Beyond the comfort level, working from home has many other benefits. There’s the time saved on commuting, fewer distractions – one can only take so many stories about someone’s cat – and more.
The number of people working from home in Canada has risen to levels never seen before, a result of many factors, including the improvement of collaboration hardware and software.
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According to Statistics Canada (2016 data specifically) 2.5 million Canadians work from home, accounting for about 12.6 per cent of the workforce.
Roughly ten years ago, one of Canada’s largest telecommunication companies, Telus Communications, was having an issue with customer satisfaction and came to the realization it could be related to another issue they were having: employee engagement.
According to Craig Thronton, the vice-president of business mobility solutions at Telus, who spoke on a panel about mobile workforces at IT World Canada’s Digital Transformation Conference and Awards event, the company’s employee engagement numbers sat at a mere 53 per cent.
To put it into context, he related this situation to putting all the employees of the company on a single multi-user bicycle and seeing what happens when only half of them are truly engaged.
“Half of them are kind of working really hard. Some portion of them, they’re just kind of coasting. And then there’s a portion that are the actively disengaged. They’ve actually reversed their seats and they’re peddling the other direction,” Thornton explained. “It was a big problem for us. And so we set out on this journey to basically redefine how we work.”
The brass at Telus came to the conclusion that this could be resolved by offering their employees the ability to work from home.
Fast forward to today, and 73 per cent of the roughly 40,000 employees at Telus either work remotely in the field or from home.
And according to Thornton, the data shows Telus made the right move.
Not only did employee engagement rise (from the previously mentioned 53 per cent to about 83 per cent), Telus got a nod on Glassdoors’ top tech employers in Canada. Thornton attributes much of this to the work from home initiative. As he put it: “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”
The rise in customer satisfaction has also helped them save time and money, he added
Chief among the financial returns was time saved on commuting and the reduction of required real estate; something that also reduced the environmental harm done by the company.
Over the years he says Telus reduced its real estate by 1,000,000 square feet, which has equated to $50,000,000 a year in savings. An additional $5 million in annual savings came from travel costs. The ability to hire and retain top talent that requires a flexible work schedule and situation has become integral to the company’s identity.
Thornton referenced one situation in which they were trying to hire a very talented individual, but were at risk of losing her because she required a flexible schedule and the ability to work from home.
“She has more than enough talent. And she works from home. She’s fantastic,” says Thornton. “And there’s no way I would have ever been able to hire and retain her if we didn’t offer that flexibility. That’s where that 73 per cent (employee satisfaction) really starts to hit home in a very tangible way.”
And then there are the improved productivity levels.
When an audience member at the event says he saw a drop in productivity from his mobile workforce, Thornton responds by saying he believes that promoting collaboration is key to the issue of productivity.
“We have actually seen it go the other way,” said Thornton. “To me, the secret sauce here is the amounts of collaboration that you’re creating. Fostering that collaboration, virtual team events, face-to-face compliance.”
All of this is not to say that keeping your mobile workforce motivated is the only challenge in promoting working from home. Another big hurdle, especially for companies who handle lots of private data, is ensuring the privacy and security of that data when it’s not housed onsite.
Thornton says Telus has invested heavily in setting up its mobile workforce with the right infrastructure, ensuring their work is as secure as possible. That meant not just software infrastructure, but also hardware, such as cellphones and laptops that have been set up and secured by Telus.
But even then, there is the human element of security risks. Some believe this is magnified when you cannot directly monitor your employees, but Thornton disagrees. By ensuring that you are regularly training your employees on security and putting into place strict security policies, remote work shouldn’t create additional security concerns.
“If you are letting people work from home, you are assuming some risk. The way to remediate that to the best of your abilities is through training and policies.”