Telecommuting allows business to retain staff

When Parkland Community Planning Services’ office administrator decided to move to a new community, she didn’t want to give up her Red Deer job.

Dionne Comeau

Dionne Comeau

When Parkland Community Planning Services’ office administrator decided to move to a new community, she didn’t want to give up her Red Deer job.

But it would have been a whale of a commute — around 4,000 km. That’s the distance from Red Deer to New Brunswick, where Dionne Comeau is moving with her husband later this month.

So Comeau and her boss Craig Teal decided to find a way for her to keep a job she loves and him to avoid losing a key employee with four years of valuable experience.

Telecommuting was the answer. By using Skype video calling and remote computer access systems, Comeau plans to continue overseeing from afar the administration of the seven-person planning firm that provides services to more than two dozen Central Alberta municipalities.

Teal admits he’s not sure what to expect.

“I’m kind of curious as to how this is going to work out. We’re going to give it a shot though,” said Teal, Parkland’s director. “There is obviously a trade-off in terms of physical ongoing day-to-day, face-to-face interaction with other staff.”

The biggest plus is he doesn’t have to try to replace a staff person whose detailed knowledge of the operation makes her the kind of human databank that can’t be replaced easily, and certainly not quickly.

“It was just not a good time for the other alternative, to just kind of clean the slate and start fresh with someone else. It just doesn’t offer any transition whatsoever.”

Parkland has been spent the last year re-positioning itself after the City of Red Deer decided in 2010 to end a 15-year relationship with the firm and open its own planning department.

Teal isn’t treating the telecommuting effort as a short-term trial. “This is intended to be a long-term solution.”

To get ready for Comeau’s departure there are some transition issues to be worked out. Another staff person was hired for Red Deer to handle day-to-day paperwork and she and Comeau have already been working out how they will share the workload. Comeau will return for one week a year to undertake the annual audit.

Parkland was fortunate in its choice of servers when the possibility of telecommuting came up, said Teal. After the City of Red Deer contract ended, the firm had to find itself a new server. The one it invested in had more remote access capability and was specifically designed for small businesses.

Teal recently gave it a trial run while working out of the Town of Olds. By going through a secured website he was able to access all of the same files he could access when sitting at his desk.

“It’s kind of neat. It’s going to take some getting used to.”

There will be adjustments to make as all the wrinkles are shaken out and the best way to share duties among staff are determined.

“I’m kind of curious as to how the time zone difference is going to work out for us,” he said. New Brunswick is three hours ahead of Alberta.

“It quite literally in some ways extends the business day for that shared position.”

There are all sorts of possibilities using technology. For instance, Comeau could join in on the firm’s weekly by using Skype and a laptop if necessary.

For her part, Comeau is looking forward to her new role.

“I hope it works out well,” she said. “With my position primarily being on the computer all day, it was a good chance to try something new.”

She is moving to New Brunswick because a job opportunity opened up for her husband in the province, where the couple are originally from.

pcowley@bprda.wpengine.com