SuiteWorks pushes teleworking in Barrie

Feb. 6 marked the first Stop Commuting Day in Barrie, Ont. A bedroom community about 100 kilometres north of Toronto, Barrie was chosen by SuiteWorks Inc. as the site of its first telework centre, a 2,200 square-foot, 120-seat facility that will offer Barrie’s 31,500 commuters a local workplace alternative.

John Cameron, president of SuiteWorks, said the construction of the telework facility is set to begin this spring, and the first clients are scheduled to move in by late summer. SuiteWorks plans to open other centres in Canada and the U.S. next year — it’s particularly looking at locations around the greater Toronto area such as Whitby, Burlington and Cambridge, as well as areas surrounding Vancouver and Montreal.

Cameron said the building will have a “fully technology-enhanced boardroom with videoconferencing and smart board technology, Web and audio conferencing, and it will be available for individuals outside of our clientele.” He added that SuiteWorks is having “conversations with many technology companies about who the final providers will be” for everything from PCs to communications technology.

Systems integrator Compugen was chosen to set things up on the technological side. Compugen president Harry Zarek said his firm will “design and architect from the technology point of view all of the requirements. Everything will be state-of-the-art, high speed and secure, and high quality, not only on the networking side, but also on the PC, printing and faxing side.”

Voice over IP will provide local calling into Toronto, as well as other features like call conferencing and forwarding. The building will have both SuiteWorks office managers and Compugen technicians onsite to provide assistance with configuration, Zarek said.

Cameron said SuiteWorks has put a lot of thought into security, both on the physical and technological side. Employees will have access cards to enter the building and the turnstile entrance will allow only one person in at time; all guests will be badged, managed and escorted.

To provide workers a safe way to connect to their company networks, Compugen will set up virtual LAN technology. “No one will be able to see what is going through that connection outside of that party….We’re trying the replicate the experience of being at their desk at the office with all the connectivity that one would expect,” said Zarek.

The same care will be exercised for printing and faxing, he said. For example, after sending a document to the printer, the user will have to swipe his or her access card before the document is printed; the same will be true for receiving faxes, he said.

Compugen is also SuiteWorks’ first customer. Zarek said his firm has decided to put two of its people in the remote work facility. One interesting advantage, he said, is that now Compugen can expand its hiring criteria and list of prospective candidates. “As we do our next wave of hiring, we’re going to indicate that, depending on the type of position, Barrie area people will have access to the facility.”

Cameron said leasing options will range from a “hotelling arrangement” to accommodate teleworking up to two days a week — which would suit “more transient” employees like pharmaceutical sales reps who make frequent off-site calls — all the way up to a 10×12-foot private walled office with locking doors and other security features.

Other options include 6×6- or 8×8-foot workstations for those who don’t need as much security or confidentiality — although those workers will have access to private phone and meeting rooms as needed.

“We expect the majority will be full-time dedicated offices where the worker will travel to their current office one day a week or two, and otherwise the SuiteWorks office will be their office,” Cameron said.

Leasing costs will range from $400 to $1,000 per month, depending on the office space, but the average cost will be on the higher-end — $800 to $1,000, Cameron said. The costs are comparable to, if not lower than, having an employee work onsite, he added.

According to Bob Fortier, president of Innovisions Canada, a telework and flexible work consulting organization in Ottawa, it is fairly easy for an organization to save about $10,000 per employee per year if it sets up its telework program properly and strategically.

“That would include salary savings, productivity increases, reduced absenteeism — that’s a significant one — and avoiding relocations, as well as recruitment and retention savings. It’s not very hard for a company to save $5 to $6 million dollars per 100 teleworkers over a five-year period.”

However, Fortier emphasized that companies should hammer out a formal telework plan before jumping on the bandwagon. “Organizations that have some type of formal structure around a telework program will recoup many of the benefits that an informal program will not.”

For example, a corporate initiative will help the company know exactly how much it is saving on things like office space or emergency preparedness. In addition, a formal strategy will help reduce the risks of employees getting injured in their remote locations by things like poor ergonomic setup. Digital risk is another area that can be addressed within the company’s existing IT strategy, and managerial risk, which includes the inability to properly manage remote workers, resulting in poor performance, can be mitigated by including teleworking stipulations in the HR policy.

“Organizations need to put a bit of thinking around their program, look at the ROI and answer for themselves questions like ‘What’s in it for us?’ and ‘Is it worth it financially?’ If they do decide they want to get into it, [they should] provide a bit of information for teleworkers and telemanagers and give them the tools they need.”

Barrie commuters spend on average three hours per day in their cars, which emit 14 tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere each year, according to the city’s mayor, Rob Hamilton.

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