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Who gets more done — office workers or telecommuters?

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In a tight labour market, workers with in-demand skills may have the leverage they need to snag coveted telecommuting privileges. But seasoned remote workers and an economist who studies productivity said there’s still a negative perception that stands in the way of making those arrangements happen.

Glenn Dutcher, an assistant professor of economics at Ohio University, studies the impact of telecommuting on productivity. He and his research colleagues have found that many people still doubt that remote workers get as much done at home as they would in an office environment.

In an experiment that explored how telecommuting affects groups where some employees work in the office and others work from home, Dutcher found that productivity of the whole team hinges on whether office-based workers think their remote colleagues are getting things done.  

“The results were pretty consistent. However we looked at it, we found that if they believed that telecommuters were less productive, than they contributed less work themselves,” said Dutcher.

Conversely, if those same subjects trusted their remote colleagues were hard at work, then they worked hard, too.

Glenn Dutcher, assistant professor at Ohio University’s department of economics, found that workers perform better on creative tasks when allowed to complete them outside of an office environment. (Suppled by Glenn Dutcher)

Answering the question of whether telecommuting affects team output is critical, the study authors said. Despite mounting evidence in favour of telecommuting — from better employee retention to lower costs for office space — managers still have reservations about allowing employees to work outside the office.

Subtracting the commute

That’s a missed opportunity, said Aiman Attar, who has worked from home for 16 years both for herself and others. She now employs three home-based full-time staffers for her real estate recruiting business AgentC, as well as a number of regular contractors.

Attar said she gets more from her staff, not less, by letting them avoid a time-consuming commute.

“They’re not coming into work stressed from driving, traffic, weather, accidents on the road,” said Attar. “You get up, you can take your morning walk, have your shower or your breakfast, and then sit at your desk. The time that you save allows you to do more productive things with yourself. You can spend it on eating healthy; you can spend it on working out.”

She said it’s a mistake to let trust issues get in the way of letting good candidates work from home. “You can’t go into a relationship with that kind of negative mindset. You don’t go into a marriage saying, ‘How do I know they’re not going to cheat?'” 

Instead of “nickel and diming” staff on exactly the number of minutes they’re at their desks each day, she focuses on output.

“As long as results are coming, work is getting done, we’re meeting our deadlines and our targets, it really doesn’t matter to us if they work five hours or eight hours … We just want to make sure our timelines for our clients are being delivered.”

People stand at the water cooler chatting for an hour. If you expect that someone is going to be productive eight hours of the day, you’re wrong.– Aiman Attar, recruiter

Plus, it would be a mistake for managers to assume they’re getting a full eight hours each day from employees in their line of sight at the office, she said.

“People stand at the water cooler chatting for an hour. If you expect that someone is going to be productive eight hours of the day, you’re wrong; it’s never going to happen in any environment.”

Dutcher said that a trusting attitude toward remote workers goes a long way. “Managers have a great deal of influence over the perception of the workers that are working under them.” Influence that perception of remote workers positively and team productivity won’t be negatively affected, he said

Some tasks better completed away from the cubicle

In an earlier study published in the Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization, Dutcher and his colleagues found that some tasks are better suited to telecommuting than others.

This experiment found that so-called dull tasks — in this case, entering lines of numbers and letters into a computer — were better suited to office environments, said Dutcher. Subjects who were allowed to complete this task from anywhere they chose were less productive than those in the office, perhaps because — when faced with a mind-numbing task —folding a load of laundry starts to look pretty good.

But when it came to the experiment’s creative tasks — coming up with lists of alternate uses for everyday objects — these same workers performed better when given the opportunity to get away from the cubicle, Dutcher said.

Given that many employees do a mix of office and remote work, he said, “it probably makes a lot of sense to do the creative work at home and the more mundane boring tasks in the office.”

That fits with Wayne Cuervo’s experience working for tech giant Cisco for 16 years, where “there’s a culture of empowerment” around letting staff work from anywhere. He said that stems in part from the need to connect with colleagues around the globe.

“If I have to crank through some PowerPoints, that fits very naturally to staying home and getting it done without interruptions. And sometimes you need to work in a collaborative environment and allow the brainstorming and the in-person interactions to facilitate decisions, or to feed off each other’s energies.”

Sometimes top talent, just like all of us, need to be at home to let the cable guy in.– Wayne Cuervo, Director of Cisco Canada’s Toronto Innovation Centre

Cuervo, now director of Cisco Canada’s Toronto Innovation Centre, said things like high-quality video conferencing enables efficient and effective collaboration from anywhere.

Plus, there’s an important element of humanity in making it possible for in-demand workers to work from home on days that life demands it without anyone questioning their work ethic.

“It’s all about attracting and keeping top talent. And sometimes top talent, just like all of us, need to be at home to let the cable guy in.”

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Real Estate

7 Tips For First-Time Home Buyers In Calgary

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Buying a house for the first time can be overwhelming to say the least. If you’re wondering what neighbourhood to go with, what you can afford, or even how to just get started on the process, let us take some stress off your hands! We’ve teamed up with Hopewell Residential to give you 7 tips to ensure the home you end up with is everything you dreamed of.

Hopewell Residential is a five-time Developer of the Year award winner, so their expertise is second-to-none in Calgary and beyond. Who better to learn home-buying tips from than the homebuilders themselves?

Create a checklist of needs & wants

This is a biggie. When you’re buying your very first home, you’ll want to weigh your needs vs. your wants. Ensuring you have what you love in your first home is a big, big deal.

What should you do? Easy. Set up a list of needs and a list of wants, but be pretty strict with yourself, and make sure you take your lifestyle into consideration. With the increase in remote work over the past year, it’s important to keep in mind that a home office or flex room might just be the key to maximizing at home happiness. Especially if you’re thinking you might be expanding your family later on, spare rooms and extra space is key (but more on that later!).

Or for instance, you might need a home in an area with a high walkability score, but you want to be close to certain amenities. Set yourself up with the right level of compromise and the number of homes that actually fit your ‘perfect’ idea will skyrocket.

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Real Estate

‘Don’t give up’: Ottawa Valley realtors share statistics, tips for homebuyers in ‘extreme’ sellers market

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The real estate market in the Ottawa Valley can be summed up this way: people from far and wide are in a buying frenzy, but there’s hardly anything to buy at the “store,” and the limited inventory is overpriced.

This “stampede” — as one realtor described it — will affect rural towns as residents grapple with finding affordable housing and agonize over their inability to purchase homes in their price range.

“We are seeing a lack of inventory in all price ranges,” said Laura Keller, a real estate agent from Carleton Place.

Helen Vincent, a Renfrew realtor, said she’s never seen a market like this in her 36 years of practice. “We postpone offers for four to five days in order to get all the buyers,” she said.

Multiple offers — between seven and 10 — became the norm, with cash offers and no conditions, as buyers faced bidding wars. “In Ottawa, they have up to 50 (offers),” she added.

“It’s very stressful. You’re going to get nine (people) ticked off, and one happy. So many people are disappointed,” Vincent said.

Terry Stavenow, an Arnprior realtor for 40 years, said that “the pent-up need took over with inventory going low. It made a stampede on everything that was available.“

“Brand new housing — it’s very much gone. Several building developers are rushing to get inventory. They usually don’t do construction in the winter months,” said Stavenow.

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Real Estate

10 Tips For First-Time Home Buyers

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Buying a home for the first time is exciting and a commitment to the future. It’s often challenging, too, and the process requires a lot of steps, many of which can be tricky to navigate as a first-time home buyer.

What are some things you should keep in mind as a first-time home buyer?

First-Time Home Buyer Tips

Here are 10 tips to keep in mind as you begin your journey toward homeownership.

1. Have Your Finances in Order

It’s wise to begin saving as early as possible once you’ve made the decision to purchase a house. You’ll need to consider the down payment, closing costs (which often range from 2% to 5% of the down payment), as well as move-in expenses.

You also need to understand the other costs of homeownership, such as mortgage insurance. property taxes, utilities, homeowner’s insurance, and more.

2. How Much Can You Afford?

Knowing how much you can realistically afford in a home is another important financial consideration. Look for the home of your dreams that fits your budget.

One way to avoid future financial stress is to set a price range for your home that fits your budget, and then staying within that range. Going through the preapproval process will help you understand what price range is realistic for your budget.

3. Make Sure Your Credit is Good

Another thing to keep in mind as a first-time home buyer is your credit score because it determines whether you qualify for a mortgage and affects the interest rate that lenders offer. 

You can check your credit score from the three credit bureaus – Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion.

This is another good reason for getting preapproved before you start your search. Learn more about the preapproval process and your credit score.

4. Choose The Right Real Estate Agent

A good real estate agent guides you through the process every step of the way. He or she will help you find a home that fits your needs, help you through the financial processes, and help ease any first-time buyer anxiety you may have.

Interview several agents and request references.

5. Research Mortgage Options

A variety of mortgages are available, including conventional mortgages – which are guaranteed by the government – FHA loans, USDA loans, and VA loans (for veterans).

You’ll also have options regarding the mortgage term. A 30-year fixed-rate mortgage is popular among many homebuyers and has an interest rate that doesn’t change over the course of the loan. A 15-year loan usually has a lower interest rate but monthly payments are larger.

6. Talk to Multiple Lenders

It’s worth your time to talk to several lenders and banks before you accept a mortgage offer. The more you shop around, the better deal you’re liable to get – and it may save you thousands of dollars.

7. Get Preapproved First

Getting a mortgage preapproval (in the form of a letter) before you begin hunting for homes is something else to put on your checklist. A lender’s preapproval letter states exactly how much loan money you can get.

Learn more about the preapproval process and how preapproval provides you with a significant competitive advantage in our article How Preapproval Gives You Home Buying Power.

8. Pick the Right House and Neighborhood

Make sure to weigh the pros and cons of the different types of homes based on your budget, lifestyle, etc. Would a condominium or townhome fit your needs better than a house? What type of neighborhood appeals to you?

9. List Your Needs and Must-Haves

The home you purchase should have as many of the features you prefer as possible. List your needs in order of priority; some things may be non-negotiable to you personally.

10. Hire an Inspector

Hiring an inspector is another crucial step in the home buying process. An inspector will tell you about existing or potential problems with the home, and also what’s in good order. You can learn more about home inspections and how to find a home inspector through the American Society of Home Inspectors website.

Buying a home for the first time is a challenge, but it’s one you can handle with the right planning and preparation.

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