WestJet move part of broader telecommuting push

MONTREAL – Like many Canadians, Carla Holub has gladly given up commuting for the ease and comfort of working from home.

The 41-year-old WestJet sales agent says she has no regrets since she made the change three years ago. Telecommuting affords her the time to take her children to dance lessons and hockey while reducing her lunch, coffee, gas and car insurance costs, she says.

“It’s been a great switch,” she said from Calgary. “It just freed up a good two hours of my personal time being able to work from my home office.”

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WestJet Airlines plans to establish a bilingual call centre in Moncton, N.B., but most of the 400 agents will work from home. They will join about 85 per cent of the airline’s 900 call centre workers in Calgary who since 2013 have shifted to fielding customer calls remotely.

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The move has saved WestJet the cost of expanding its office to accommodate its growing staff, though that is partially offset by expenses to buy extra computers for employees so that they can work from home.

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Spokesman Robert Palmer said the transition was mainly designed to respond to workers who desire a better work-life balance.

“From an employer’s perspective, generally speaking it makes for a happier employee and a happier employee is generally more productive,” he said.

The shift to telecommuting has accelerated since the 1990s growth of technology, said Sheryl Boswell, director of marketing for job website Monster Canada.

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She said most companies that allow employees to work from home are looking to build their businesses without added office expenses. They are also seeking access to a broader talent pool, she said.

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“I think more employers are doing it because this is what seekers today demand,” said Boswell, who herself telecommutes two days a week.

More than 1.7 million paid employees — those not self-employed — worked from home in 2008 at least once a week, up almost 23 per cent from the 1.4 million in 2000, according to the latest Statistics Canada report on the subject in 2010.

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Despite the increase, the proportion of paid employees working from home grew by just one percentage point to 11.2 per cent during the period. A faster pace of growth among self-employed pushed the total proportion of people working from home up two percentage points to 19 per cent in 2008.

Louise Howard is typical of those many self-employed home workers. The mother of children aged six and eight spends a few hours a day sewing clothing and accessories for children from her dining room that she sells online and to neighbourhood stores.

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“It’s more a hobby that’s become a business by accident,” said the Montrealer, who says she makes about minimum wage for an average of three hours per day.

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Monster Canada says nearly 5,000 home-based employment positions are currently listed on its website, up 18 per cent from last year. Available positions vary from customer service and sales representatives to tech support, finance and real estate services. The growth of social media has also pushed companies to hire writers to create content.

Telecommuting can also appeal to older workers, allowing businesses to adapt to changing demographics.

“It’s a weapon in a company’s arsenal to attract great employees,” said Robert Campbell, president of trade association ContactNB.

About 30 per cent of New Brunswick’s more than 100 call centres allow some form of telecommuting, Campbell said, adding that the workers have a range of jobs that include medical telecare, grief counselling, funeral planning and financial advice.

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