Telework: A Way to Balance Work and Family or an Increase in Work-Family Conflict?

Diane-Gabrielle Tremblay (Université du Québec à Montréal)

Renaud Paquet (Université du Québec en Outaouais)

Elmustapha Najem (Université du Québec en Outaouais)

Abstract: Some see in telework a way to better balance professional and personal or family responsibilities. We analyzed the data on telework in the Workplace Employee Survey (WES) and found that only a small percentage of workers indicate that they telework because of family obligations, while for two thirds, it is because of employers' demands. Data is compared according to gender and number of children, and again this highlights the fact that work-family balance is not the main reason for working at home. The data show that it is employers' requirements that explain the majority of hours of work done at home.

Résumé: Certains voient dans le télétravail une façon de mieux concilier les responsabilités parentales et professionnelles. Nous présentons ici une analyse des données de l'Enquête sur le milieu de travail en évolution, et constatons plutôt que ce sont les exigences de l'employeur qui amènent les gens à travailler à la maison. Les données sont comparées selon le sexe, ainsi que le nombre d'enfants, et ceci permet de montrer que la conciliation emploi-famille n'est pas la principale raison pour travailler à domicile. Les données indiquent que ce sont les demandes des employeurs qui expliquent l'importance des heures de travail effectuées à domicile.


Work at home is a type of work organization that has increased over the last decades, largely due to the availability of new modes of information and communication technologies (ICTs). Telework or working from home is sometimes presented as a solution to urban congestion (Bangemann, 1994; Benchimol, 1994; Bussière, Lewis, & Thomas, 1999; Mortimer, 2002), sometimes simply as a new form of work that is accessible in the context of ICTs (Hafer, 1992; Huws, Werner, & Robinson, 1990; Olson, 1989; Pichault & Grosjean, 1998; Pratt, 1984; United States, 2004; Vandercammen, 1994), but also sometimes as a possible solution to work-family balancing problems or, on the contrary, as a problem in terms of work-life balance because of the blurring of boundaries between working and non-working time (Baines & Gelder, 2003; Duxbury & Higgins, 2003a, 2003b, 2005; Felstead & Jewson, 2000; Mirchandari, 2000; Tremblay, 2002).

Since there is a debate as to whether telework is indeed favourable to work-life or work-family balance, we wanted to see if Canadian data could give some indication on this. We therefore sought to determine whether telework or working from home had increased in Canada over recent years and whether this was in any way due to work-family balancing concerns. Before we analyze the data from the Workplace Employee Survey (WES) to answer our questions, we will first look at the definitions of telework and present a literature review of the research on the links between work-family balancing and telework. The WES provides data from 1999 to 2002 (the last available survey), the motives for working at home, the conditions for working at home, as well as the categories involved in this form of telework (gender, number of children, and professional category). Some research has been done on telework in Canada and in Québec, but none covers a representative Canadian sample of respondents as does the WES. Let us now turn to the definition of telework and working from home and then to some theoretical elements relating to telework.

Definition of telework and working from home

Telework and working from home can cover various realities. Some of them overlap; others do not (see CEFRIO, 2001; Tremblay 2001a, 2001b, 2005). Indeed, for some, telework covers working from home, which can be close to piecework, while for others, telework only refers to the modern forms of working at home, based on the use of ICTs. It is true that working from home is not a new phenomenon per se; what are new are the extended possibilities to work from home while having access to office databases and the like through ICTs. This more "modern" form of telework, using ICTs, has developed mainly from the 1990s on in many European countries and in North America (Tremblay, 2001a, 2001b).

Most studies distinguish between various forms of telework, of which working at home with ICTs is one form. Indeed for some researchers, especially European researchers, telework also includes work done in satellite offices or business centres away from the central employer organization, or even mobile work, that is, workers who are more often in a client's office than in their own. Some consider marketing and sales employees who are always on the road part of the phenomenon of telework. From this general point of view, we could distinguish three forms of telework: work at home, work done in clients' offices, and work in business centres or satellite offices. It is mainly the work from home type that has been put forward as a possible solution to work-family balancing difficulties (Baines & Gelder, 2003; Felstead & Jewson, 2000), and it is why we are more interested in this form than in the others.

The time dimension can also serve to differentiate the various types of teleworkers, since the number of days spent out of the office helps identify full-time home-workers and part-time or occasional home-workers, the latter only working a few hours or a few days a week from home.

Finally, let us add that some studies also include in telework people who work from a distance for one or many organizations, those who work in telecentres or telecottages, as well as mobile workers (Thomsin & Tremblay, 2006) who work in different settings (hotel, client's office, et cetera), and this can eventually include freelancers.

As can be seen, the definitions and modes of telework are quite varied. In our research (Tremblay, Chevrier, & Di Loreto, 2006), we limited ourselves to working from home - full-time or part-time - because this has been identified as the most promising avenue from the point of view of work-family balancing, and it is therefore interesting to analyze Canadian data to determine if this form of work has increased over recent years, how much telework is done, and whether it is for family motives.

While working from home has been identified as a possible work-family balancing measure, there has been no research to our knowledge that has determined whether this motive is actually the main reason for teleworkers to work from home. Before we go to the results of the WES, we will present some general data on the prevalence of telework in other countries, in order to set the stage for the Canadian data, and we will present a review of the literature on work-family balance and telework, which brought us to question the link between these two phenomena.

The importance of telework: A question of definition

The absence of a common definition for telework makes it difficult to quantify this phenomenon. Depending on the definition, telework can refer to various forms of work, as mentioned above, and this has an impact on the numbers reported by various surveys (Felstead & Jewson, 2000). Whatever the definition, however, it is surprising to note that official figures seem quite low - that is, between 2% and 7% of the labour force and 4% according to a previous survey that we did in Québec (CEFRIO, 2001; Tremblay 2001a, 2001b). However, individuals' interest in telework is much higher, since some 29% of respondents in the Québec survey indicated that they would be interested in teleworking and thought it was possible to do so in their specific job. Some European data has also indicated a strong interest in telework on the part of individuals, but also on the part of organizations, and it is therefore surprising to see that the actual data have not increased that much over the last decades (Table 1). In any case, one of the main problems is that there is no international survey of telework that is based on a given definition, so that data on different countries gives an indication, but generally includes varied forms of telework (salaried work done at home, self-employment at home, "on the road" or mobile work, and other forms being included or not included depending on the formulation of the questions in the various national surveys, and full-time or part-time work at home being inconsistently included).

Table 1: Percentage of teleworkers in various European countries and interest in telework on the part of individuals and organizations
Country % of teleworkers Individuals interested in teleworking Organizations interested in developing telework
Great Britain 7.4 43.5 34.4
France 7.0 49.8 39.3
Germany 4.8 40.5 40.4
Spain 3.6 54.6 29.6
Italy 2.2 45.4 41.8

Source: Benchimol (1994)

Some European data present rates of telework from 2% to 18% of the labour force (Felstead & Jewson, 2000); while surprisingly high, these data referred to individuals who spent at least half their working time at home. The highest rates were observed in Belgium and in Denmark, while the lowest were in Southern Europe.

The Institute for Employment Studies (2001) indicates that the European countries where telework is highly developed are divided into two large groups. On the one hand are countries where technologies are very advanced and where the Internet is used frequently for "e-work"; on the other hand are countries in Southern, Central, and Eastern Europe where there is a high level of subcontracting. In the latter case, those considered teleworkers are primarily freelancers. While freelancers are not frequently considered to be teleworkers in North America, previous data from Québec and Canada with a limited definition of telework1 indicated freelancers rates varying from 4% to 8% (Tremblay, 2001b, 2003b). Considering the expectations and interest in telework, we were happy to find that the WES had asked some questions on this issue, and we obtained access to the data in order to pursue this line of investigation.

Literature review on telework and work-family balancing

While some research indicates that telework can be an option for work-family balancing (Baines & Gelder, 2003; CEFRIO, 2001; Duxbury & Higgins, 2003a, 2003b; Tremblay, 2002), some authors also indicate that there are also risks of a stronger work-family conflict (Felstead & Jewson, 2000; Taskin & Vendramin, 2005). Indeed, research (mostly of a qualitative nature or conducted on small samples) mainly indicates that the majority of teleworkers consider that this form of work gives them more time to be with their families in the morning and evening, to be available for family obligations, and to be able to prepare children for school or daycare in the morning and greet them when they return (even if some teleworkers will continue working afterward). Flexibility of hours of work is appreciated by many as a positive contribution to work-family balancing (CEFRIO, 2001; Tremblay, 2003a), and many indicate that they can integrate some domestic tasks in the workday, thus freeing time in the evening or weekend (CEFRIO, 2001). This is also said of self-employed persons working from home, who are to a certain extent in a comparable situation; in a recent survey on self-employment at home (Royal Bank, 2005), it was indicated that women often opted for working at home because of the flexibility in working hours and the possibility to take care of family responsibilities, while men would choose self-employment at home for different reasons. While flexibility in working hours and work-life balance is often reported as one of the main factors of interest for self-employment from home, the picture needs to be nuanced, since there are also unwanted intrusions and blurring of boundaries between work and the rest of life (Boden, 1999a, 1999b; Tremblay, Paquet, & Najem, 2006a, 2006b).

Christensen (1987) indicates that telework can create a work-family conflict because of the presence of work material in the house and because family members can interfere with work. A survey done in three North American companies revealed that workers who still have children at home (the "full nest" stage, as it is referred to by the author, Al-Bcherrawy, 1997) are the least satisfied with working at home. Menzies (1997) and Gurstein (2001) also present a more negative view of working at home. Menzies' work highlights the fact that work is returning to the home and thus sometimes becoming partly hidden, or "shadow" work, and Gurstein's work indicates that there are blurred boundaries that lead to tensions in trying to combine work and domestic activities in the same setting. Duxbury & Higgins (2003a) also indicate that Canadian provinces offer different working environments that are more (Québec) or less (Ontario) favourable to work-life balance, but it was not possible to analyze all the data on a provincial basis with the WES. Duxbury & Higgins (2003b) also indicate that work-to-family interference increases when role demands conflict and that women are more likely than men to suffer from role overload. On the basis of qualitative research in a large Canadian telecommunications company, Dimitrova (2002) indicates that one of the most important changes with telework is the important temporal and spatial flexibility, but the author observes that the gains noted were not dramatic and that they were often countered by longer working hours. Other research (Felstead & Jewson, 2000; Tremblay, 2003b) reports that there are minor adjustments at the beginning, but that teleworkers manage to separate work and family life quite well over time. This is all the more the case when teleworkers have a closed room from which to work (Felstead & Jewson, 2000).

Let us finally mention a few negative aspects reported by research on teleworkers that can also influence work-life balance: the absence of colleagues comes first among the negative aspects, especially for those working full-time from home, followed by isolation or difficulty limiting one's working hours (CEFRIO, 2001). Al-Bcherrawy (1997) indicates that the feeling of isolation increases with age. Concerning technologies and equipment, there has been little research on this question; one qualitative study indicates that some teleworkers consider the computer systems and equipment offered to teleworkers to be of lower quality than that offered in the office, mentioning slow Internet and phone connections (CEFRIO, 2001), and that this can increase the feeling of isolation of teleworkers.

The impact of telework on work-life balance is thus quite unclear on the basis of past research, which is often qualitative or based on limited samples. While mainly interested in clarifying the debate as to whether telework facilitates work-life or work-family balance and whether it is chosen for that reason by employees, we were also interested in the conditions of telework, since these have an impact on the perception of the situation of telework and the possibility that telework may become a more common option. The WES offers us answers to these questions with a representative sample of Canadian workers.

Methodology and source of data

To answer the questions put forward above concerning the extent of telework for work-family motives, we asked to have access to the Statistics Canada Workplace Employment Survey, which researchers can access by presenting a research program to Statistics Canada. For the present article and research, we integrated two databases, that is, one comprising data collected from employers and the other, data collected from employees. The WES covers a representative sample of the Canadian labour market but excludes the federal, provincial, and municipal public services. The data were collected for over 6,000 firms and some 23,000 workers of these firms (Statistics Canada, 2004). The databases are constructed in such a way as to permit integration of the databases in order to collect data on a given employee and his or her employer. Our data analysis was based on the integrated database.2

For this article, we use the weighted results, which give a representative picture of the Canadian labour market, excluding public services. The data used are those of the 1999 and 2002 versions of the WES. This may seem a short-term analysis, but the WES was started in 1999 and the 2002 data are the most recent available to us.3


Is telework actually used in a work-family perspective or not, and are women or workers with children more inclined to telework? This is the main question we want to address with the WES data. We will also determine whether the age categories usually considered to be under more work-family constraints (35-44 according to research; see Guérin, St-Onge, Chevalier, Denault, & Deschamps, 1997; Tremblay, 2004) do more telework.

Table 2 first highlights the fact that telework at home has not progressed in the women's group from 1999 to 2002, although a quarter of all women respondents in the WES do some of their work at home during the week. The percentage for men increased slightly from 1999 to 2002. We also note that about one third of these hours done at home are paid (the percentage on the third line is thus a percentage of the first line) and that the percentage of hours at home that is paid has increased from 1999 to 2002. This indicates that telework is becoming a more recognized mode of work, since its share in paid hours has increased from 1999 to 2002, but it also indicates that a significant amount of unpaid work is still done by teleworkers.

The data indicate clearly that it is the employer or the requirements of the job, and not the employee's personal wishes, that bring one to work at home. Table 2 is very clear as concerns the motives for teleworking at home: in two thirds of the cases, it is the requirements of the job that bring people to work at home, while family obligations represent a small percentage in the motives for telework (4.71% for women and 6.75% for men). It is surprising to note that in 2002, the percentage is higher for men than for women. This requires some comments. On the one hand, we have to note that women have an average work-week of six hours less than men (33.8 hours a week for women versus 39.5 hours for men); considering this, women are already more present at home, particularly those working part-time, which contributes to lower weekly hours, and this might explain why there is a higher percentage of men who work at home. On the other hand, it is interesting to note that the average weekly hours of work at home are quite similar for men and women (respectively 6.14 and 6.13 hours per week in 2002). The other reasons for working at home are to gain time, to spend less money, or to have better working conditions.

Table 2: Telework at home and reasons for working at home, by gender, 1999-2002
Women, 1999 Men, 1999 Women, 2002 Men, 2002
Telework at home 24.66% 28.97% 24.49% 26.70%
Number of hours at home weekly 5.34 5.80 6.14 6.13
Paid weekly hours at home (% of telework at home) 31.96% 29.90% 36.25% 32.99%
Reasons for working at home:
- employer or work requirements 66.80% 64.6% 65.31% 62.29%
- family obligations* 6.08% 2.28% 4.71% 6.75%
- other reasons** 27.12% 33.07% 29.97% 30.95%

*These family obligations include caring for children or other members of the family, as well as other personal or family obligations.

**The other reasons include the search for better working conditions, the desire to gain time, and the desire to spend less money on travel and the like.

Table 3: Telework at home and reasons for working at home, by age, 1999-2002, %
< 24 yrs 25-34 yrs 35-44 yrs 45-54 yrs
Telework at home 8.83 26.91 30.48 28.24
Paid weekly hours at home (% of telework at home) 33.85 28.24 34.82 29.71
Reasons for working at home:
- employer or work requirements 63.83 66.05 65.66 66.35
- family obligations* N/D N/D N/D N/D
- other reasons** 30.41 27.28 29.85 31.11
Telework at home 9.16 22.03 29.12 29.76
Paid weekly hours at home (% of telework at home) 33.61 33.20 39.17 26.94
Reasons for working at home:
- employer or work requirements 45.31 65.51 72.07 56.55
- family obligations * N/D N/D N/D N/D
- other reasons** 54.16 26.97 22.06 36.79

*These family obligations include caring for children or other members of the family, as well as other personal or family obligations.

**The other reasons include the search for better working conditions, the desire to gain time, and the desire to spend less money on travel and the like.

Table 3 shows that workers aged 35-44 as well as those aged 45-54 are somewhat more concerned by telework, but it is still mainly for reasons related to employer or work obligations that these groups work at home. In this table, some numbers were too low to be presented, according to Statistics Canada rules; the data are therefore not distributed ("N/D").

If work-family balance was a main motive for teleworking, we would expect the percentage of teleworkers to increase with the number of children. Table 4 shows that there is a clear link between the number of children and the frequency of telework, especially in 2002, where the percentage increases with the number of children. Reasons related to work still dominate, but workers with children present clearly higher levels of telework for family reasons, and the relationship between number of children and telework is especially visible in 2002. This might indicate a trend for the future, something we will try to follow up on in the coming years.

Table 4: Telework at home according to number of children, 1999-2002, %
No child (0) 1 child 2 children 3+ children
Telework at home 23.35 26.76 33.56 29.77
Paid weekly hours at home (% of telework at home) 26.85 36.16 35.99 27.01
Reasons for working at home:
- employer or work requirements 63.76 69.50 67.22 64.20
- family obligations* 2.43 5.79 5.79 4.47
- other reasons** 33.81 24.71 27.00 31.33
2002 No child (0) 1 child 2 children 3+ children
Telework at home 21.72 26.20 30.61 33.64
Paid weekly hours at home (% of telework at home) 35.15 31.43 31.47 44.35
Reasons for working at home:
- employer or work requirements 63.34 53.34 67.50 71.62
- family obligations* 0.71 14.93 8.48 4.70
- other reasons** 35.94 31.74 24.01 23.67

*These family obligations include caring for children or other members of the family, as well as other personal or family obligations.

**The other reasons include the search for better working conditions, the desire to gain time, and the desire to spend less money on travel and the like.

Telework has sometimes been considered inappropriate for some categories of workers, especially office workers, which may be problematic for work-family balancing in this primarily feminine group. Table 5 indicates which categories of workers can actually telework: managers (of all levels) and professionals (university graduates doing various forms of work, such as IT, accounting, business services, consultants of all types, et cetera) are proportionately more numerous among teleworkers than other groups, while office workers, a majority of whom are female, do not have easy access to telework. It is interesting to note that the categories of marketing/sales and production workers have little access to telework, but when they do work at home, it is more often for family reasons, in comparison with other groups.

Let us also note that percentages have decreased in many categories from 1999 to 2002, which would contradict the thesis according to which telework would increase constantly with the diffusion of Internet, "wi-fi" connections, and the like (Institute for Employment Studies, 2001).

Table 5: Telework at home according to professional category, 1999-2002 , %
Management (1) Professional (2) Technical (3) Marketing/ Sales (4) Office (5) Production (6)
Telework at home 56.39 49.18 18.01 9.06 15.74 3.91
Paid weekly hours at home (% of telework at home) 26.25 29.75 35.74 23.43 41.61 25.17
Reasons for working at home:
- employer or work requirements 64.09 68.15 64.05 70.36 65.06 77.11
- family obligations* N/D N/D N/D N/D N/D N/D
- other reasons** 32.61 27.38 32.28 28.93 26.04 22.48
Telework at home 54.71 48.13 16.87 10.88 15.89 1.95
Paid weekly hours at home (% of telework at home) 30.91 32.86 36.41 33.26 47.40 37.15
Reasons for working at home:
- employer or work requirements 59.37 67.75 63.39 41.99 70.19 75.57
- family obligations* 5.37 7.95 3.70 6.54 4.07 8.94
- other reasons** 35.26 24.30 32.90 51.47 25.74 15.48

*These family obligations include caring for children or other members of the family, as well as other personal or family obligations.

**The other reasons include the search for better working conditions, the desire to gain time, and the desire to spend less money on travel and the like.

Research on telework has often highlighted the importance of technological developments (Internet, cellular telephones, "wi-fi" access, et cetera) (Bangemann, 1994; Benchimol, 1994), and theories of segmentation of the labour market pose the hypothesis of differentiated access of men and women to these technologies (Tremblay, 2003b; Tremblay & De Sève, 1996, 2003). Table 6 shows that the differentiated access of men and women to technologies offered by their employer for telework is a reality, and the discrepancies have even increased from 1999 to 2002. In 2002, employers more frequently equipped men with a computer at home, Internet access, a modem or a fax machine, or a cellular phone. Conversely, as concerns reimbursement of costs for working at home, a higher percentage of women are benefiting from this advantage. This may be due to the fact that women more often work full-time at home than men, according to other sources (CEFRIO, 2001; Tremblay, 2001b).

Table 6: Equipment supplied by the employer for working at home, by gender, 1999-2002, %
Women, 1999 Men, 1999 Women, 2002
Computer 60.20 59.27 64.14
Internet access 33.03 38.11 33.40
Modem or fax 32.03 38.16 33.45
Cellular phone 31.89 48.55 31.26
Other 23.72 16.23 30.66
Reimbursement of employee's costs 40.31 36.82 47.44

As studies on smaller groups have indicated important differences in access to such technologies according to age (CEFRIO, 2001; Tremblay, 2001b), we analyzed the WES data by age. Table 7 shows an increase in the percentage of workers who have a computer supplied by their employer in all age groups from 1999 to 2002. Internet access has also increased importantly in all age groups except in the 35-44 age group, where it has stayed stable (see Table 7). As for modems, faxes, and cellular phones, the level of equipment supplied by the employer has generally increased, but it has decreased in a few groups. The reimbursement of costs for telework has also increased importantly, especially in younger groups (see Table 7), probably because more of them work full-time from home, as has previously been shown for workers in the multimedia, IT, and similar sectors (CEFRIO, 2001; Tremblay, 2001b).

Table 7: Equipment supplied by the employer for working at home, by age, 1999-2002, %
< 24 yrs 25-34 yrs 35-44 yrs 45-54 yrs 55+ yrs
Computer 40.82 65.06 55.11 61.93 63.81
Internet access 32.66 36.50 34.15 36.71 40.37
Modem or fax 25.07 36.19 34.67 35.19 41.13
Cellular phone 27.88 37.65 46.71 43.03 26.03
Other 30.59 19.43 21.76 13.54 24.63
Reimbursement of employee's costs 41.12 36.03 38.74 40.86 34.29
Computer 44.92 70.04 69.00 77.43 66.62
Internet access 28.82 45.21 34.02 43.05 51.37
Modem or fax 18.82 30.24 32.44 45.72 53.26
Cellular phone 35.13 34.25 43.75 55.04 45.45
Other 24.89 21.28 33.27 24.91 35.41
Reimbursement of employee's costs 66.69 47.31 45.58 47.45 39.17

Again following up on our interest in telework as an advantage for work-family balancing, we wanted to verify whether there was a link between the number of children and equipment offered by employers, since the absence of equipment (a computer, for example) may hinder the possibilities for telework. This variable apparently has no impact on the level of equipment offered by the employer (Table 8).

Table 8: Equipment supplied by the employer for working at home, by number of children, 1999-2002, %
No child (0) 1 child 2 children 3+ children
Computer 61.91 54.43 58.20 62.67
Internet access 33.79 37.27 38.03 36.38
Modem or fax 35.54 34.69 34.89 37.86
Cellular phone 36.36 43.91 45.59 44.95
Other 16.65 25.76 18.64 22.76
Reimbursement of employee's costs 36.23 39.85 43.81 30.70
Computer 74.71 72.46 73.16 48.03
Internet access 42.59 47.19 39.27 24.87
Modem or fax 42.54 35.67 37.31 20.77
Cellular phone 46.07 48.25 46.15 35.26
Other 26.64 15.87 29.48 47.73
Reimbursement of employee's costs 48.54 52.19 45.15 37.07

If the number of children has no apparent impact on the level of equipment, the professional category seems to play a determining role, since managers and professionals are best equipped by their employer (see Table 9). Marketing and sales employees and production workers are less equipped by their employer, and indeed, fewer of them telework.

Table 9: Equipment supplied by the employer for working at home, by professional category, 1999-2002, %
Management (1) Professional (2) Technical (3) Marketing/ Sales (4) Office (5) Production (6)
Computer 65.08 69.49 45.90 35.14 57.68 38.95
Internet access N/D N/D N/D N/D N/D N/D
Modem or fax 43.50 36.86 26.45 2.75 34.54 7.57
Cellular phone 44.67 36.56 47.96 8.47 29.26 29.00
Other 15.39 11.10 28.51 43.28 25.79 54.08
Reimbursement of employee's costs 42.87 40.02 35.61 24.31 25.86 24.91
Computer N/D N/D N/D N/D N/D
Internet access 47.54 42.05 33.46 41.71 25.68 0.00
Modem or fax 51.25 31.32 30.97 30.95 27.45 0.00
Cellular phone N/D N/D N/D N/D N/D N/D
Other N/D N/D N/D N/D N/D N/D
Reimbursement of employee's costs N/D N/D N/D N/D N/D N/D

Finally, the Anglophone world is sometimes considered more open to new forms of work such as telework than the Francophone or Latin world (CEFRIO, 2001; Institute for Employment Studies, 2001), and for this reason it appeared interesting to look at some of the data by comparing Québec with the rest of Canada (Table 10). We do observe that telework is more frequent in the rest of Canada, but it is less frequently paid than in Québec. This might indicate that Canadians do more unpaid overtime hours at home, while Quebeckers would more often work paid hours - possibly regular working hours done at home. However, the global percentage of persons doing unpaid work at home is important (56% in Québec and 67% in Canada), and this is surely troubling - from the point of view of work-life balance.

As concerns reasons for working at home, family obligations are not much more important in Canada than in Québec, while other reasons (reduction of costs, less loss of time) are more important in Québec (see Table 10). In any case, it is always work obligations that come first in explaining why some people do some work at home, though somewhat more in Canada than in Québec (65 % versus 54%). This may be due to the fact that Québec has better daycare support than the rest of Canada (Tremblay, 2004), but it is impossible for us to confirm on the basis of this data.

Table 10: Telework in Québec and in the rest of Canada (ROC), %
Variables Québec Rest of Canada
Work at home 19.27 27.51
Paid 43.46 32.66
Work obligations 54.74 65.67
Family obligations 5.02 5.93
Other reasons 40.24 28.40


The data from the WES makes it possible to contribute to the debate on the impact of telework on work-life balance with representative Canadian data. Some research had previously been done in Canada and Québec, but none presented a representative picture of the Canadian labour market on this issue, which prompted us to work with the WES data.

One of the most interesting findings is that, contrary to what many publications indicate, it is not mainly for work-family balancing reasons that people work at home, but because of work obligations themselves. The presence of children is clearly related to the frequency of telework, however; while there was a slightly lower percentage of parents of three or more children teleworking in 1999, the relationship is clear in 2002, which may indicate a trend for the future. However, employer or work requirements still dominate, and people sometimes turn to telework at home in order to gain time and spend less money.

Work obligations lead people to work an important number of hours at home, on average six hours a week for men as well as for women; this is almost a full supplementary day's work. We also noted that managers and professionals benefit from equipment supplied by their employer more frequently than women and other categories, and they are therefore more often in a position to telework.

Another interesting - and troubling - finding is that telework at home is often unpaid. This means that it adds on to regular working hours, which would tend to increase work-family conflict rather than decrease it - although it must be recognized that telework can reduce time spent in travel and increase flexibility of schedules, which may favour a better work-family balance (Tremblay, 2001b, 2002). Nevertheless, this increase in hours of work at home is surely troubling, since it represents close to one day per week for both men and women (6.13 and 6.14 hours, respectively) and can possibly interfere with family activities.

Finally, if we consider that the Anglophone world is sometimes considered more open to telework than the Latin or Francophone world, as some previous research has suggested, the WES data does show that telework at home is clearly more frequent in the rest of Canada than in Québec (27% versus 19%). The percentage of these people doing unpaid telework is high, although a little lower in Québec (56% of those doing telework in Québec and 67% of those in Canada). The motive of family obligations is no more a reason to telework at home in the rest of Canada than in Québec; it is work obligations that dominate explanations for working at home, although they dominate more in Canada than in Québec.

Thus, if one of the advantages of telework is the possibility to reconcile professional activities and family obligations (child and elderly care; see Tremblay, Paquet, & Najem, 2006, for support offered by employers on these two issues), Canadian data indicate that this is not the main reason why Canadians and Quebeckers work from home. Previous studies on telework had indicated that the reduction in transportation time and flexibility of hours could facilitate work-family balancing (CEFRIO, 2001), but representative Canadian data indicate this is not the dominant motive for telework from home.


  1. In our previous research with CEFRIO, we defined telework as work done from home using some form of ICT, which is a somewhat limited definition. This gave a percentage of 4% for Québec. Statistics Canada had at one point given a percentage of 8%. The new data from the WES survey has a more general question on working from home, which thus gives a higher percentage of persons working at home at times, as we will see further on. On the more recent European situation of telework, including the European policy on telework, see the latest issue of the journal Interventions économiques, on telework and mobile work ( economiques).

  2. Let us mention that SAS was used to pair the two databases (employer and employees), for recoding information, and for construction of variables, as well as for the univariate and bivariate statistical analyses. We looked over the data to ensure that restrictions imposed by Statistics Canada were respected, mainly the confidentiality issue with tables including cells with five or fewer cases. Let us finally add that we do not present coefficients and significance levels, since once the number of respondents is weighted, the sample represents some 11 million respondents, making all deviations statistically significant.

  3. Data from 2003 should be made available to researchers late in 2006, and those of 2004 in 2007 or so.


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