When Monique Dunlap, a human resources consultant for the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton, worked part-time from home for two years after her maternity leave, she didn't care much for the negative attitudes some people had about telecommuters.
"I kept myself very on track, so I didn't like hearing, 'Oh, I guess your laundry is always done,'" says Ms. Dunlap, who telecommuted because of an office space crunch. "I felt like I had to prove that I wasn't grocery shopping or doing nothing instead of working."
Typically, most of Canada's Top 100 Employers offer a range of alternative work arrangements, including flexible hours, telecommuting, job sharing, shortened workweek options and reduced summer hours. While some prefer a traditional workday with set start and end times – Ms. Dunlap felt like she was never off the clock working at home – Employees are increasingly embracing more flexible arrangements as a better way of balancing work with their personal lives.
At the University of New Brunswick, flexible arrangements have been offered for at least 13 years – as long as Peter McDougall, associate vice-president of human resources and organizational development, has worked there. So how is it working? "The anecdotal information is that with the right person, it's highly productive," says Mr. McDougall, who has served as an army officer. "I think that's the real qualifier. It's like self check-outs at the grocery store. It could be open to abuse with the wrong people. The key is to have a good situation going into it and a mature work relationship – not in age necessarily, but confidence in the person."
At UNB, flexible work arrangements are negotiated between employees and their managers as long as they don't negatively affect other operations. There's no "one size fits all" solution, just like at the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, headquartered in Toronto, where flexible work schedules have been evolving for some time.
Flex hours enable Kerry Jameson, a senior director for employee programs and policies at CIBC, to leave early when she needs to coach her daughter's soccer team. Depending on the day, she may log in later to get the work done or may come in early knowing that she'll leave early. While she doesn't track her hours – she "basically does whatever is needed to do to get the job done" – she makes sure to be accessible to her office team of specialists and gives them the same sort of latitude for scheduling.
"We focus on flexibility rather than flex hours," says Andrea Nalyzyty, human resources vice-president of employee relations, policy and governance, who's in charge of CIBC's flex policy. "We look at the line of business, then the role and the individual. We try to meet our employees' personal needs while still meeting the business requirements."
Not every role is as suited to flexibility. But while a bank teller would not have the same flexibility as someone working in a back office, CIBC still offers alternative work arrangements such as extended or weekend hours, part-time or flexible scheduling.
While managers have had to learn some new tools on managing remotely, Ms. Nalyzyty reports they're not seeing a decrease in productivity and are seeing an increase for some; it depends on the person and their role.
Of the three top employers interviewed for this story, Calgary-based Shaw Communications Inc., a provider of Shaw Internet and home phone services, was the most flexible on flexibility. Many of their workers have young families, so flexibility is critical, particularly as a recruitment tool, says Mark Porter, senior vice-president of human resources for Shaw.
Employees are encouraged to set hours that work best for them and the organization. Then Shaw allows those individuals to work it out with their managers and each other. While Shaw may set a total amount of time, such as 37.5 hours weekly, Mr. Porter says they don't set times for when people start or finish.
"It's our belief that the traditional working hours of nine to five have effectively gone anyway," Mr. Porter says. "It's a little more challenging working that out with our call centres, but we do that mainly on an individual basis.We treat people as adults and the majority of time, nobody abuses it. People understand they have a job to do."
Tips on telecommuting
• Get dressed like you're going to work. You'll feel more professional than spending the day in pyjama pants.
• Set up your workspace in a quiet area of your home, away from TV, the kids' toys and barking dogs.
• If your team works remotely, meet by phone or require everyone to come into the office at least once or twice a month to keep up the team dynamics.
• Keep regular hours as much as possible.
• Turn off your mobile devices occasionally so you're not on call 24/7.