Jobs: Working from Home... or any other place but the office

by Claudio Muñoz

A coffee shop at nine o’clock in the morning. Downtown. So many people go in and out that the door actually never closes. With today’s newspaper under their arms, they are ready to go to work (they are late, though). There’s nothing new in the papers after an hour on the train, coming from the suburbs, or the bus plus subway plus changing-lines plus more subway plus another bus.

Work is something you do, not something you travel to. That’s a teleworkers motto. In the face of traffic jams, hours of commuting, gas prices and company overhead for office space, that motto seems more valid than ever.

“Teleworker refers to employees who work part of their time away from the office (or their regular working place), usually from home. It is also known as telecommuting, e-commuting, e-work, working at home (WAH), or working from home (WFH). This trend started in the ‘70s but it was only in the late 80s and beginning of the 90s that people realized its potential.

Before that, it looked like a poor excuse to stay home.

According to Bob Frontier, President of InnoVisions Canada (a telework and flexible work consulting organization) and founder and President of the Canadian Telework Association, the phenomenon shows a steady growth in our country. “There’re approximately a million and a half teleworkers who do, at least, a day or so per week of teleworking.”

“More and more organizations are becoming comfortable with the concept and understand the benefits. They are gradually willing to allow some of their workforce to work outside. And more and more employees feel the desire [to do it], want more flexibility, reduction in your commuting time and all the benefits,” he explains.

What are those benefits? For employees, a better work-life balance: you can spend some time with your family, save on transportation; it allows a more flexible schedule, and so on. For companies, it could increase employee productivity, reduce expenses for work space – rent, hydro, phone – improve recruitment and retention and reduce absenteeism. There are many other benefits for the environment (less pollution), and cities (less traffic jams) to name a few.
Not everything is great, though. Working at home may reduce your social circle. It could make it more difficult to get ahead in your career or increase your workload. For organizations, teleworking could create some problems of communication or coordination, lack of control over quality work and some problems related to information security.

Newcomers working from home?

Teleworking is possible because of technology, no doubt about it. Thanks to high-speed internet access, reduced cost on long distance, computers (especially laptops) cell phones, PDAs, and so on – people can connect to their work wherever they are.

According to a Statistics Canada study titled “Working at Home”, employees working from home usually have a Bachelor’s degree (or more). Many have jobs at management levels, in the social science, or educational fields. Around 9.8 percent of employees in Canada work from home.

Self-employed workers are a different thing. About 54 percent of them work from home; they work in finance, insurance, real estate and leasing; mainly in the professional, scientific and technical industries, educational services and information, culture and recreation services.

Let’s make it clear that an employed teleworker is still part of a company – you get benefits and a regular paycheque. As a “freelance teleworker”, you offer your services to whoever wants them... and you get paid accordingly without benefits or a regular paycheque.

Even so, freelance telework can be a great way to make more money, get you some contacts and show your skills to possible employers.

Can telework help newcomers?

“I think it could work,” says Frontier. “A lot depends on the employer and on the job. They need to find organizations that have the right kind of job for remote work and they personally need to have some of the skills, be proven performers, and find a manager willing to trust them.”

In general, there are certain jobs or companies more suited to telework:

  • Basically anything that is done on a computer or through telecommunications; telephone reception, online customer services, website maintenance and management, online community orchestration and so on. Be creative; when you call a psychic number the psychic is probably at home...
  • Some telework jobs are outdoor jobs; field sales and field support for small companies, sales and support, or some professional services and consultancy.
  • Work for a company back home. What about your former employer? They might need something you can still do from here. What about other companies in other countries? When you telework, there are no such things as border officers.

In terms of organizations, the most obvious choices are those that use computers and telecommunications regularly. Companies that already have ‘flexible hours’ strategies – like programs for moms – are also a good place to check. Some companies employ freelancers on regular basis and they are always looking for people to work on projects. Organizations with strong internet strategies need content and maintenance.

Most of the time, you need to be creative to find these opportunities. There’s no “telework” category in job-search-websites. Most of the “work from home” flyers that you can find on streets post are scams or at least, it is really hard to get the kind of money they promise.

But it is possible to find jobs like this. Think big: if the category doesn’t exist, you can create it.

CNM