How working from home impacts business sustainability
The global pandemic has marked a major turning point into how businesses operate with attitudes towards working from home (WFH) being a key area of change. The latest statistics published in March 2021 reports a whopping 60% of UK workers have been WFH during the pandemic, with an estimated 26% planning to continue even after lockdown has ended. Such figures represent a hugely significant proportion of the workforce, and for many businesses, this will raise new challenges when it comes to managing sustainability goals.
Interestingly, although it may seem obvious that factors such as zero commute and reduced energy consumption in the office are huge benefits when it comes to protecting our environment, the impact of WFH on sustainability is often far more complex. What about the energy costs in heating each individual house rather than a single office building all day?
We’ve put together this handy-list on the key areas of sustainability impacted by WFH and discuss both the pros and the cons in the hope that a greater understanding will equip businesses, however big or small, with the knowledge needed to manage this new-era in a way that facilitates positive change.
Working from home: impact on business sustainability
Removing the commute of your workforce will of course help to reduce the harmful emissions created as a direct result of working for your business. For larger businesses with a bigger workforce, or those who travel further, the reduction in emissions will have a greater impact on the sustainability of your business. This is an important consideration, as a smaller workforce may find the reduction in emissions does not outweigh other sustainability factors such as the energy required to heat multiple houses in contrast to a smaller office building. More on this next!
Offices tend to be more of an open-plan layout than homes and so it makes sense to think that heating one or multiple office blocks can stack up huge energy bills and reduce the sustainability credentials of your business. That said, this issue is likely to be more complex than first meets the eye. Some researchers are suggesting that heating an office block actually requires less energy than multiple houses, as would be the case if all staff WFH and that there are seasonable factors at play too. In the winter, for example, you may use less energy heating a single office than multiple households, whereas in the summer, the overall reduction in energy consumption added to the lack of commute may make WFH the more sustainable option.
Carefully tracking the energy consumption and carbon emissions of your business under a variety of settings needn’t be a burden. Our expert team at Sustainit is ready and raring to help make the task of data-tracking a breeze.
The ability to host meetings virtually is an area of WFH that can account for a reduction in carbon emissions. This can play a particularly noticeable role in improving the sustainability of your business where flights might previously have been used to host meetings with clients from further afield or overseas.
With less of a need for large office spaces, your business may make huge savings on rent. Added to that are the savings to be made by reduced travel expenses if meetings can be held virtually. This can free up money to be spent on areas that maximise the sustainability of your business. You could invest more in your supply chain by sourcing local, which may be more costly at source but friendlier to the environment, for example.
In an office, it is often easier to communicate your sustainability goals on a regular basis. Recycling bins, posters and natural conversation allow you to maintain staff awareness. In contrast, WFH represents a new challenge in ensuring your workforce continues to be advocates of your mission. You may need to consider strategies to continue to engage with your business ethics – a weekly competition for a ‘recycling-from-home champion’ or a regular email update on your sustainability goals, which may include data that clearly communicates successes or areas of improvement are simple ideas that needn’t be costly or time-consuming.
There are undoubtedly huge benefits to be gained by WFH when it comes to the sustainability credentials of your business, particularly in the reduction in carbon emissions generated by travel. That said, understanding the elements at play in individual households is likely to be far more complex than in an office. Thankfully, a huge range of innovative software exists that has been specifically designed to track every element of your EHS and sustainability data, be it in an office or WFH. This real-time, visual data makes understanding the complexities of WFH a whole-lot easier.