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Your Career

Ditching the Desk: Canada’s Shift Away from the Office

If you prefer to get things done on your own schedule, remote working might be just what you’ve been looking for. But be warned, it isn’t for everyone.

Remote working is a growing trend among Canadians that is shaking up the traditional workplace in a big way. Rather than going to a physical office in the morning, it’s more and more common for people to work from home or wherever they prefer.

According to a 2016 Deloitte Survey [pdf], Canada’s largest generation in the workforce – millennials – is looking for more flexibility in their work because of how much they value work-life balance. In fact, millennials in the study were shown to value remote working and flexible hours above all other factors except salary, work-life balance, and opportunities for advancement.

Increasingly, “work” is something we do, not somewhere we go. Working remotely may let you:

  • Find a better work/life balance
  • Avoid long commutes
  • Save money on transit or parking
  • Work outside of usual business hours
  • Earn city wages while living in a small town

The benefits of working remotely are not only for full-time telecommuters. Research says Canadians could save an average of nine days a year in commuting time by working from home just twice a week.

Devices and demographics

Digital technology enables mobile work. Location doesn’t matter as much when you’re able to connect face-to-face in real time through your device. If you’re digitally connected, you’re present for co-workers, supervisors and customers. That’s true whether you’re in a home office, a coffee shop or even a different city.

All you really need is a laptop, tablet or smartphone, an internet connection and the right apps.

Technology has also made mobile work more secure. Employees can log in securely to access corporate files and email and have the ability to store them safely. Because this gives the employee full access to everything they would have at the office, remote work doesn’t hinder output.

Demographics are also behind this trend. Based on the 2016 Statistics Canada Labour Force Survey, millennials are now the biggest generation in the Canadian workforce, accounting for 36.1% of all workers. As a generation, millennials are thought to be:

  • Ambitious, focused and motivated
  • Tech savvy
  • Adventurous
  • Interested in travel
  • Keen to work on their own

Workers with these traits are likely to be interested in the freedom of telework. But millennials are not the only ones. Growing numbers in all generations would like to control when, where and how they work.

People are generally also more aware of their impact on the environment. This type of work arrangement offers the chance to cut your carbon footprint by reducing traffic and emissions.

A win for all

The trend towards a mobile workforce is good news for everyone involved. The perks for self-motivated workers are clear, but employers can also benefit from:

  • Less office space to pay for
  • Other lower operating costs
  • Workers who are more productive, creative, innovative and satisfied
  • Access to a larger talent pool
  • Expanded business hours (if some workers live in other time zones)
  • Being seen as an employer of choice

And society benefits from:

  • Lower use of energy
  • Fewer greenhouse gas emissions
  • Lower related health-care costs

Mobile work isn’t for everyone, though. Some people are energized by co-workers or prefer to leave work at the office. People who tend to be less self-disciplined or more easily distracted may not get enough done off site.

Other factors are positions that involve attending a lot of meetings, or other on-site duties. In these cases, mobile work may not be practical.

Making it work for you

Whether or not you can become a mobile worker depends on your line of work and the type of job you do. Here are some ways to go about getting set up. First, ask your employer if it’s an option, then:

  • Develop a business case: Outline how you see this working for you. Think through what you will need. Identify the benefits for your employer. Consider possible setbacks and how you will deal with them
  • Present your business case: Keep it professional. Show how your plan will add value
  • Be willing to compromise: Propose working from home once or twice a week when you can
  • Be strategic: Propose working just one day at home at first. Suggest tracking your performance based on this plan. This can help prove that you work well at home and help your case for more days out of the office later
  • Be realistic: Not every job suits remote work. If it’s that important to you, consider changing careers

If you want to find a new employer who is mobile-work friendly:

  • Research companies that offer mobile work options
  • Discuss working remotely in interviews
  • Let friends, neighbours, family and others in your social circles know the type of work you want
  • Choose useful keywords and phrases when searching job boards. (Try: mobile, telecommute, mobile work, remote work, work from home, telework, off site, flexible schedule, flexible location)

If you want to try being self-employed:

  • Think through how you would shift from being an employee to a business owner or freelancer in your current line of work
  • Research what you could do remotely, if you will need to switch to a new line of work. Gain expertise in 1 or 2 of those areas. Train yourself on useful tools
  • Market your skills online. Set up a website and profiles on career networking sites
  • Build a client base
  • Learn about entrepreneurship and self-employment taxes

Do you think remote working is for you? If so, expect to see more and more opportunities in the near future as more employers realize that what’s important is what gets done—not where it gets done.

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