Working from home.
Every year in Canada, workers spend over seven weeks commuting to and from the office. If we were to spend just one day a week working from home, we’d claw back an astonishing ten days a year.
- People who work from home
- Why do they work from home?
- Working for a company
- What’s it really like
- What are the practicalities?
- Other factors
People who work from home
So just who does get that extra half an hour in bed? Is it just envelope stuffers and sales reps who benefit from avoiding corporate HQ? Apparently not. New developments in IT and telecoms, have allowed greater scope for employees to work from an environment other than the traditional office. Writers, editors, consultants, accountants, and charity fund-raisers all enjoy the benefits of flexible working hours.
As the phone companies are finally (and belatedly) honouring their commitment to reduce the price of Internet access, and software packages are becoming more flexible, working from home in some form will undoubtedly increase. The fact that it’s good for employees’ health, and better for the environment are added bonuses.
Why do they work from home?
2020, 2021 no-doubt many were forced to work from home during the COVID-19 pandemic. Beyond COVID-19 many other reasons to work from home include: no noisy work mates and the constant ringing of other office phones, the potential to work in a room with a view of their garden and breathe fresh air rather than the reconstituted stuff that belches out of the A/C unit; no travelling – which means extra nap time, no cattle trucks, and no sweaty armpits to nuzzle against on the way in! Re-introduction to family and friends in the extra time gleaned from not commuting. Flexitime means morning people can get up and go without disturbing the night owls – it’s also been proved that productivity is higher when people can work the hours that best suit them. Office banter can be a good thing, but office tensions can affect people’s state of mind – at least when you work from home, you get the option to go into the office.
Working for a company
If you don’t quite have the word you want, you can usually rely on a North American to invent an entirely new batch of terms, definitions and – after a standard period – turn them into verbs by adding the suffix “ize” [sic]! That’s why we now have the words “telecommuting” and “teleworking” in our midst. The ITAC (International Telework Association & Council) defines the (albeit subtle) differences between them thus: ‘Telecommuting employs telecommunications to avoid the drudgery and risks of the traditional commute to the traditional office’.
Teleworking is a much broader term that means using telecommunications to work wherever you need in order to satisfy client needs: whether it be a home office, a client’s office, a hotel room, etc’.
According to recent research, the number of teleworkers globally has increased exponentially over the past 10 years, with an extreme peak during 2020 and 2021; mainly due to increasing availability of appropriate technology. ITAC acknowledges that the concept of working outside the office is not a new one. ‘Ironically, almost all companies have telework programs, whether they know it or not. Two-thirds of telework arrangements are informal, and worked out between a manager and employee – people are travelling on business, they’re checking e-mail while having to stay home with a sick child, etc.’
COVID-19 caused a fundamental shift in attitudes towards remote work, this will continue to play out in the coming years.
Obviously, some industries are more suited than others to working from home. Accountancy firms require a fair amount of office attendance and client contact, but going through case studies, writing reports, and doing appraisals could be done pretty much anywhere. Many of the top firms are now offering flexi time as part of their packages.
What’s it really like
Cindy White, a senior editor and writer, has worked from home for the last twelve years. ‘Working from home has given me the freedom to organise my life the way I want to. I don’t have to deal with office politics, and I also get the advantage of not being “owned” by an organisation – something that gives me a lot of motivation.’
Although this may be your idea of heaven, Cindy is quick to point out it takes a certain type of person to succeed. ‘You HAVE to be self-motivated, and ideally a workaholic too! Unless you’re a real entrepreneurial type, you are likely to earn less and work harder than you would in a regular job at the same level. As well as doing your actual job, it’s very important to be computer and Internet literate. A lot of people forget that you are the only one who’s going to do all the office support things – I estimate I spend about an hour a day posting letters, sending faxes, and doing boring things like accounts.’
Cindy also recommends that people get established in their careers first. ‘You need a good, proven track record, to a fairly senior level if possible, and it’s essential to have good industry contacts. It also makes a big difference if you’ve already got your first major contract set up.’
What are the practicalities?
As an employer, if your employees are going to work from home you must provide safe and appropriate equipment and ensure they have been properly trained in its use. You also have a statutory obligation to carry out periodic risk assessment on your employees’ homes to ensure that adequate counter measures are in place. There are five key stages to carrying out a risk assessment:
- Identify any hazards, such as harmful substances being within the reach of children. Although the electrical sockets in the home are the responsibility of the homeowner, you don’t want sensitive electrical kit damaged by a faulty power supply
- Decide who might be harmed and how, including children and visitors
- Assess the risks and take appropriate action to remove them or reduce them as far as possible
- Record and document all findings
- Check for risks from time to time and take further steps if risk has increased
If a risk assessment shows risks in a teleworker’s home, you must take appropriate action, but it’s worth remembering that employers are only responsible for the materials they provide to a person working from home.
- Hardware security – make sure there are adequate door and window locks and encourage employees to operate a ‘clear desk’ policy at the end of the day so nothing sensitive or valuable gets left lying around. The golden rule? Back everything up!
- Network security – a massive issue which can be a major stumbling block for those wishing to work away from the office; users on home computers behave differently, and tend to be less security conscious – without a personal firewall, a home computer can be a gaping back-door for any roaming virus, or enterprising hacker
- People working from home affect insurance rates, and premiums almost always go up – however, there are insurers who specialise in homeworker cover
- Home expenses range from increased electricity and phone bills to less obvious ones like increased wear and tear on furniture; most employers will pay for an extra telephone line to be installed – not least because this makes identifying business-related calls much easier. Some employers choose to make a regular fixed contribution towards other expenses rather than spend the time analyzing the minutiae of each individual one