When H1N1 came calling, Clare Kumar heard opportunity knocking.
After all, the Toronto-based professional organizer figured, a worldwide pandemic meant scores of employees confined to their homes, desperate for the services of someone who specializes in establishing effective and ergonomic home offices.
Unfortunately for Kumar, it hasn’t worked out that way: Canada’s employers, it seems, are clinging to the notion that when it comes to a job, actually going to work is Job 1.
“If your manager gets it and understands the productivity gain, then you’re in a good position,” said Kumar, whose efforts to convince Canadian companies to take her on as a work-from-home consultant have so far been largely for naught.
“If they don’t, it’s back to the dark ages.”
Still, all is not lost for the home-office revolution, say experts who anticipate the second wave of Canada’s H1N1 pandemic to bring with it a fundamental shift in corporate culture when it comes to allowing staff to work from home.
For many, the hope is that the realities of conducting day-to-day business during a pandemic will force managers to rethink their biases and make telework — once considered a viable future vision of the workaday world — a permanent part of corporate life.
Paula Allen, vice-president of organizational solutions and training with Toronto-based health and productivity consultancy Shepell.fgi, said she’s seeing evidence of that already, as clients re-evaluate many of their business practices in developing H1N1 contingency plans.
As they isolated the most critical part of their day-to-day operations, a growing number of companies are indeed realizing that a physical presence in the office wasn’t as vital as they thought, Allen said.
“One of the first and best practices was social distancing, which means giving people the opportunity to work from home,” Allen said in a telephone interview. “As a result of actually going through that thinking, people are realizing that there is more opportunity to have people telework than what they realized previously.”
Allen said she believes businesses will come to embrace the concept whole-heartedly once they’re forced to rely on it. She's confident that working from home won’t prove a passing fad that will ebb when pandemic fears fade.
“Once people have a tool, have a skill, have an opportunity,” she said, “they use it whether there's a crisis or not.”