The emergence of creativity as a critical growth engine in modern economies is rapidly altering traditional concepts of work and leisure and challenging the way we organize social and economic activity. Today, Canada’s labour force is among the most talented and creative in the world, and Canadian firms and governments are continually searching for new ways to tap into the nation’s human capital and increase productivity. Labour productivity has been a troubling issue for Canadian economists and policymakers for decades, particularly when compared to the United States. Between 1988 and 2008, Canada’s labour productivity grew at an average of 1.4 percent, 0.8 percentage points lower than our American counterparts to the South, at 2.2 percent over the same period. The cumulative result is an ever-increasing productivity gap: In 2008 America’s GDP per capita was $13,000 more than Canada’s, adjusted for purchasing-power parity. According to the Conference Board of Canada, if Canada had matched America’s productivity numbers, real GDP in Canada would have been $8,500 higher than it is today, and the federal government would be collecting 31% more in revenue. Many argue that the relative underinvestment in ICT machinery and equipment by Canadian firms is in part responsible for lower productivity levels. I believe they’re right. The innovation coming from the ICT industry is phenomenal, and has incredible potential to revolutionize the way Canadian firms supervise and manage their employees and operations.
A great example of the benefits of ICT investment is teleworking. Teleworking allows employees to work from anywhere at any time, from distributed work centres, to the local library, to the comfort of your own bed. Teleworking allow employees to work when and where they are the most productive, and thanks to WORKshift, a teleworking initiative by Calgary Economic Development, the strategy is already working for many firms in the Calgary region.
The only initiative of its kind in Canada, WORKshift encourages technology adoption among businesses by educating and providing resources to Calgary-based companies. The initiative provides Calgary companies with the software and training required to monitor employee performance remotely. WORKshift recognizes that in today’s Creative economy, with the communication and information technology available on the market, employees are more productive when they can work where and when they want. In fact, data suggests that employees who “telework” twice a week are 15-40% more productive than their coworkers. WORKshift also has the double-benefit of being environmentally appealing and cost-efficient. Employees save on commuting costs and reduce their environmental footprint while firms save on real-estate and workforce support. Work Design Collaborative, a telework advocate, estimates that companies like IBM and Cisco were able to reduce real-estate and facilities investments by as much as 50% due to technology adoption.
It’s time we get with the times, Canada. Have you teleworked this week?