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All Talent Development Centre posts for Canadian technology contractors relating to Flexwork.

The Benefits of Working Remotely for IT Contractors and their Clients

Crystal Nicol By Crystal Nicol,
Delivery Manager, Eastern Canada at Eagle

Are you looking for a way to improve your work/life balance? Or are you looking for ways to increase your productivity and lower the number of unpaid sick days you have to take? Then maybe the introduction of remote work should be considered. Each day, more and more independent contractors are joining the “working from home” bandwagon.

The reality is that commuters face delays on a regular basis. Whether it’s because buses are late, trains are delayed or cancelled or there is congestion on the roads, it causes our commute times to double or even triple in length. This is one of the strongest reasons why more IT professionals are implementing flexible working schedules and working from home on client projects.

We all know commuting can often be time consuming, stressful and expensive. The modern business model includes more flexibility for their workers. Companies are providing their employees with an incentive to work from home a certain number of days each week, which allows the workers to avoid long commutes and is saving them the transportation costs. So why not do the same for yourself?

In this technological age, even educators are paving the way to learn from home. Students often have the option to listen to seminars remotely or take quizzes online from the comfort of their home. And even though they are doing a large majority of the work from home, they are still successfully graduating, proving that people can be successful from wherever they work.

Many of your clients and their employees are already on board with this way of thinking. An article from WomensPost.ca shows that a 2017 FlexJobs study of 5,500 people found that a work-life balance was critical to the productivity and success of a company. Out of all the survey respondents, 62 percent said they have left or considered leaving a job because of the lack of work flexibility. An even higher response of 66 percent said they were more productive working from a home office as there were less interruptions from coworkers, fewer distractions, less commuter stress, and they were removed from any office politics.

So will you be more productive when working remotely? You’ll be able to work (and therefore bill) extra hours in the time you’re not commuting. The better work-life balance also means you are less likely to get ill in the first place because stress levels are typically lower. And since you are not commuting, you’ll find more time for your activities, such as going to the gym or spending more quality time with your family. According to an article from the Telegraph, a study by Canada Life found that home workers took fewer sick days compared to those based in the office. The study found that employees working in an office took on average 3.1 sick days last year, whilst homeworkers only took 1.8 sick days and employees who have a cold or are mildly sick can still get work done at home, while office workers are more inclined to take the entire day off to avoid leaving the comfort of their home.

There are, of course, some challenges in working from home:

  1. First of all, the job itself must have the necessary tools to allow for remote work.
  2. Secondly, you must be independent and self-directed in order to be productive while working without guidance.
  3. Thirdly, trust is a big factor for this. If there is no trust between you and your client, then they will begin questioning your timesheets and you will lose out on future references.

Personally, I think a mix of both models is best. One in which you work from home on a certain day or days, but otherwise spend time at the client site to connect with the employees and managers for face-to-face meetings and collaboration. Even one or two days out of the work week spent working remotely does wonders for your mental health, morale, and productivity.

The world of work is dramatically changing. In a competitive world, flexible working schedules are creating healthier and happier workers and increasing productivity. The evidence so far suggests that working remotely benefits clients just as much as it benefits their independent contractors.

Best Practices for Working from Home

One great benefit of being an independent contractor is the ability to work from home, or any other location for that matter.  Unless it’s critical to a project to have you onsite, most clients don’t care where you perform your work and some may even prefer you work from a separate office.  In addition, working off-site is another simple way to distinguish yourself as a contractor and not an employee.

Home OfficeWhen you first begin contracting and working remotely, being by yourself in your home office can present some challenges.  Although nobody’s physically around to hold you accountable, you can be sure that your client is aware of your productivity and will be making sure that the hours you’re billing are actually going towards their project.

In a recent article for Entrepreneur.com, Jacqueline Whitmore shared her experiences and challenges  when she started working from home, as well as six best practices she developed to overcome the obstacles.  Here’s what Jacqueline suggests:

1. Set and keep regular office hours. 

Most people who work from home find they work too much rather than too little. Other remote workers struggle to keep a regular schedule — working a few hours one day and pulling an all-nighter the next.

Some interruptions can’t be avoided. Client deadlines may unexpectedly require extra hours. Family obligations can interfere as well, especially if children are home during the day.

Do your best to set work hours and stick to them. Then try your best to leave work at the “office” and turn your phone on silent and enjoy the rest of your day. Give yourself some time to recharge so you can be as productive as possible.

2. Plan and structure your workday.

Structure your workday to maximize efficiency. Take advantage of your body’s natural rhythms and plan your work around your most productive hours.

If you know you focus best in the morning, resist the temptation to check email until 10 a.m. or later. A quick review of your calendar when you first start work can set you up for a productive workday.

Make a list of your most important tasks before you move on to less urgent business. If possible, shut your office door (if you have one) to signal to others that you’re working and don’t wish to be disturbed.

3. Dress to impress (even if it’s just for your dog).

As enticing as it is to stay in pajamas all day, this is not the best work habit. The way you dress affects you psychologically.

Taking the time to shower, have breakfast, brush the teeth and dress can make someone feel more confident. Maintain a casual (not sloppy) work wardrobe to help you transition smoothly between home and office — even if they’re in the same place.

4. Set aside a designated work area.

Consistency is an important aspect to working from home. Try to work at the same spot every day. It could be a spare bedroom that you’ve turned into a home office, a desk located in the corner of the living room or even the dining room table.

Make sure your workspace functions efficiently for you, your business and your style. Surround yourself with things that inspire you and make you happy including flowers, music and pictures. Make your workspace a place you enjoy going to each day, an area where you can focus and do your best work.

5. Take breaks.

Schedule time for frequent breaks throughout the day. Rise from your desk, stretch or walk around the house or down the street. Take a lunch break and enjoy a midday meal.

If you need a little socializing, go out to lunch with friends or clients. A major advantage to working from home is having flexibility. If fitness is important to you, a quick trip to the gym can reinvigorate you and make for a productive afternoon.

6. Avoid distractions.

One challenge of working from home is accountability. With no colleagues or partners nearby, it’s easy to become distracted. There are always errands to run and chores at home to do. Do your best to put off household tasks, like laundry and dishes, until you’ve gone “home” for the evening.

Stay focused on work throughout the day to maintain consistent productivity. Avoid online distractions as well. Limit the time spent on email, social media and websites unrelated to work.

Set a timer on your phone or computer if necessary. Don’t waste time or money on meetings or activities that are counterproductive to your success.

The Benefits with Flexible Work Logistics

Morley Surcon By Morley Surcon,
Vice-President, Western Canada at Eagle

How Contractors are Poised to Reap the Benefits of WORKShift and Other Similar Programs

Flexwork, also known as WORKshift, allows people to work where and when they are most productive.  Many companies, organizations and even communities are latching onto the WORKshift strategy as a solution for all sorts of issues – from scarce office space, to recruiting and retention, to leveraging non-local experts and everything in between.  Our cities are taking up the flexwork banner in a big way hoping to reduce traffic stress on our cities’ roads and downtown parking and to develop “greener” communities.   Led by Calgary, Ottawa and Halifax have recently developed and launched community strategies for encouraging their local companies to embrace this concept; and if other Canadian and US cities aren’t actively pursuing this approach, it’s definitely on their radar.

In Calgary, home of the WORKshift civic movement, early corporate adopters are validating the concept.  Provincial companies such as ATB Financial, national companies like Eagle Professional Resources and large international organizations such as TransCanada Pipelines are also on board.  They’ve found reasons to leverage technology, carefully adjust and re-align their business and workgroup processes and have rolled WORKshift out to their staff in significant ways.    Workshift: Future-Proof Your Organization for the 21st CenturyTheir stories can be read in Robyn Bews’ book Workshift: Future-Proof Your Organization for the 21st Century. Robyn is Calgary Economic Development’s Executive Director of WORKshift and a key consultant who supported Eagle’s own readiness assessment and preparation for WORKshift.  The benefits are huge and include harder to measure soft-wins such as increased levels of engagement, instilling a results-oriented work environment and enabling staff autonomy.  Through WORKshift, workers are able to enjoy what has been called “Work-Life Fusion”.

How does this new trend impact the contractor community?  Well, for one, contractors are already well positioned to take advantage of the move toward increased telework.  As they already operate their own businesses, most have home office space and own the technology needed to support a remote working environment.  They are autonomous by nature and may not be working full time hours on their clients’ sites.  Many have multiple clients and by carefully managing WORKshift strategies, contractors can avoid unproductive travel between clients and increase their billable hours.  In many ways companies, organizations and communities are just beginning to catch up to savvy contractors and their use of remote access, internet and security technologies to support a virtual office.

As both big and small business embrace the concept of WORKshift, the environment will become more conducive to the contractor model.  It won’t come without its challenges – security concerns will have to be addressed to enable contractors to connect to their clients’ private networks.  While the technology to enable this has existed for some time, companies will need to further consider and expand their security and network access policies to accommodate access to contractors and other 3rd party business partners.  The line between employee and contractor may also be further blurred as employees begin to work in ways more typically associated with contractors.

Time will tell, but history has shown that progress marches on and it’s difficult to imagine a future that doesn’t allow people to “fuse” their personal and professional lives and allow them to achieve more in both.  To quote Telus:  “The future is friendly”.  Perhaps even friendlier to contractors who embrace the new opportunity that is WORKshift!

Are you a contractor that has worked in a flexwork environment?  What are the benefits? Challenges?  Leave us a comment below.