Working from Home: The Benefits and Drawbacks of Telecommuting
Written by Jennifer Miller | Curriculum Development Coordinator
The amount of people working from home is increasing. People that work from home may be employees, or they may be self-employed. Working from home, also called telecommuting, is defined as:
“Telecommuting (also known as working from home, or e-commuting) is a work arrangement in which the employee works outside the office, often working from home or a location close to home (including coffee shops, libraries, and various other locations). Rather than traveling to the office, the employee “travels” via telecommunication links, keeping in touch with coworkers and employers via telephone and email.”
Working from home boasts many benefits for both employers and employees; however, there may also be some drawbacks to a work from home arrangement.
The Benefits of a Work from Home Arrangement for Employers
There are many benefits for employers who allow employees to work from home some or all of the time. Of these benefits, perhaps the most notable is the positive impact that telecommuting will have on your company’s bottom line. Having employees work from home means less overhead cost. It also reduces the need for ample office space, which may reduce rents and utility bills. With office space often at premium for any growing company, having some employees work from home provides the opportunity to hire more in-office workers in the spaces once occupied by home workers and grow the company on two fronts: in the office and with home workers.
Growing the company using work from home arrangements also benefits organizations by giving them virtually no limits when it comes to where workers might live. It expands the hiring pool far beyond reasonable commuting distance, and has the potential to allow your company to diversify by appealing the more potential hires.
Many companies have become concerned with what is known as the triple bottom line – the aim to be profitable, but also to maintain or improve conditions for society, as well as the physical environment. Allowing workers to telecommute reduces greenhouse gas emissions and relieves congested roadways in major cities. This is one of the ways that an employer can work toward reducing the organization’s carbon footprint.
The effects on productivity can be difficult to measure; however, for the most part it is believed that homeworkers are more productive because they are interrupted less, and they aren’t subject to daily interruptions from coworkers or the general office environment. A Chinese travel website Ctrip recently allowed some staff to work from home on a trial basis. Those workers completed 13.5% more calls than the staff in the office, each producing almost an extra day’s worth of calls every week. Telecommuting also gives organizations the advantage of having employees be at full capacity operating ability during a natural disaster such as a flood or a snowstorm. Employees that commute to the office each day would be unable to work in these circumstances.
The Benefits of a Work from Home Arrangement for Employees
The benefits of a work at home arrangement do not just have positive effects for employers; employees who work from home also cite many benefits. Among them is greater flexibility in scheduling; however, it is recommended that telecommuters try to adhere generally to the organization’s hours, or at the very least, their core hours of operation. Even under this recommendation, employees who work from home can experience greater flexibility.
Increased job autonomy is also known to increase feelings of job satisfaction, which does have an impact (albeit only a slight one) on productivity, which may explain why the Ctrip employees who worked from home were able to complete more calls than those who worked from the office. Ctrip isn’t exceptional. Many telecommuters report that they are able to accomplish more, and that they have more energy to put toward job tasks because they don’t have to commute. Employees are also generally more productive at home because they can set up a customized work environment that is just for them – they may prefer lights on or lights off with natural lighting; radio on or total silence; open window or a warm room – whatever the preference, telecommuters have the freedom to set up the space that works the best for them, as opposed to being forced to conform with whatever environment the office affords.
For tips on setting up a home office, Click Here.
Work-life Balance, and how it’s Affected by a Work from Home Arrangement
Recently, the concept of work-life balance has really come into focus. With the movement toward enhanced mental health and well-being both in and outside of the office, the concept of work-life balance has come to the forefront of modern organization management. Work-life balance occurs when people are able to minimize the conflict between their work demands and home-life demands.[i] The relationship between work and home falls out of balance when employees work too many hours, think about work when they’re not at the office, answer work calls/emails on personal time via electronic devices, and allow work commitments to take precedence over commitments to their families or themselves.
A job where an employee telecommutes full time, or even one or two days per week can have a drastic impact on work-life balance. This is in part because of the time saved by not having to commute. As well, the flexibility in the schedule does allow workers to start earlier and end earlier, or vice versa, which may allow them to complete other family-related tasks such as picking up a child from school, or helping an elderly parent get to an appointment.
What is the “Sandwich Generation,” and how does a Work from Home Arrangement Benefit employees that belong to this group?
Some members of today’s workforce fall into a unique category, members of which are referred to as the “sandwich generation.” Workers who are part of this collective are faced with the challenge of concurrently caring for small children and aging parents. Those who find themselves in the group face greater risks to work-life balance because their time outside of work must be divided between elderly care and child care.
In response to the growing number of workers who find themselves in the position, some companies have started adding elderly care benefits to their benefits package. For companies who can’t offer this type of benefit, or who wish to ease the stress for sandwich generationers, a work from home arrangement is infinitely helpful. It gives parents flexibility to get kids to school or daycare, and it may afford the chance for a worker to stay home to support a moderately independent parent. It also gives workers chances through the work day to help elderly parents adhere to schedules, manage medications, and prepare meals. A home worker is home to greet children after school, even if they do so from their home- office space while they finish up their daily tasks. For members of the sandwich generation (a growing group), a work for home arrangement may mean the difference between a healthy work-life balance or an eventual burnout.
The Drawbacks of Work From Home Arrangements
While there are many benefits to telecommuting, there are also a few drawbacks that need to be considered before moving head-on into a work from home arrangement in your workplace.
Technology is a key consideration. Does your company intend to provide adequate technology to facilitate successful work from home? If you expect your employees to use their own equipment (computers, cell phones, networks), does your company plan to subsidize some or all of the cost to purchase, update, and/or maintain these items? As well, is having a secure network a concern for your organization? If so, how do you intend to help home workers secure theirs?
Supervision is usually the largest concern that employers have when they are facing the decision of allowing work from home. Some managers are remiss to give up the control that accompanies having a team that physically works in an office. The key here is trust. Employees with proven track records are the best candidates for working from home. Employees whose output is easily measured also make good candidates. As supervisors, it is a good exercise in empowering workers and building trust to give employees who desire it a chance to prove that they can self-regulate in a work from home setting.
Telecommuters may also experience some drawbacks. The major drawback is that collaboration and face to face support is lost when they don’t appear in the office. This may create feelings of isolation or not being part of the team, which has the greatest impact on workers whose personality types crave social interaction. Sometimes, employees who work from home feel that they are negatively disadvantaged when promotions become available, as they think they will be overlook or forgotten about when the considerations for the advancements are made.
While working from home has many positive effects on employees who care for children and/or parents, it is important to note that caregivers must understand that working from home is not a substitute for full time care. Small children not yet in school must be arranged for, as they require too much focus to consider trying to work and watch over them. Likewise, elderly parents who cannot function relatively independently would also require care arrangements during working hours.
Is Working at Home Right for Me?
Before you approach your employer with a request to work from home, consider the following:
- What is your company’s culture like?
- Do other employees work from home?
- What will working at home really be like for you?
- Do you have a definitive plan for working at home that includes how you plan to accomplish work goals?
- Can you commit to a trial basis and regular communication?
- Are you an excellent communicator?
- Are you highly motivated?
- Does your track-record realistically lend itself to a high-trust relationship with your manager?
- Are you flexible?
- Do you enjoy long periods of solitude?
- Does your work have any policies for or against working at home?
Working at home can certainly be beneficial for both employer and employee. The benefits are plentiful, and it’s a workplace trend that requires attention. Despite some drawbacks, working at home may benefit some organizations and allow business growth, an increased bottom line, better productivity, a more diverse workforce, a reduced carbon footprint, and an enviable corporate reputation. With benefits like these, many organizations are moving toward having some sort of work at home arrangement for some of their staff members. Even if workers only spend one day a week in the home office, the benefits are simply too great not to consider.
Telecommuting and Occupational Health and Safety Issues
When working from home, health and safety and the OHSA should be considered. To better understand the implications on health and safety read the following article.
Telecommuting and Occupational Health and Safety Issues
Written by Tushar Anandasagar | Associate Lawyer at LeClair and Associates
A recent Statistics Canada poll suggests that up to 20% of Ontario employers offer telecommuting arrangements to employees, allowing them to work from home or from remote offices. The same poll suggests that almost one quarter of businesses across Canada offer some form of telecommuting to employees on a regular basis. In exceptional circumstances, such as during inclement weather, many employers informally offer some employees the ability to work from home on a provisional basis.
Telecommuting poses unique and significant challenges to employers who are statutorily required to take “every precaution reasonable in the circumstances” to ensure that their workplaces are safe. However, employers are often in the dark regarding the rights and obligations of telecommuters. Presently, the law regarding telecommuting appears to be significantly underdeveloped and, in some respects, contradictory.
Occupational Health and Safety Act (the “OHSA”)
Section 1 of the OHSA contains the following broad and inclusive definition of “workplace”:
“workplace” means any land, premises, location or thing at, upon, in or near which a worker works;
At face value, the OHSA’s inclusive definition of “workplace” would appear to include a home office where a “worker” is performing “work”. However, Section 3(1) of the OHSA goes on to state:
3 (1) This Act does not apply to work performed by the owner or occupant or a servant of the owner or occupant to, in or about a private residence or the lands and appurtenances used in connection therewith.
In its publication entitled Frequently Asked Questions: Constructor Guideline, the Ministry of Labour (“MOL”) addresses the effect of section 3(1) as it relates only to construction at a private residence. The MOL makes no mention of telecommuting or working from a home/remote office in circumstances other than construction work.
As a result, despite the ever-increasing number of telecommuters in Ontario, there is a lack of clear legal direction regarding whether Section 3(1) exempts employers from the obligation to protect telecommuters from the hazards of their home offices. The OHSA and MOL materials supporting the statute do not appear to have been drafted with telecommuters in mind.
Surprisingly, there are only a handful of cases which consider section 3(1) of the OHSA. Making matters worse, jurisprudence on telecommuting from one area of the law appears to contradict case law in another.
The Workplace Safety Insurance Appeals Tribunal (the “WSIAT”) stated in Decision No 2249/16, 2016 ONWSIAT 2410 (CanLII) that the “OHSA does not apply to work performed by an owner in a private residence”. In that case, the WSIAT was tasked with determining whether an employer could accommodate an employee by offering modified work which would be performed at the employee’s home office. The WSIAT determined that even though the employee’s home office was “a worksite not covered by the OHSA”, the accommodated work was found to have been reasonable and safe in the circumstances. The WSIAT went on to state that even the WSIB “does not have a specific policy for determining the suitability of home study or work from home arrangements”.
The WSIAT decision can be contrasted with the Ontario Labour Relations Board (the “OLRB”)’s decision in Watkins v The Health and Safety Association for Government Services, 2013 CanLII 57037. In Watkins, the OLRB ruled that a telecommuter who filed harassment and reprisal complaints under the OHSA was entitled to proceed to a hearing on the merits of his case. It stands to reason that if section 3(1) of the OHSA exempted the telecommuter from coverage under the statute because he worked from home, his claim would have been dismissed by the OLRB without further inquiry. That said, the OLRB did not go so far as to state that the OHSA does apply to telecommuters working from their home offices.
Best Practices for Employers
Given the absence of clear guidance in the jurisprudence, it is not certain to what extent occupational health and safety or worker’s compensation law in Ontario covers telecommuters, if at all.
Until the caselaw regarding telecommuting develops, it is difficult to recommend best practices to employers seeking to comply with their obligations under occupational health and safety or workers’ compensation law. Having said that, there are some guiding questions that employers can utilize to assess whether they are protecting the health and safety of their telecommuters. These guiding questions include:
- How will an employer discharge with its obligation to inspect a telecommuter’s workplace?
- How will an employer discharge its obligation to supervise an employee who is working remotely?
- What right does an employer have to investigate an incident, injury or illness that occurs or arises at a telecommuter’s home?
- Is a telecommuter’s “workplace” limited to an employee’s home office, or does it include the entire home?
From a “best practice” perspective, employers should aim to develop clear policies that will allow them to answer the foregoing questions. As with any workplace policy, employers’ “telecommuting” policies should be reasonable, and clearly communicated to employees with adequate notice. Adopting this “best practice” approach will assist employers in meeting the “due diligence” standard, and will also help to protect employers in light of the uncertain (and developing) area of health and safety law as it pertains to telecommuters.
Please ensure to stay up to date regarding this topic and check back for any developments.
Tushar Anandasagar is an associate lawyer at LeClair and Associates P.C. He specializes in Labour and Employment law, with a focus on Workplace Policy Development and Regulatory Compliance.
Supervisors Beware: A Possible Shift in the Legal Landscape
Written by Jeff Thorne | Manager of Training and Consulting
Certain cases come along that can turn your head and make you say “this is going to be interesting”. This is one of those cases.
On April 3, 2012, an excavation company owned by Sylvain Fournier was tasked with replacing a sewer and water main line on a construction project. The trench was not shored or sloped adequately, and Fournier’s worker, Gilles Lévesque, was in the trench when it collapsed. The slopes were improperly shored, and excavation deposits from the trench were left on top of the banks causing it to collapse, engulfing and killing Mr. Lévesque.
As a result of the incident, Mr. Fournier was charged with criminal negligence causing death, and manslaughter.
Mr. Fournier accepted the first charge, but challenged the charge of manslaughter at the preliminary inquiry. The charge of manslaughter is based on section 222(5)(a) of the Criminal Code of Canada which outlines that a person commits culpable homicide when he causes the death of a human being by an “unlawful act”. A Criminal Code violation such as manslaughter requires mens rea, meaning that “the act is not culpable unless the mind is guilty” or simply put, there is criminal intent.
The argument was made that failure to adequately shore the slopes was a contravention of section 3.15.3 of the safety code for the construction industry in Quebec, which is a strict liability offence not a Criminal Code contravention. Therefore, the defendant argued that a strict liability offence did not fit the definition of an “unlawful act” under the Criminal Code.
This is where things get interesting. The Crown argued that the “unlawful act” did not have to be criminal in nature. The Crown stated that Fournier’s failure to adequately shore the slopes, and permitting Mr. Lévesque to work in the trench was a highly dangerous activity, and a reasonable person would be able to foresee the potential harm if such a worker were permitted to work in the inadequately shored trench. This scenario fits many of the cases that we can find today on the Ministry of Labour website!
The judge at the preliminary inquiry agreed with the Crown, that Mr. Fournier’s failure to protect the worker could meet the definition of an “unlawful act” under the Criminal Code. Mr. Fournier challenged the decision via judicial review, however, the Superior Court upheld the decision. This decision has now established that when it comes to safety, a strict liability offence can constitute an “unlawful act” under section 222(5)(a) of the Criminal Code of Canada.
In order for an individual or organization to be charged and convicted for manslaughter, the burden of proof rests with the Crown and they must prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, the following:
- The accused committed a strict liability offence and the offence was objectively dangerous
- The conduct of the accused party constituted a marked departure from the standard of a reasonable person in similar circumstances
- Taking into consideration, all of the circumstances of the case, a reasonable person would have foreseen the risk of bodily harm
If we apply these factors to the Fournier case, we can see how the decision was made. The Safety Code was contravened by not shoring the slopes, the contravention was objectively dangerous, and the contravention or breech of safety duty in this case is a marked departure from a standard of care of a reasonable person who would have foreseen the high level of risk posed by the inadequately shored trench.
If the conviction is upheld, this could effectively change the legal landscape in Canada. Those that direct others to perform a task that do not take the necessary precautions to mitigate the risk can find themselves facing some much stiffer penalties than before. This is going to be interesting!
How to Set-Up Your Home Office When Telecommuting
Written by Jenna Kressler | Curriculum Developer
Working from home, also known as telecommuting, is an ideal situation for a lot of people. Not only do workers feel more productive when working from home, but it also assists in creating a more ideal work-life balance. In 2008, 1.7 million employed Canadians worked from home at least once a week. This trend of working remotely is continuing to increase as more and more companies are offering this type of flexible work arrangement. Some workers feel they more efficient and experience less distractions when they have this opportunity. Employers can reduce their overhead expenditures, experience higher morale, increased work productivity, and retain employees.
In a recent survey, What Leaders Need to Know About Remote Workers, findings confirmed remote workers are happier, feel more valued, and are more productive. The survey even found there was better, more detailed communication with managers/supervisors and goals and objectives were clearer. However, when working from home, it is important that a home office set-up isn’t too casual or too formal – it needs to be just right!
Setting Up a Good Home Office
There needs to be a distinction between your home and your work space, otherwise you run the risk of poor work-life balance due to the inability to separate the two. Separating yourself from the two ensures during the work hours you are doing your work, not getting consumed by binge watching the latest TV series on Netflix.
Some things to consider when designing your work space are:
- What will you be doing in the space?
- Will anyone be visiting the space?
- What type of materials will be stored or needed?
- Will you be making conference calls or video conferencing?
- When will you be doing the bulk of your work?
Next, consider where your office will be in your home. This is critical in the set-up process. Again, there needs to be a clear distinction between home and work-life. You cannot mix the two. Your office can be in a spare bedroom, basement, converted closet, or another room that isn’t used all that often. Wherever you choose, it needs to be your work space. If you set-up your office in a shared room (e.g. the basement), try creating some sort of partition to physically distinguish your workspace vs. home-space.
This work space needs to have all your work items, so you can easily retrieve them. Your workspace will need the appropriate furniture, equipment, lighting, and privacy. Adequate lighting is essential for your home office. Try to get as much natural light as possible, and position your desk close and parallel to the window. In addition to natural light, table lamps are said to be preferred with a soft glow, which promotes stress relief compared to overhead lighting, which is more unappealing. Furthermore, corrective lighting can ease bright glares from the computer screen and lessen eye strain and migraines.
The layout of the space and organization is important for productivity and efficiency, as well as ergonomics. Your work station needs to be ergonomically sound to ensure you are minimizing health and safety issues that can arise due to poor positioning and posture. Having a proper desk and chair is important. Doing your work on the couch or bed can lead to musculoskeletal disorders and will be more of a detriment to your productivity than a comfort.
Paint colour is also an important factor when designing our workspace. Colour can have impacts on your mood, energy, perception, focus, productivity, and performance. There is tons of literature on colour psychology and various recommendations on what colours are best for each room in your house. Predominately the colour red affects the body, blue affects the mind, yellow affects self-confidence, and green affects the balance between mind, body, and emotions. If you choose a bright colour, use it as an accent wall with a more natural colour for the remaining walls. However, colour is subjected to the individual.
Personalize the space by adding greenery and personal mementos. Having plants in your office space, such as aloe, spider plants, succulents, cactus, or a peace lily contribute to increased focus, productivity, and cleaner air to breathe, as well as reduces sickness and noise. Add some personal touches that make you happy, a family photo or a picture of your dog, a framed record or some sort of sports memorabilia. Something simple. You don’t need your entire collection of Star Wars figurines watching you work, that might be a bit too much. You want personal items that afford focus, not distraction.
The space needs to be your own. It needs to be a space that makes you want to be there. The space and the items in it should positively influence and enhance the work that you do there; and that makes for a happy, productive worker, a satisfied employer, which have positive effects on the bottom line!
BE A LEADER
Nick Hollinger & Jerry Morrison
Written by Jennifer Miller | Curriculum Development Coordinator
At OSG, all of our staff are Health and Safety Leaders. This month, we are featuring two outstanding leaders: Nick Hollinger & Jerry Morrison.
Nick joined the OSG team six months ago as the Marketing Coordinator, and when it became clear that Nick was the marketing hero OSG needed, he was promoted to Manager of Marketing & Communications. Nick is committed to positively representing OSG through branding and various digital and traditional marketing campaigns. Nick believes that health and safety training is important, and he views marketing as the best platform for communicating OSG’s vision to the maximum number of people. When he isn’t hard at work on OSG’s marketing campaigns or preparing for various trade show appearances, Nick remains involved with the London Knights organization as their Game Day Director. His passion is sports of all kinds, and his contribution to the London Knights provides him the opportunity to remain active in the local professional sports scene. “A safe workplace is a productive workplace.” -Nick Hollinger Jerry Morrison is an OSG icon. For over 15 years, he’s been travelling all over the province, completing countless on-site equipment evaluations for thousands of clients. His specialties are lift trucks, aerial work platforms, overhead cranes, and practical working at heights equipment applications and use. He is very well known and well-liked by clients. The most common feedback we get from the field about Jerry’s evaluation style is that he makes people feel comfortable and at ease. Equipment evaluations can be stressful for operators, but Jerry helps relax the high-pressure testing situation with a quick joke or encouraging word. Outside of OSG, Jerry collects vinyl records and refinishes antique furniture. He is movie and music buff, with an enviable collection of both. Jerry enjoys spending time at his home, which he decorated himself. He is a proud dog-dad to his 7-year old Yorkie, Chico. “Rushing does not pay off. Take the time to do the job right.” -Jerry Morrison
Nick joined the OSG team six months ago as the Marketing Coordinator, and when it became clear that Nick was the marketing hero OSG needed, he was promoted to Manager of Marketing & Communications. Nick is committed to positively representing OSG through branding and various digital and traditional marketing campaigns. Nick believes that health and safety training is important, and he views marketing as the best platform for communicating OSG’s vision to the maximum number of people. When he isn’t hard at work on OSG’s marketing campaigns or preparing for various trade show appearances, Nick remains involved with the London Knights organization as their Game Day Director. His passion is sports of all kinds, and his contribution to the London Knights provides him the opportunity to remain active in the local professional sports scene.
“A safe workplace is a productive workplace.”
Jerry Morrison is an OSG icon. For over 15 years, he’s been travelling all over the province, completing countless on-site equipment evaluations for thousands of clients. His specialties are lift trucks, aerial work platforms, overhead cranes, and practical working at heights equipment applications and use. He is very well known and well-liked by clients. The most common feedback we get from the field about Jerry’s evaluation style is that he makes people feel comfortable and at ease. Equipment evaluations can be stressful for operators, but Jerry helps relax the high-pressure testing situation with a quick joke or encouraging word. Outside of OSG, Jerry collects vinyl records and refinishes antique furniture. He is movie and music buff, with an enviable collection of both. Jerry enjoys spending time at his home, which he decorated himself. He is a proud dog-dad to his 7-year old Yorkie, Chico.
“Rushing does not pay off. Take the time to do the job right.”
Next time you are in OSG’s London office, say hello to Nick or Jerry. They are OSG Safety Leaders who embody safety culture in the workplace.
Workplace Inspection – On-site
Written by Sharon Thornton | Sales Manager
An inspection is a planned walkthrough of a workplace or worksite providing the opportunity to discuss health and safety issues with workers and supervisors, and identify hazards that have the potential to cause injury or illness. Routine inspections are a critical component of any health and safety program.
Our on-site course is designed to take participants through the process of performing inspections from the preparation stage all the way through to follow up.
By the end of this course, participants will be able to:
- Identify Legislation pertaining to Workplace Inspections
- Plan and Prepare for an Effective Inspection
- Identify Hazardous Conditions within the Workplace
- Report and Recommend controls for Identified Hazards
- Follow Up on the Effectiveness of Completed Recommendations
Learn more about booking this on-site course today!
Health & Safety in the News
Researched by Jeff Thorne | Manager of Training and Consulting
Upcoming Ministry of Labour Blitzes
Researched by Jeff Thorne | Manager of Training and Consulting
New & Young Workers – Employment Standards – Sectors Known to Employ Young & New Workers
May 1st, 2017 – Aug. 31st, 2017
New & Young Workers – Health & Safety – Industrial
May 1st, 2017 – Aug. 31st, 2017
Hours of Work – Employment Standards – Sectors Known to have a High Number of Hours Worked
May 1st, 2017 – Aug. 31st, 2017
Supervisor Awareness & Accountability – Health & Safety – Construction
June 1st, 2017 – July 31st, 2017
Upcoming Health & Safety Events
Provided by Nick Hollinger | Marketing & Communications Manager
Eastern Ontario 2017 PIP Conference & Trade Show
The 2017 Eastern Ontario Partners in Prevention Conference & Trade Show is taking place at Ottawa Conference and Event Centre in Ontario on October 4th. Connect with local health and safety experts and better your workplace.
Southwestern Ontario 2017 PIP Conference & Trade Show
The 2017 Southwestern Ontario Partners in Prevention Conference & Trade Show is taking place at Bingemans Conference Centre in Kitchener on October 25th, 2017. Connect with local health and safety experts and better your workplace.
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