Why telecommuting and access to high-speed Internet are so important to our economy

cpc computer 35.jpg

A study in Telecommunications Policy caught my eye recently, and as a telecommuting consultant, working from home and on-site, the data is important to me. Also, I work with the authors of this study and would like to share a few of the highlights with you.

The rural telecommuter surplus in Southwestern Ontario, Canada by Dr. Helen Hambly and Jamie (Donghoon) Lee references data from a 2017 Southwest Integrated Fibre Technology study on broadband investment. I also highly recommend looking into the R2B2 Project, which Dr. Hambly leads.

According to the paper, one in 14 people work from home in Canada. The study calls Canada a “commuting nation” because between 1996 and 2016 the number of commuters spiked from 3.7 million to 15.9 million. While the number of commuters has increased, more than 50% say they regularly engage in “flexi work,” which means they work fully or partially from home or remotely.

What’s interesting is that telecommuting is widespread in Southwestern Ontario, and the number of telecommuters will increase as the broadband infrastructure improves. In order for telecommuting to even be an option, you need access to reliable high-speed Internet. Affordability is also essential. With a lack of competition in most Ontario markets, ISPs can charge high monthly rates, which offsets some of your savings from less car and transit use.     

The study found that the first telecommuter in a household could save anywhere from $8,820 to $23,964 a year, depending on a number of factors including income, primary residence, and number of days telecommuting. The average telecommuter in Southwestern Ontario telecommuting at least three days a week saves nearly $14,000 a year.

When the topic of telecommuting arises, the discussion is automatically focused on the time and money a telecommuter can save, but it’s important to note that businesses also benefit from telecommuting.

Recruitment and retention becomes easier when telecommuting is an option for employees, and it reduces absenteeism. Productivity should improve (depending on employees’ work ethics), more money can be saved on less office space, and the talent tool is expanded because it’s not limited to a specific geographic area. These are just a few of the benefits listed in the study.

The government also benefits from more people telecommuting because it means less wear and tear on roads, reduced traffic and congestion, reduced GHG, potential decrease in urban-rural wage gap, and the general standard of living increases.

As well, governments, healthcare providers and educators are all rapidly moving towards delivering services, treatment and curriculum to people in the homes. Public sector providers are doing this to reduce the cost of service delivery and improve outcomes for citizens. 

Of course, there are negative aspects of telecommuting. Employers may not trust that work is being done appropriately and not all jobs can be completed from home. And I can speak from experience, working from home can get lonely and challenging, especially when you want to bounce ideas off someone else face-to-face as opposed to on the phone or over email.

As Internet service gradually speeds up and extends to our rural areas, as more tech-forward companies grow, and as commercial rent increases in urban centres, telecommuting will become the norm. To me, the positives outweigh the negatives, and many of these negatives can be overcome.

So, it’s time for all levels of government and the private sector to invest even more in ensuring our rural residents have the Internet connection they need to participate in our flourishing economy.  Internet is an essential service because it is a determinant of one’s equal access to government, healthcare, education and marketplaces; as such legislators and regulators have a moral and legal obligation to ensure every Canadian has equitable access to the Internet. By equitable, I mean the same performance and price for a person’s Internet connection regardless of their geographic location or demographic characteristics. 

Campbell Patterson