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part two: telecommuting

Woman telecommutes.

There's plenty of evidence that the idea of working from home is gaining traction among many employers – albeit slowly.

In this series, we're looking at the reasons for and against allowing your employees to work from home – also called teleworking or telecommuting.

We're also looking at what tools exist to help businesses make sure they're setting up the most efficient telework environment possible.

But beyond the pros and cons of letting employees telecommute, there's an overriding concern for some businesses.

Many employers aren't entirely sure what the best practices are in the field of telecommuting, why employees might want to do it, and what kinds of employees make the best teleworkers.

Fortunately, however, that's starting to change. A number of organizations are starting to build a case for why working from home works.

Some of the most interesting research on telework in Canada – indeed, in North America – right now is coming out of Calgary. There, Calgary Economic Development has been aggressively pushing the idea of working from home as a means to save businesses money. The group has launched an initiative called WorkShift, aimed at convincing employers that telework isn't such a crazy idea.

This May, WorkShift published a sprawling report on the state of telework in Canada. According to the report, there are about 4.3-million Canadians with jobs that are compatible with working from home.

Allowing those employees to telework would have a bottom-line economic impact of about $53-billion, according to the report. That overall impact includes such "community benefits" as reduced environmental footprints, thanks to the use of less gasoline to drive to and from work.

The report even cites reduced health-care costs as a potential plus, thanks to fewer cars on the road and, as a result, fewer accidents.

In more immediate terms, the report estimates that a business with 250 telecommuting employees would save about $3-million a year. The cost savings are varied, and include factors such as a generally happier work force and less need for real estate space.

But perhaps the most compelling statistic in the report, as far as business owners are concerned, is the increased productivity of employees who work from home.

The average productivity increase per worker is estimated at almost $6,000 a year. Indeed, the research suggests that, rather than slacking off, employees who telework often work longer hours than they should.

The survey also painted a picture of what the typical Canadian telecommuter looks like.

Almost 40 per cent of Canadian workers aged 35 and over telecommute, compared to fewer than 10 per cent of younger employees.

A higher number of employees with management positions, post-secondary degrees and higher salaries also telecommute.

Those results should go a long way toward countering the image of teleworking as a kind of half-work, less stringent and less productive than traditional office work.

And as more companies take advantage of the Web to set up virtual offices in parts of the world where a physical presence would be far too expensive, the case for teleworking is likely to only become stronger.

This series continues next Thursday.

Other stories can be found on the Web Strategy section of the Report on Small Business website .

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