As we start to emerge from the pandemic, it’s clear that the way we work will never be the same again. Despite some high-profile stories of businesses demanding that their people return to the office, most employees will have more flexibility over where and how they work as we move into the post-pandemic future.
This is great news for anyone that hates commuting and for those who have found home to be a surprisingly good place to work (recent surveys have shown that a vast majority of people have enjoyed working from home and that they intend to keep doing it. It is also great news for businesses who can use the crisis to embrace a new future for work and introduce creative hybrid working that benefits their people and that saves money.
But even more significantly, this shift to hybrid working could be very good news for the environment if the potential reduction in emissions from commuting, business travel, and office energy are realised.
But let’s now look at four primary ways that a shift to hybrid working is likely to impact the environment. While hybrid working alone may not be a silver bullet for our environmental problems, it can, in conjunction with a host of other measures, be an extremely powerful weapon in our fight against climate change.
- Office Construction and Maintenance
Constructing and running office buildings is one of the biggest sources of greenhouse gases on the planet. Hybrid working, when implemented properly, will allow organizations to significantly reduce their office space requirements. This will mean, firstly, that they are able to reduce emissions associated with the daily running and maintenance of their existing office spaces, and it will also likely mean that the demand for new office buildings – and with it, the construction of new office buildings – will fall too.
Transport is also a big emitter of CO2, in particular plane and car travel. The end of the rush hour commute will reduce emissions, but there is still a need to support a shift to electric cars and to make sure that when we travel to the office, it is by the most renewable means possible.
- Business Travel
Regular travel for business dropped significantly during the pandemic, and businesses are taking a good look at what is really important before taking to the sky again. Fewer flights will have a reduce carbon emissions. There will still be a need for some face-to-face business meetings, but the greater focus will now be on getting the most value from them as they will be rarer in the future.
Homeworking may not suit everyone, but it’s here to stay. Subsequently, this will impact domestic heating and power consumption, and domestic energy bills are almost certain to rise as a result.
There is a risk that by transitioning to wide-scale homeworking, corporate emissions will plummet while domestic emissions soar. Organizations should therefore think about how they can help their staff select the right energy provider and better insulate their homes. They might also want to consider letting employees claim expenses so that working from home is not a burden.
Sadly, none of the environmental benefits discussed above are guaranteed. Car journeys have returned to pre-pandemic levels in many places[vii], home energy use is on the increase, and there’s little evidence of a reduction in emissions from office construction. But what the past 18 months have shown us is that we can shape the future to meet our needs at home and at work.
Individuals and businesses say that sustainability is very important to them, but few organizations reward their employees for keeping their emissions down. If businesses tracked carbon emissions with as much care as they track expenses, it might be possible to set personal, team, and departmental carbon budgets and make a big step forward to becoming carbon neutral and environmentally friendly.
It’s critical that we keep making progress and that we don’t return to the old ways. Recent events, including extreme weather, fuel and food shortages, and the ongoing pandemic will not go away. We need to work smart to overcome them.
But if, as we progress, we put sustainability at the core of everything we do, then there is real hope.