Published: November 21st, 2007

Telecommuting, virtual teams, mobile workers – these concepts and practices are becoming increasingly adopted across North America, with tech companies taking the lead.

Telework programs can boost corporate and employee productivity, improve staff satisfaction and retention, and fuel innovation. But there’s one caveat: they have to be rolled out correctly.

How may companies and knowledge workers make telework really work for them? That’s the focus of this discussion between Roberta Fox, a board member of the Canadian Telework Association and ITBusiness.ca online editor Joaquim P. Menezes.

Fox is also president and senior partner at Toronto-based Fox Group Consulting. She has more than twenty four years experience working in the technology industry in Canada and the US.  

Roberta, tell us something about the Canadian Telework Association (CTA) and its mandate.

By: Joaquim P. Menezes

The CTA is a non-profit body, whose main goal is to promote awareness about telework…to show organizations and individuals in Canada the benefits of telework programs, and how to successfully [implement] them.

The CTA has a presentation called Telework and the Virtual Organization. How would you define a virtual organization?

A virtual organization empowers knowledge workers and others to perform their jobs effectively regardless of where they work from and who they work with. It could be a home office, an alternate company location, a mobile office, or from Starbucks.  

Teletrips founder and CEO, Scott Fleming mentioned that in North America today more than 20 million people work from home at least one day a week. What are the big drivers for the growing popularity of telecommuting?

From our research, we think there are four main ones.

The first that usually comes to mind is the environmental factor.
Then – from the company’s perspective – there’s improved worker retention, as well as reduction in corporate facilities and operating costs. And one of the most important drivers – for your readers –the greater potential and lower costs of technology.

Today have more powerful – but cheaper – laptops, cell phones, PDAs, high-speed networks. We have technologies that let us work from wherever we want to work.

What kinds of tech tools would a full-time teleworker require?

Part of it is job dependent. But if we’re talking part time vs. full time, the only variable would be that a full time teleworker may have a desktop, but a part-time, back-and-forth employee may have a laptop.
High speed Internet access and reliable access to your corporate network is absolutely key. Long distance coverage, links to your corporate voicemail box, reliable printing facilities – we generally suggest laser instead of ink jet, because it’s higher volume and costs less per page. Inbound and outbound fax capabilities (because yes, people still send faxes). There are others that are facilities oriented – which is a good chair and desk, with proper ergonomics, and good quality filing cabinets. You would also need courier pick and delivery – and may have to get the “no signature required” sticker because you may be away from your home when the package is dropped off.