For those of you that have been around, you may remember a term ‘telework’ that became popular over a decade ago as new technologies began to allow people to do a good portion of their work from home. Telework was expected to decrease traffic congestion in the big cities, result in cost savings to companies and provide a higher quality of life to the worker as they would limit their commute times – freeing them up for presumably more important things.
There was also another important angle to telework. It was supposed to become a major rural economic development tool. In theory, new technologies would mean that workers in rural New Brunswick could do the work just as effectively as those in downtown Toronto. Many economic developers in the mid-1990s were singing the benefits of telework.
While telework has started to get a foothold in larger urban centres as a way to decrease traffic congestion – it has absolutely bombed in Canada as a rural development tool. In fact, over 90% of high tech jobs (those for which the work is primarily done using a computer and the Internet) in Canada over the 1990s were created in the largest urban centres. The number of jobs that are tailored for telework actually dropped in most rural communities in Canada.
Now a new report by IDC in the U.S. finds that ‘home-sourcing’ is among the hottest new trends and a deterrent to offshore outsourcing. According to the report, home-based call centre agents are 25% more productive than in-house employees.
There is a good example of this (or a variation on this theme) inNew Brunswick. Virtual Agent Services has some 600 employees scattered throughout the rural communities of the province.
One of the great challenges for rural Canada today is the loss of their youth to larger urban centres. Many of them go because they want to but many go because they have to.
Maybe somebody should examine this a little further in the Atlantic Canada context. Call centre workers, bookkeepers, translators, graphic designers, programmers, etc. are just a few occupations that could be done from home or from small office in a rural community.
Finally, maybe government should lead by example on this. John Manley spent much of the late 1990s centralizing Federal government jobs in and around Ottawa. Scott Brison is looking at decentralizing. From my vantage point, 50 high paying government jobs in Caraquet would do more for that community than a decade of EI.