Working from home can make you more productive, reduce your company's overhead and give you the right work-life balance

Working from home can make you more productive, reduce your company’s overhead and give you the right work-life balance

Spend long enough in a morning traffic jam, and you’ll understand why telecommuting is becoming so popular.

That boring hour you spend alternating between the brake and gas pedal costs you time and costs your company money. Studies show that long daily commutes waste hours that you could spend working, and really aren’t the greatest way to start your day. The improved productivity that comes from avoiding that daily stress is one of the biggest reasons Canadian companies are letting their employees work from home.

A recent IDC study estimated that 68.9% of Canadians are doing at least some remote work, with that figure expected to rise to 73% by 2016. And almost a quarter of Canadian companies offer employees the option of telecommuting, according to another study. New communications and collaboration technology is smoothing the path, bringing the workplace closer to home.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the reasons why tele-work is becoming so prevalent in Canada.

Telecommuting can make you better at your job

The first reason is improved productivity, which is ultimately what your employer wants. Telecommuting can make you more productive when home means a quiet, comfortable environment. Without the noise of ringing phones and printers, and the distractions of co-workers making small-talk, many people simply focus on their work better.

There’s often talk of “work-life balance” as a job perk, and a company that let’s you telecommute is gives you a great opportunity to manage give your personal life enough attention. Globe News quoted a call centre employee, Joelle Bezanson, who describes how she’s able to multi-task between her personal and business lives at home:

“It is much quieter. I can go out on my breaks and work in my garden, hang out a load of laundry, tidy, prepare supper – so many things. It’s like my work now revolves around my life instead of my life revolving around work,” said Bezanson.

This doesn’t work for everyone, of course. Some people just don’t like working from home. Or the temptations of being there cuts into their productivity more than the distractions at work do. But the important thing is that companies offer you the flexibility to choose. Some people work better at the office five days a week, while others may hit their sweet spot spending most of their time at the workplace, with a day or two at home.

And this kind of flexibility is made easier by unified communications technology that’s growing increasingly sophisticated. With the hassles of dropped connections and choppy video becoming a thing of the past, people who tried telecommuting in the past and didn’t like it may give it another try.

Channels of communication are clearer

Big companies like Cisco and Avaya now offer a wide range of unified communications equipment for every budget, from super-phones with HD video and Voice-over-IP to boardrooms tables with video monitors sitting across from you in virtual chairs. Microsoft is starting to get in on the action too.

Meanwhile, companies like Citrix and BlackBerry are creating new real-time collaboration software that ties in voice, video and instant messaging. As the cost of bandwidth goes down, voice conversations are crisper and video resolution is better, making the experience of talking to co-workers remotely richer and more “real” than ever before.

With the rise of smartphones and tablets, these platforms are also offering support for mobile voice and video, meaning that you can stay in close touch on the road as well.

Will your company let you telecommute?

Statistically speaking, if your company is either very large (think Yahoo) or very small (fewer than 10 employees) they’re less likely to give you the option. Your best chance is with a mid-sized company with a few hundred employees. And of course, it depends on what industry you’re working in.

But the most important thing is company culture. Receptiveness to the idea of telecommuting can vary dramatically across companies. The good news is that things are moving in the direction of allowing more tele-work, and pretty soon, the choice may be in your hands.

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