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Telecommuting on the rise to meet challenges of real estate market, labour shortage

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Five months ago, Alistair Vigier launched his all-virtual law firm, with a staff of eight who telecommute from a variety of locations across the country.

While Vigier is based in Victoria, ClearWay Law’s lawyers are distributed around the Greater Toronto Area, and its admin and other staff are spread around Victoria, Vancouver and Regina.

All work from home, meeting their family law clients in their homes or at coffee shops when needed.

At a previous firm where Vigier was an investor, the company spent around $20,000 per month for office space, keeping with the industry’s tradition of projecting an image of success through big boardrooms and beautiful views.

His new firm spends around $200 a month on occasional access to meeting rooms in co-working spaces — a savings Vigier says is passed on to the client through lower fees.

And staffers value the flexibility that comes with being able to work from home, he says.

Alistair Vigier, who recently launched an all-virtual law firm, says allowing employees to work remotely meets employees’ increasing demand for work-life balance and to live in real estate markets they can afford. (Submitted by Alistair Vigier)

“A lot of our lawyers are younger, so they really want that work-life balance. We had younger lawyers at the previous firm and they were always pushing to work from home anyway.”

Given the cost of living in major centres, if ClearWay had an office in downtown Vancouver or Toronto, support staff making $4,000 to $5,000 a month wouldn’t be able to afford to work there without punishing commutes from outer suburbs, he says.

Remote workers are looking better than ever to companies contending with expensive office space and a shortage of skilled workers who may not be able to afford housing in major urban centres.

Emboldened and in demand, workers in Canada’s low-unemployment provinces are increasingly game to work for companies that will allow them to telecommute, and industries — including those not typically known to embrace remote workers — are adapting to meet that demand.

Employees are starting to expect it and [companies] need to be able to offer those kinds of things to both attract and retain quality professionals.– Tara Dragon, founder of  WorkEvolution

“From my discussions with organizations, they’re finding that employees are starting to expect it, and they need to be able to offer those kinds of things to both attract and retain quality professionals,” said Tara Dragon, founder of WorkEvolution, an Edmonton-based consultancy and job platform that helps remote workers find jobs and companies adapt to telecommuting.

“Some view it as an opportunity to save on their real estate costs, which, for knowledge organizations, can be the second-largest expense after people,” she said, noting that office space can often amount to $10,000 per year per employee.

For other companies, it’s a way to solve hiring challenges by accessing talent outside of a comfortable commuting radius.

Tara Dragon is founder of WorkEvolution, a consultancy and job platform that helps remote workers find jobs and companies adapt to telecommuting. She says companies are wise to allow employees to work from home as it no only saves on expensive office space, it helps companies retain good people. (Brock Krypton Photography)

Vancouver companies, for example, aren’t paying tech workers what they’d need to live in the city proper, which only becomes more of an issue as their lives evolve, says Dragon. 

“Not only is it expensive to buy a house, it’s expensive to raise a family there,” she said, especially once things like child care are taken into account.

The cost of turnover

The business case she makes to companies as they contemplate adding remote workers to their staff is twofold, says Dragon. Beyond lowering commercial real estate costs, there’s also the significant expense of turnover.

By some estimates, Dragon says it can cost companies up to nine months of a person’s salary when they leave.

“That’s covering salary, overtime, replacement, time spent recruiting, retraining — never mind potentially losing customers or other team members if it’s a senior leader.”

Work-from-home flexibility is a significant incentive to stay.

When Candace Beres, 30, switched jobs six months ago, one of the things she was looking for was the flexibility to telecommute from her home in Hamilton some of the time, freeing up time that would otherwise be spent making the hour-long-plus commute to and from offices in Toronto.

I find that it’s my busiest day of the week, in addition to being the happiest day.– Candace Beres , on working from home every Friday

Now a senior account manager for public relations and marketing firm The Colony Project, where all employees work from home on Fridays, Beres says her telecommuting days are her most productive.

“You need a day to do work away from people asking questions and having meeting after meeting,” she says. “It’s a good day to actually put work together rather than discuss it. I find that it’s my busiest day of the week, in addition to being the happiest day.”

There was a work-from-home component to almost every job Beres considered, and she says that more of her millennial peers are looking for the same. Many of her friends who had moved to Toronto for work have since moved back to Hamilton to raise their kids in less costly housing close to family.

Karen O’Malley and her husband moved to Petawawa, Ont., six years ago, to be near her family and to be free of the mortgage they held on their previous home in Oakville, Ont.

She works remotely full time as office manager for AgentC, a recruiting firm that specializes in hiring admin workers for the real estate industry. Like Beres, she also finds productivity is higher in her home environment. 

“I can probably do at least twice the amount of work because there aren’t the same interruptions. I find it easier to focus on larger projects and the turnaround time is a lot better.” 

The tech tools

O’Malley says she has felt isolated from her colleagues in previous work-from-home roles — but not in her current job. 

“You almost feel like they’re sitting beside you. They’re very good at keeping you involved and up to date on everything that’s going on in the company,” she said of her employers, who also work from home.

The team of four remote workers and several freelance contributors communicates using WhatsApp throughout the day. 

Sharon Bennett, a staff instructor for LinkedIn Learning, has worked from home for more than 12 years. An important key to success, she says, is good use of technology to connect remote team members to one another for easy communication. (Submitted by Shaorn Bennett)

Sharon Bennett is a staff instructor for LinkedIn Learning, now owned by Microsoft. Although the company is based in Carpinteria, Calif., she telecommutes from her home in Guelph, Ont., and her colleagues are spread around the continent.

Her department uses Microsoft’s Office 365 to collaborate, as well as its online chat platform, Teams.

“If you’re going to have a remote team, you have to have all of this in place. It’s critical,” said Bennett, a veteran work-from-home professional. If you have a question, “you can’t just go and look over the partition,” she said, so these tools allow remote colleagues to do the virtual version of that peek over the cubicle wall.

And Bennett says she loves her company’s philosophy around working hours. “It’s basically: Get stuff done. It doesn’t matter when, but get it done.

“I tend to work better in the evenings, so I’ll sit down after 6 or 7 [p.m.] and I’ll work for another 3 or 4 hours. And as long as we meet our targets, it’s not an issue. We embrace it and we enjoy that freedom. If I want to take my son to an appointment or go the gym, no one looks down on that.”

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Top 5 Analytics Trends That Are Shaping The Future

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Digital transformation is increasingly becoming the focus for many CIOs around the world today—with analytics playing a fundamental role in driving the future of the digital economy.

While data is important to every business, it is necessary for businesses to have a firm grip on data analytics to allow them transform raw pieces of data into important insights. However, unlike the current trends in business intelligence—which is centred around data visualization—the future of data analytics would encompass a more contextual experience.

“The known data analytics development cycle is described in stages: from descriptive (what happened) to diagnostic (why did it happen), to discovery (what can we learn from it), to predictive (what is likely to happen), and, finally, to prescriptive analytics (what action is the best to take),” said Maurice op het Veld is a partner at KPMG Advisory in a report.

“Another way of looking at this is that data analytics initially “supported” the decision-making process but is now enabling “better” decisions than we can make on our own.”

Here are some of the current trends that arealready shaping the future of data analytics in individuals and businesses.

  1. Growth in mobile devices

With the number of mobile devices expanding to include watches, digital personal assistants, smartphones, smart glasses, in-car displays, to even video gaming systems, the final consumption plays a key role on the level of impact analytics can deliver.

Previously, most information consumers accessed were on a computer with sufficient room to view tables, charts and graphs filled with data, now, most consumers require information delivered in a format well optimized for whatever device they are currently viewing it on.

Therefore, the content must be personalized to fit the features of the user’s device and not just the user alone.

  1. Continuous Analytics

More and more businesses are relying on the Internet of Things (IoT) and their respective streaming data—which in turn shortens the time it takes to capture, analyze and react to the information gathered. Therefore, while analytics programspreviously were termed successful when results were delivered within days or weeks of processing, the future of analytics is bound to drastically reduce this benchmark to hours, minutes, seconds—and even milliseconds.

“All devices will be connected and exchange data within the “Internet of Things” and deliver enormous sets of data. Sensor data like location, weather, health, error messages, machine data, etc. will enable diagnostic and predictive analytics capabilities,” noted Maurice.

“We will be able to predict when machines will break down and plan maintenance repairs before it happens. Not only will this be cheaper, as you do not have to exchange supplies when it is not yet needed, but you can also increase uptime.”

  1. Augmented Data Preparation

During the process of data preparation, machine learning automation will begin to augment data profiling and data quality, enrichment, modelling, cataloguing and metadata development.

Newer techniques would include supervised, unsupervised and reinforcement learning which is bound to enhance the entire data preparation process. In contrast to previous processes—which depended on rule-based approach to data transformation—this current trend would involve advanced machine learning processes that would evolve based on recent data to become more precise at responding to changes in data.

  1. Augmented Data Discovery

Combined with the advancement in data preparation, a lot of these newer algorithms now allow information consumers to visualize and obtain relevant information within the data with more ease. Enhancements such as automatically revealing clusters, links, exceptions, correlation and predictions with pieces of data, eliminate the need for end users to build data models or write algorithms themselves.

This new form of augmented data discovery will lead to an increase in the number of citizen data scientist—which include information users who, with the aid of augmented assistance can now identify and respond to various patterns in data faster and a more distributed model.

  1. AugmentedData Science

It is important to note that the rise of citizen data scientist will not in any way eliminate the need for a data scientist who gathers and analyze data to discover profitable opportunities for the growth of a business. However, as these data scientists give room for citizen data scientists to perform the easier tasks, their overall analysis becomes more challenging and equally valuable to the business.

As time goes by, machine learning would be applied in other areas such as feature and model selection. This would free up some of the tasks performed by data scientist and allow them focus on the most important part of their job, which is to identify specific patterns in the data that can potentially transform business operations and ultimately increase revenue.

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Waterloo drone-maker Aeryon Labs bought by U.S. company for $265M

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Waterloo’s Aeryon Labs has been bought by Oregon-based FLIR Systems Inc. for $256 million, or $200 million US.

The acquisition was announced Monday. 

Dave Kroetsch, co-founder and chief technology officer of Aeryon Labs, says not much will change in the foreseeable future.

“The Waterloo operations of Aeryon Labs will actually continue as they did yesterday with manufacturing, engineering and all the functions staying intact in Waterloo and ultimately, we see growing,” he said.

“The business here is very valuable to FLIR and our ability to sell internationally is a key piece of keeping these components of the business here in Canada.”

Aeroyn Labs builds high-performance drones that are sold to a variety of customers including military, police services and commercial businesses. The drones can provide high-resolution images for surveillance and reconnaissance.

The drones already include cameras and thermal technology from FLIR. Jim Cannon, president and CEO of FLIR Systems, said acquiring Aeryon Labs is part of the company’s strategy to move beyond sensors “to the development of complete solutions that save lives and livelihoods.”

‘A piece of a bigger solution’

Kroetsch said this is a good way for the company to grow into something bigger.

“We see the business evolving in much the direction our business has been headed over the last couple of years. And that’s moving beyond the drone as a product in and of itself as a drone as a piece of a bigger solution,” he said.

For example, FLIR bought a drone company that builds smaller drones that look like little helicopters.

“We can imagine integrating those with our drones, perhaps having ours carry their drones and drop them off,” he said.

FLIR also does border security systems, which Kroetsch says could use the drones to allow border agents to look over a hill where there have been issues.

“We see the opportunity there as something that we never could have done on our own but being involved with and part of a larger company that’s already providing these solutions today gives us access not only to these great applications, but also to some fantastic technologies,” he said.

Aeryon Labs has done a lot of work during emergency disasters, including in Philippines after Typhoon Hagupit in 2014, Ecuador after an earthquake in 2016 and the Fort McMurray wildfire in 2016.

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Inuvik infrastructure may not be ready for climate change, says study

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The Arctic is expected to get warmer and wetter by the end of this century and new research says that could mean trouble for infrastructure in Inuvik.

The study from Global Water Futures looked at how climate change could impact Havipak Creek — which crosses the Dempster Highway in Inuvik, N.W.T. — and it predicts some major water changes.

“They were quite distressing,” John Pomeroy, director of Global Water Futures and the study’s lead author, said of the findings.

Researchers used a climate model and a hydrological model to predict future weather and climate patterns in the region. They also looked at data gathered from 1960 to the present. 

If greenhouse gas emissions continue at their current rate — which Pomeroy said they are on track to do — the study projects the region will be 6.1 C warmer by 2099 and precipitation, particularly rain, will increase by almost 40 per cent.

The study also found that the spring flood will be earlier and twice as large, and the permafrost will thaw an additional 25 centimetres. While the soil is expected to be wetter early in the summer, the study said it will be drier in late summer, meaning a higher risk of wildfires.

John Pomeroy is the director of Global Water Futures. (Erin Collins/CBC)

“The model’s painting kind of a different world than we’re living in right now for the Mackenzie Delta region,” Pomeroy said.

He noted these changes are not only expected for Havipak Creek, but also for “many, many creeks along the northern part of the Dempster [Highway].”

Pomeroy said the deeper permafrost thaw and a bigger spring flood could pose challenges for buildings, roads, culverts and crossings in the area that were designed with the 20th century climate in mind.

He said the projected growth of the snowpack and the spring flood are “of grave concern because that’s what washes out the Dempster [Highway] and damages infrastructure in the area.”

Culverts and bridges may have to be adjusted to allow room for greater stream flows, Pomeroy said. And building foundations that are dependent upon the ground staying frozen will have to be reinforced or redesigned.

Pomeroy said the ultimate solution is for humans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“This study is the future we’re heading for, but it’s not the future we necessarily have if we can find a way to reduce those gases,” he said.  

“It’d be far smarter to get those emissions under control than to pay the terrible expenses for infrastructure and endangered safety of humans and destroyed ecosystems.”

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