Stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic on the morning rush hour, most motorists are probably asking “what ever happened to telecommuting?”
Despite advances in Web-based communication and collaboration tools, the notion of working from home or elsewhere other than the office has not been adopted widely as was predicted back in the early 1990s.
A Barrie, Ont.-based company believes the solution lies in bringing the office close to the home-bound or remote worker.
SuiteWorks a work venue provider, offers office space, meeting rooms, high-speed connectivity and a portfolio of business services on an as needed basis to both corporate and individual clients.
“Work is what you do, not a place you go to,” is sort of a personal motto for George Horhota, executive vice-president and chief financial officer of the two-year-old firm.
Ironically, one of the reasons that slowed down the take-up of telecommuting is a “lack of flexibility” explains Horhota as he spoke from his home office.
He said most companies that fail to get satisfying results from their teleworking programs do not give their workers much choice. “You either work from home of not.”
In some situations, employees who signed up for the program did so because they found they didn’t have adequate work space in their offices.
On the other hand, other companies negated the real estate savings of telecommuting by maintaining the workstations of employees that work from home.
For instance, some 11,000 employees of Nortel Networks signed up for the company’s telework program but only 2,000 gave up their office desks, Horhota said.
Rather than concentrate on merely telework, organizations should instead align their policies to accommodate a “distributed work” arrangement, Horhota said.
Distributed work is a more general concept that encompasses physically separated co-workers scattered across multiple locations such as the corporate headquarters, branch offices, the home, on the road or in a third party satellite location. Distributed work also takes into account that workers collaborate asynchronously and may not have the same employment terms with the parent organization.
Horhota said SuiteWorks’ facility in Barrie is ideal for distributed work since it offers that vital bridge between employees living in the area and their offices in downtown Toronto.
In the event of forbidding weather conditions or an overlong commute to the city, the company’s customers can book one of the 128 workstations in the building and get instantly connected to their office, clients, co-workers or partners.
For a corporate fee of $300 a month for each employee, workers are get 24/7 access for 10 hours a week to the following:
- A high-speed Internet connection over fibre optic network;
- An office address;
- Video conferencing capability;
- Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP);
- Audio conferencing facilities;
- Reception service;
- Full IT support;
- Access to catering service;
- Delivery service via in-house UPS store;
- Toll-free fax service;
- Unlimited free long distance calls within North America;
- Conference room access for $10 to $50 an hour depending on party size
SuiteWorks offers basically the same amenities with “slightly adjusted” conference room arrangements for individual clients at $275/month/user.
Among the SuiteWorks’ clients is IBM Canada, which has 25 employees using the facility, some employees from several Toronto-based financial companies, corporate and private practice lawyers and nurses employed by Clinadata Corp. for the Telehealth Ontario program
He said the set-up is not meant to replace but rather support telecommuting. For instance, the nurses are forbidden by law to work from home for security reasons since they handle patient files.
Such as set up is effectively deals with a number of issues that had plagued telecommuting in the past, according to Sebastien Ruest, vice-president of services research for consultancy firm IDC Canada Inc.
He said previous connectivity issues have been solved by Internet technology and virtual private networks (VPNs) that enable faster transmission and sharing of files.
However, concerns that the absence of an office atmosphere might lead to distraction, reduced concentration and lack of socialization, still remain.
“Facilities like SuiteWorks provide that corporate feel,” Ruest said.
A satellite location is also ideal as a meeting venue or office substitute in situations when heading to the head office is not practical, he said.
Ruest sees a possible growth in the demand for such facilities as corporations become more acceptable of distributed working.
He said recent surveys indicate that 20 to 60 per cent of knowledge-based workers are teleworking.
Bell Canada is among the Canadian companies that have successfully employed a distributed work program, Ruest said.
In the U.S. IBM, Sun Microsystems and Proctor and Gamble had positive experiences with the set-up as well.
The Canadian Telework Association estimates that nearly 1.5 million Canadians now telecommute in one form or another, up from 600,000 some 10 years ago.
Another top executive of a Toronto-based software development consulting firm believes that long-standing negative attitudes are to blame for sluggish adoption of alternative workplace arrangements.
“Antiquated ideas are holding back companies from adopting distributed work arrangements,” said Paul Barter, vice-president of T4G Ltd.
Nearly all of the 200 employees of the firm with offices in Toronto, Saint John, NB, Halifax, Charlottetown and Vancouver, are remote workers.
For certain types of workers telecommuting and remote work is ideal if not the only set-up possible, he said. “However, some companies hold on to the old notion that if you’re not in the office, you’re not working.”
This is increasingly changing, Horhota said, as a growing number of workers move to the suburbs despite having offices in the city.
Toronto population’s exodus to the 905 region is one of the factors why SuiteWorks’ next second facility – set to open in December – will be in Burlington, Ont. A third site is also being planned for Calgary.