits, its highly advantageous return on investment, and the proliferation and use of online job boards and virtual hiring,” the report said.

The Canadian Telework Association estimates roughly 10 per cent of the country’s workforce, or 2.5 million people work away from the office at least one day a week.

A survey by the global HR firm WorldatWork indicates 40 per cent of public and private sector firms in Canada last year offered employees the opportunity to telework compared to only 25 per cent in 2007.

A “perfect storm” of events is responsible for the growing number of teleworkers, according to Anne Ruddy, president of WorldatWork.

Factors such as rising gas prices, new technologies, and people’s need for flexibility have all combined in the past 12 months, to dramatically boost the telework phenomenon across Canada and the U.S., she said.

And such a work style offers a range of benefits – to teleworkers, the companies they work for, and the wider community.

For instance, at a time when gas prices are continually rising, Menezes is able to cut down on transportation expenses. She doesn’t need to worry about braving the elements during a snow storm.

Working from home allows her greater flexibility, and also enhances her ability to concentrate on work. “You’re able to escape the usual office distractions. You can choose to finish your task right away or spread it through the day.”

And cross-border telework can offer even greater advantages.  

In Menezes’ case, for instance, it allows her to deal, each day, with a diverse group. “I love interacting with people from various backgrounds. I can be working with folk from the U.S. one day and people in Asia the next.”

Are you ready to jump on the cross-border teleworking bandwagon yet? Not so fast says, Bob Fortier, president of InnoVisions Canada, an Ottawa-based telework consulting firm.

Rarely do organizations offer telework to everyone who asks, he cautions. “That’s not only because of operational, financial, human and practical considerations, but also because not everyone is suited for telework.”

Here’s a brief checklist that may help you determine whether you’re teleworker material or not:

Independent nature – If you don’t need constant supervision or feedback from your boss, there’s a good chance you might thrive as a teleworker. “Successful teleworkers tend to be independent,” says Fortier.

Not a social butterfly – You’ll need to be able to tolerate a drastic reduction in social interaction, says Menezes of Oracle Canada. “When you telework, you’re likely to spend the whole day alone.”

To prevent things from getting too monotonous, Menezes suggests teleworkers establish a work routine that includes some time out from the computer, and some face-to face encounter with people. “Some people take a few minutes to visit a coffee shop or do some groceries, just to break the monotony.”

Self disciplined and proven performer – It’s not true that when you work at home, you’re free to do whatever you want, says Menezes. “That’s a sure way to fall behind on your work, end up getting swamped or worse.”

By contrast, establishing a routine and sticking to it is a great way of accomplishing what needs to be done. Another good practice many teleworkers adopt is setting work daily work goals, and reviewing whether they’ve succeeded in achieving them.

Understand job requirements – Teleworkers need to be self-motivated and organized, because when there’s no one watching your back, there’s tendency to slack off or go off at a tangent, warns Fortier. You have to remain on track.

The right home office – Your home is your office. Teleworkers, should ensure their home office has the necessary equipment and is laid out to allow them to accomplish their task. Employers typically provide connectivity tools such as desktops, laptops, modem, smart phones, fax machines or other equipment.

However arrangements at home also need to be conducive to telework said Fortier. Things to consider would include ergonomics, workplace safety and even sound quality. “Telework may not be a great idea if your spouse is a rock n’ roll musician whose band practices in the basement,” he said.

Financial savvy – Many telecommuters are fortunate to have a company providing them a steady salary, but there’s also a large population of self-employed teleworkers, according to Peggy Crawford, a certified management accountant and principal at Renewed Business Strategies, an accounting consultancy firm based in Orillia, Ont.

“The main reason many such businesses fail is because owners don’t plan their accounting and cash flow,” says Crawford.

There are numerous do-it-yourself accounting software products in the market but for this type of telecommuter, Crawford recommends doing a small business management course, some basic accounting, boning up on bookkeeping and then consulting with a tax or accounting expert.

Tax considerations – Canadians considering cross-border telecommuting involving dealings with U.S.-based companies/clients should also be aware of differing tax practices between the two countries.

Revenue Canada says the Canadian system bases taxes on residency not citizenship. If you have been working in Canada more than 183 days, your income, no matter the source is taxable in Canada. There are exemptions for government employees though.

In the U.S. taxes are based on where you perform the work and citizenship. The U.S. can tax its citizens in Canada.

There are provisions to prevent double taxation.

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