Ann Smith is the global segment marketing manager for Toronto-based AT&T Global Services. Her work day starts at six a.m. She gets up, puts on a pot of coffee and strolls into her office without ever leaving the comforts of her Ottawa home.
“[When] I started working for AT&T Global Services in 2000, the offices in Ottawa were closing. My only option would have been to move to Toronto. I quite honestly did not want to [because] the quality of life and my family are all [in Ottawa.],” she said. At the time, Smith asked her manager about the possibility of working full time remotely from Ottawa and five years later she is still working from home.
Smith is just one of a growing number of remote workers in Canada. According to a recent survey conducted by AT&T Global Services and the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), two thirds of 254 Canadian executives surveyed said some of their staff work regularly from home.
“[Remote working is] more widespread and becoming critical to businesses,” said Richard Blacklock, director of business strategy and development for AT&T Global Services. “If I think back 10 or 15 years ago it was unthinkable that a manager would manage an employee remotely. Slowly but surely that has been changing, people manage people from other countries.
There is now more tolerance in managing people that are not necessarily within eyeshot every single day.”
Blacklock said the key to making telework successful is technology. The survey indicated 80 per cent of Canadian executives cited remote working as a key concern when drawing up technology strategies.
“Without reliable technology you would not be able to do [remote working] effectively,” said Smith.
The EIU survey noted broadband access and Voice over IP (VoIP) as crucial enablers for telework. “With DSL and cable [connections], you are connecting, in some cases, at higher speeds than the access you are getting in the office,” Blacklock said.
As well, the survey showed 21 per cent of companies use VoIP for remote working. In Canada, 80 per cent of executives stated they would deploy this technology for telework by 2006. The key benefits to VoIP, Blacklock said, include the ability for remote workers to use their office number at home and reducing the cost of long distance phone calls.
While VoIP and broadband access are key, both Smith and Blacklock agreed that having a secure, encrypted connection is the most critical technological enabler for remote working.
“Security is a huge issue. A VPN allows [data] connecting from home via DSL or cable and sends that data securely across the Internet,” Blacklock said. He added a VPN also lets remote workers access office applications at home.
Another benefit of remote working is it is one way for businesses to save money through a reduction in real estate costs, decrease absenteeism and increase productivity. The latter is something Smith noted since she began to work from home.
“I can start work much earlier in the day and it gives me the flexibility to finish later in the day. It allows me the flexibility without that extra stress to get myself ready, fight traffic and weather,” she said.
Like Smith, Blacklock said more employees have been demanding the flexibility of working from home as it allows them to balance work and family life.
“You can’t put a price tag on that,” said Smith.