Working from home was supposed to be the way of the future, and Brent VanKoughnet bought into it, running his company AgriSkills Inc. from his home in Carman for more than 12 years.
It seemed like a perfect fit. Due to the nature of his business, he had the luxury to choose whether to work from home or an office, as he has no “walk up” customers he must consider for location.
But last September, after material from his business started to take over his house, VanKoughnet decided it was time to separate home from work. “Home just wasn’t home anymore,” he said.
VanKoughnet rented office space uptown in a building shared by other organizations as the home base for his company. While his office-mates are not related to his business, he enjoys having other workers around. “A little bit of contact is nice to be around.”
He’s not alone. A new study suggests many workers find work-at-home arrangements not all they were cracked up to be.
After substantial increases in the 1990s, the number of people working at home, either as self-employed workers or paid employees has risen only modestly in the past decade, according toWorking at Home: An Updatereleased by Statistics Canada.
Since 2000, just one per cent of paid employees have opted to work at home, and at present time only a minority – 11 per cent – do so. Most are also only putting in part-time hours off the job site, and almost none do so on a full-time basis.
The study notes two main factors are contributing to lower-than-anticipated work-at-home arrangements.
One is employee job dissatisfaction stemming from both lack of interaction with colleagues and difficulties separating work from home life. Nearly a quarter (23 per cent) of work-at-home employees reported logging 50 or more hours a week on the job.
Not only has his productivity increased since the move, but VanKoughnet can now separate home life from work life. He said that it was getting to the point that whenever he wasn’t working, he felt he should be. Now most days he leaves his laptop at the office when he leaves for home.
He adds that while it does cost money to rent an office, in the end he makes it back due to increased productivity.
The Statistics Canada study shows more self-employed persons work at home and their numbers did jump somewhat more substantially – from 54 to 60 per cent between 2006 and 2008.
The predicted migration of telecommuters moving farther away from cities also has not happened, the study notes. Work-at-home arrangements remain largely an urban phenomenon, and even their employees generally work only one day a week off site.
The study also said about 25 per cent of those who work from home were doing so either because they had no other option, or that it was a job requirement.
According to U.S. studies cited in the report, what keeps people coming in to work is the continued importance of face-to-face contact between workers which help foster attachment to the company, as well as innovation, productivity, knowledge sharing and worker well-being.
Slower-than-expected growth in work-at-home arrangements may also be due to managers’ ongoing reluctance to permit it, the study said. Many employers recognize the positive effects working at home may have on reducing operating costs (office space, energy costs etc.), but remain skeptical about the value of such arrangements, due to difficulties in supervision, lack of communication and even security issues related to information handling.
More self-employed women, or “Mompreneurs” opt for work-at-home arrangements than self-employed men, but female employees are less likely than male employees to work at home, the study said, noting the difference may be due to the prevalence of women in sectors such as health care.
Working from home may not be for everyone, but for some, it works just fine.
Blair Rutter, executive director for Western Canadian Wheat Growers Association, has worked from his Winnipeg Winnipeg home for six years, since he started at the Wheat Growers Association.
Rutter now prefers working from home. Along with the ability of choosing his own hours he likes missing the morning and afternoon commutes, which he says saves an hour of his day.
He says that his productivity is slightly better because he gets to work when it fits for him. “Working at home allows me the flexibility to work when it best suits me.”
Rutter addresses the isolation factor by heading downtown to connect with colleagues once a week. He also added a key component to a successful work-at- home arrangement is to have his own actual office set aside for work. “I have a dedicated office and I shut the door,” said Rutter.
Although working from home is not right for everyone, Rutter says he is glad he has a job that allows him to avoid the office, and give him a flexible, time-saver alternative to travelling to a downtown office.