Young woman working on her computer from home while her cat looks on

Employers can save more than $10,000 a year for every employee who telecommutes only two days each week, according to a report from WORKshift Canada.

Canada | Trends

Does telecommuting help or hinder an enterprise?

Working remotely can save companies money and improve employee morale, but these ‘agile’ options could have long-term costs to your business

A Facebook IconFacebook A Twitter IconTwitter A Linkedin IconLinkedin An Email IconEmail

In today’s increasingly competitive business environment, a popular reason to offer telecommuting, and other remote work arrangements, is to save money. A 2011 report from WORKshift Canada—a not-for-profit organization, incubated within Calgary Economic Development and dedicated to supporting mobile work—made the case clear: employers can save more than $10,000 a year for every employee who telecommutes only two days each week.

Additionally, 4.3 million Canadians with suitable jobs, and who want to work from a home office, could save Canadian businesses more than $53 billion each year if they started working remotely part time.

But it’s not all about the bottom line. Global Workplace Analytics, a California-based firm that helps organizations and communities throughout the U.S., U.K. and Canada with employee engagement strategies, has analyzed more than 4,000 studies, reports and articles on the topic of “agile work.” It found that the most common non-monetary advantages for companies with such programs include improved employee satisfaction, reduced attrition, increased productivity—even less potential for discrimination.

Flexibility is a hallmark for millennials, in particular. Recognizing that generation’s desire for agile work arrangements and greater use of technology, Vancouver-based Telus launched its ‘Work Styles’ flexible work program in 2006. The program had the added benefit of reducing

Telus’ real-estate footprint and office costs. Another Canadian company embracing telecommuting is WestJet Airlines, which has shifted call centre employees to working from home both in Calgary and Moncton, N.B. That move saved the company the cost of expanding its office locations to accommodate growing staff.

But what about the cost to company cohesion of having fewer people in one place, working towards one goal? Although there are substantial benefits to telecommuting, human interaction remains critical for building trust and cultivating new professional relationships; as author and marketing consultant Simon Sinek says, “We don’t do business with companies. We do business with people.” The key, say experts, is to find a balance between the pure isolation of a home office and the rigid setup of traditional workspaces. Many larger organizations—including top accounting and law firms—have moved towards the “hot desk” concept, where remote workers can come into the head office to use a common work station or surface at various times.

And then there’s the mushrooming trend of co-working environments, where individuals or groups can rent a desk or office in a communal space that is managed by a third party. One of the largest of such parties is WeWork. Founded in 2010, New York-based WeWork provides shared workspaces and aims to build “technology startup subculture communities” and provide “services for entrepreneurs, freelancers, startups, small businesses and large enterprises.” A sign that co-working has hit the big time? WeWork has a valuation of roughly US$20 billion and now manages 10 million square feet of office space in 144 offices around the globe.

Whatever the office setup, as a business owner or manager you need to ensure that the cost savings from an agile work environment don’t detract from the job at hand—and the long-term prospects for your enterprise.