- On February 12, 2019
- Cloud, unified communication
The cost of NOT working from home
When we have days like today (a blustery and very snowy Canada day) it really does make you wonder why, even for short periods, we don’t allow our staff to work from home. Many businesses still operate on the principal that people go to their place of business to work. Clearly, if you are working on a production line or in some service facility, working from home isn’t possible. But there are so many situations where it is possible, but not enacted upon because many organizations don’t fully understand the economics of working from home.
Soft versus Hard Benefits
Most business technology is first adopted because it can be shown to save money. Only after it becomes more mainstream will it be used to improve the top line. Why? Because most top line arguments revolve around benefits that are difficult to quantify and thought of as ‘soft’ benefits.
When we first started talking about working from home, which was in the 1990’s – believe it or not, the focus was on lifestyle, work/life balance and how that would lead to happier staff and improve retention. All valid points, but these arguments were never well quantified in terms of cost impacts to the business.
There are many hard benefits to working from home and the many severe weather conditions we are experiencing these days only exacerbates the need for tools that allow organizations to continue operating no matter where staff are located. Sales and technical staff have long been ‘mobile’ working on the road, from home or client’s premises. But they are viewed as a small and special purpose group and not part of the mainstream workforce; the argument is that what works for them would be totally different to the rest of the team.
So, let’s look at some real scenarios and how they can positively affect the bottom line.
In none of the original arguments weather came up. Why? Because people were looking at it from the point of view of ‘permanently’ work from home as opposed to ad-hoc work from home. Snow storms, ice storms, floods, fires, power outages due to high winds or severe thunderstorms all cause disruptions from one day to a week.
We can always assume that driving to work is on your staff’s own time. But in cases of severe weather, that could easily double, meaning they lose an hour, perhaps two on that day. In Canada the average hourly rate for office staff is in the $27/hr range (variations for tenure, age, industry, role, etc.) If you had 200 staff affected, for one day we are talking of a $10,800 impact (2 hrs x 200 x average pay.)
Long Commutes are the norm
You may consider this to be an extreme case, but in the Toronto GTA, a commute of one hour is standard, especially if driving in from the ‘905’ area. In fact, Toronto has the worst commute in North America and 6th worst in the world. I think it would be fair to say they aren’t effectively working if sitting in the car the extra 2 hours and that isn’t close to the impact to their nerves.
Do you have the tools to work from home?
Its not as if we don’t have enough warnings, between smartphone apps, smart devices and even an online weather network school page, telling us its going to be bad, but if we don’t have the tools to work from home, we may not have a choice. You can’t always leave earlier because the roads aren’t yet cleared and even if you did, may be sitting behind slow moving traffic.
How do you balance work and life with so many things that can impact it?
The impact could be much greater if that weather hits in other ways. You have young children and the buses aren’t running because of the snow or its too cold, but the school is open. So now you lose more time dropping them off at the predetermined time and sit in longer queues to get to the designated drop off area with all the other parents.
Worse, they close the school or the daycare…now what?
Over the average winter in Canada, these days add up. It would not be unusual to be impacted 2, 3 or more times each winter, with school related issues and several more just from severe driving conditions. We could easily see that $10k for one day become $100k or more each winter.
Personal matters matter!
Every organization will have different policies related to people requiring personal time off. In Ontario, employees are allowed up to 10 unpaid personal emergency days. The Liberal government had moved to making two of them paid, until the current government blocked it. Regardless, some organizations will make some available at their discretion. Even if unpaid, someone taking time off can be disruptive to your overall business. What if they could have worked from home either part or full time instead of being off for the whole day? How many businesses can afford to employ enough staff to effectively fill in when someone takes time off?
Some employees use up vacation days or discretionary days to make much needed medical appointments or to be home with a sick child. In the latter case they are perfectly capable of working, if they have to tools.
Again, what if they could work from home and limit the disruption to themselves and to the business to one or two hours?
Staff feel better if they don’t have to use up vacation or personal days, businesses benefit from not creating a work backlog and the time invested in finding coverage.
UCaaS provides room to save space
In the last decade we saw businesses moving out of high cost downtown core to surrounding cities to save on space costs. After all, they could space for almost half the cost. That’s huge.
If they had effective tools to allow people to work from home, office or on the road when needed, they could have drastically reduced their space footprint before taking the drastic step to relocate and the burden that can cause. Even if with the recent upgrades to public transport in the GTA, businesses moving to suburbs often means more people commuting by road. After all, downtown core often has better access to public transport. There have been numerous horror stories of businesses moving location to save money and losing a huge swathe of trained staff who didn’t want to commute or move. A Cable/TV company moving staff from Toronto to Brampton or an insurance company moving from Scarborough to Aurora. They saved money on space but hurt the business as staff left, morale was impacted which in turn impacted customers.
Granted, creating office space that can effectively handle teleworkers, as we endearingly called it, is tricky. Space set up to allow people to use shared desks. The whole work experience suddenly becomes incredibly impersonal, with self check-in, micro desks and the elimination of any form of personalization. For the people who can’t work from home either because of the company requirements, personal circumstances or access to tools, the whole office experience now becomes a deterrent and your staff churn starts to climb.
Organizations could reduce their footprint without massive and disruptive moves, retain good access to public transport, create a better space for those that do come into the office by allowing people to effectively work from the office.
Access to better and/or part-time staff
Another way to look at this is from the perspective of those who working from home would allow to join the workforce.
What if working from home was THE way to attract better staff or part-time staff? There are many people who cannot or do not want to commute to an office. It could be due to personal circumstances – they have young children and can only work for 5 to 6 hours a day, have disabilities, don’t drive or don’t want to drive an hour or more. Yet they have the perfect skill set to complement your team.
This was tried in the 90’s to add in part-time call centre staff to handle peaks. The concept worked up to a point. The need for dedicated hardware and telephone lines meant there was a high initial cost. Today that could be handled so much more effectively with cloud contact centres and the availability of high-speed internet. Any and every contact centre can have home agents. After all, every bit of an agent’s working time is measured.
No longer expensive or complex to work from home
Today there are really no barriers to having staff work effectively and cost effectively from home. It does not have to be permanent, it could be for bad weather days, handling personal emergencies, the ability to bring in part-time staff to supplement your team. The tools are easily available.
The key is great communications. As long as your staff can easily find others with capabilities like Presence, engage through chat, voice or even video and share work there are no barriers to working well when away from the office. Cloud unified communications solutions provide this kind of capability with minimal load on your IT team. No complex network infrastructure to buy and set up. As long as your staff have access to the internet – home or on the road – they can be as fully engaged as anyone working from the office.
Perhaps its time to take a closer look at Cloud Unified Communications.
Cloud unified communications to the rescue
Things have moved forward quickly. 10 years ago, when working for a data networking company, home working was facilitated by supplying small routers that needed to be set up to ensure a secure VPN connection. It was complex, require users to be on the phone for ages with tech staff trying to walk them through the complex set up. Not all their employees are tech gurus. Now this can be done without specialized hardware.