As a ‘cubicle rat’, it can be easy to envy friends and co-workers that have the ‘luxury’ of working remotely. No need to get dressed in business attire every morning; no rush traffic or parking issues to deal with.
Working remotely can mean working from home, the local coffee shop or in a co-working location. Completely virtual companies are emerging with no physical presence at all. The more common scenario is a company that will allow its employees to partly work remotely. Another group on the rise is freelancers. Online platforms such as Upwork, FlexJobs and Freelancer enable freelancers to connect with potential employers regardless of physical location. Technologies such as the Cloud, mobile hotspots, and VPNs facilitate a virtual office basically anywhere in the world. There are some clear benefits to both the worker and the company but there are also a few things to be aware of.
The most attractive advantage with working remotely is the flexibility it can offer. Instead of commuting to and from the office, that time can be used to be productive, freeing up more time for family and hobbies. Woke up to a child with a cold? Work from home instead of taking a day off. Some freelancers can have even more flexibility and schedule contracts and work around their day, week, or simply take the work with them to the beach in Hawaii.
Insightrix, a Saskatoon based market research firm allows staff to work remotely when needed and has one full-time employee in Thailand. Corrin Harper, Insightrix President and CEO, has identified several advantages with allowing employees to work from home. “…Some people just need a mental break from the office and enjoy a day working from home wrapping up some needed administrative and/or project work,” she says.
Greg Sutton is the Co-founder and CEO of TinyEYE, also based in Saskatoon. TinyEYE offers online speech, language and occupational therapy through a pool of approximately 200 therapists that all work from home. Of the 50 corporate employees, about 75% work remotely. “[Remote workers] are often the most productive team members,” he says. “We have the right people in the right spots.”
In addition to the flexibility it provides her staff, Harper says she can reach new markets by having a physical presence in other regions. “Having remote workers has improved our bottom line through the ability to sell into new geographic areas,” she notes.
The main financial advantage for a company is usually a reduction in cost for office space. Employing freelancers on contract and project basis means not having them on permanent payroll. For Harper, her company is more attractive as an employer and while difficult to quantify, she believes there is a reduction in recruitment costs. Plus, Harper believes it also allows her to recruit in a wider geographical area. “It can be sometimes difficult to find a certain skill set in Saskatoon, and having technology that support securely working remotely has enabled us to reach out [to] qualified employees that may be not be interested in moving to Saskatoon but are interested in working for our organization,” she says.
Greg Sutton agrees. “Utilizing remote employees allows TinyEYE access to a bigger labour pool with a wide range of skills, experience, values, and visions that match the goals of TinyEYE.”
The drawbacks of working outside the office can be a lack of discipline and a blur of the line between work and home life. Sutton acknowledges that remote work isn’t for everyone. He says that it needs to be clear that the prospective employee is self-driven and can self-manage. “We need to be diligent on who we are hiring,” he says.
And, not all types of roles in a company are suited for remote work. Harper explains: “For example, it is hard for a receptionist to work remotely. This means that some departments have the flexibility while some do not.”
Another disadvantage can be loneliness and the lack of interaction with co-workers both from a social perspective (coffee break chats and water cooler gossip), as well as from a work-related perspective. Sutton says that it is important to proactively work towards engaging people and be on the ball about connections with team members. All meetings are on camera and while he tries to bring in managers and some employees at least annually, he admits that there are employees he has never met in person.
To combat the issue of loneliness and feeling disconnected if working extensively, or entirely out of the office, some people opt to work in co-working spaces. The idea of co-working is to provide a space were entrepreneurs, start-ups, freelancers and remote workers have access to the amenities of an office such as a desk, reliable internet and technology, meeting rooms and likeminded people. It provides a work environment with both social and professional benefits like networking opportunities. Some co-working spaces arrange events, seminars and guest speakers.
Saskatoon’s The Link Office Hub, (known as ‘the Link’), provides stylish office space with focus on companies with one to three employees. There is an option to work in the open co-working space at a dedicated desk, which is popular among people looking for an alternative to coffee shops, libraries and other public places.
Kendra Rodych, the owner of the Link, has seen an uptick in this type of working environment which correlates to the growing number of small businesses in Saskatchewan. “Our members love the professional atmosphere at The Link,” Rodych says. The offices come with receptionist services, internet, kitchen facilities and meeting rooms. Rodych finds that the private offices are more popular than the open desks. “People like the option to close their door and work uninterrupted and come out into the common areas when they would like to socialize, network and collaborate,” she says.
Whether the new office is your home, the local coffee joint or the new cool co-working space in town, there are certainly more opportunities, advanced technology and more employers that are discovering the advantages of reshaping the traditional office model. TinyEYE’s Greg Sutton sums it up quite simply: “Work is what you do, not where you do it.”