Sometimes it has to get really bad before it gets good!

Festering. That’s what this idea has been doing. Festering. And it’s been festering most in John Cameron as his body in his car ached its way up and down Highway 400 for several years. A telecommunications technology worker, John and his wife chose Barrie for family life. The choice for Barrie was a ‘down’ choice for John as he added three to four hours to his workday to commute to Mississauga, downtown Toronto, and Etobicoke.

As well as the time, let’s look at the costs to Commuter John. Each year John spent 700 hours in his car. And the car, a compact Cavalier cost $14,000 after tax dollars to operate, including gas, insurance etc. Parking is extra. And then there are the 10 tonnes of CO2 emitted into the air by his vehicle each year. And add to that the stress of nearly missing the 12-car pileup and worrying all day about the brewing snow storm outside the office window. Was John an ideal employee? Was his mind on his work? Was he loyal?

Then there’s the pressure on the kids when a broken shoelace can mean a parent’s one hour delay in getting to work due to the delicacy of traffic patterns. And the unreliable pickup times. The missed school concerts. The not really knowing the community his family was living in. No time for volunteer work. Was John an idea father? Was his mind on his kids?

Studies show that commuters are very stressed individuals. White knuckling it down the crazy three and four lane 400, racing across 407 or 404, hoping you get home before the sitter has to go out, worrying that your child with the fever this morning got through school all day… for working parents, the commute is doubly stressful.

Now, there’s a difference between John and thousands of other commuters who ply the pavement. As the hours disappeared under the rubber, John festered. There has to be a better way.

And there is. It’s going up right now. Suiteworks (the office solution that lets commuters work in offices minutes from home) is the answer for at least 20% of 32,000 commuters on Highway 400 each day. Suites, connected to company servers, full technology support, boardrooms for meeting, technology for video conferencing, full office admin support… John Cameron and George Horhota have been raising investment money locally and from companies in the Greater Toronto Area to build the country’s first remote connected offices.

John put together his business plan, hired architect Gerry Pilon, lawyer George Cameron, accountant Allan Priest and developed financial stakeholders to make it happen. With a diverse base of investors, Suiteworks dug the hole to build its first location. Visionary. And quick to catch on. John says the 120 work stations will be filled quickly for daytime hours, and he envisions the building will offer shift work opportunities.

John looks ahead to the next five years when 80 million baby boomers will seek more flexible work terms as they head for retirement. And he points out that the ‘echo’ generation, today’s young work energy, is more demanding… they want mobility, they’re technologically capable of remote work, they’re lured to Barrie by the cost of living and life quality and they want balance in their lives.

Lots of people don’t need to commute to work, but they have houses full of young children and dogs, and often don’t have the space or the technology to work from home. Satellite offices which are fully equipped boast a number of benefits: higher powered employees, cheaper real estate cost for the employer in the GTA, environmental improvement, and ultimately lower medical costs.

With traditional work space paid for 100% but used only 40% of the time, downtown Toronto real estate is a company expense that could be reduced by remote work stations. John says as they were designing Suiteworks, they considered the needs of every worker AND their employers… terrific tech support and bandwidth reliability, guarantee of corporate data security, insurance, health and safety coverage, admin support, available daycare.

The project encourages companies to challenge their management styles, their corporate cultures and give remote working its best possible chance. When a company has invested heavily in training an executive, it’s costly to replace them when the commute becomes too much. Banks, technology companies, small businesses… all will benefit from remote work stations. And so will the harried commuter.

The benefits are huge: increased productivity, reduced absenteeism, higher employee retention, less environmental impact, less personal cost for transportation, more balanced family life, lower real estate costs for corporations.

Suiteworks will offer 22,000 square feet of space when the doors open at the corner of Hunter and Caplan streets in Barrie’s south end. With state of the art technology, workspace is available in a variety of configurations, for full or partial hours. Full network connections and backups and stay in touch conferencing which includes en electronic white board, audio, web and video conference and desktop video, secure work stations are just some of the features.

Pricing is flexible, by month, by use, by partial week, by day, by shift… and prices range from $400 for a hotelling (part time) workstation to $1740 monthly for an outside private window office, around $25 a square foot for just the space. The pricing includes real estate and service. John reports ‘lease’ arrangements with several clients… including Nortel, Mailboxes Etc., Weber Shandwick, and small businesses such as Diane Mackey & Associates, Executive Assistants, Convergence.

Included in all that is furniture, computer, telephone, local service, high speed, voice mail, caller ID, unlimited long distance, teleconferencing. Additional supports like reception, business centre services, refreshments and security are all included.

John’s right. This idea has been festering for a long time. Thanks to the local investors who respect the vision and want to support it. And thanks to John and George for marshalling their energies in this direction. No doubt this will be the first, the model for other communities. With official opening in early February, John’s optimistic that Suiteworks will be occupied 100% of the time., 725-1254.