And how do hybrid work arrangements impact the environment?
Both of these questions are valid, today more than ever. Since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, the world has seen a steep increase in hybrid and remote work arrangements – even from companies that seem otherwise unwilling to make such a drastic change!
At WaySeven, we’ve been practicing a flexible work arrangement since the day we were founded. Remote work has always been an option, but the pandemic made it more of a necessity. Suddenly, the office was a space reserved form only the most necessary in-person meetings. The only employees that still regularly came in were those with inadequate work-from home conditions (like multiple toddlers or worse).
Now that the situation is on its way to levelling out, we’re feeling more comfortable turning our working mode from a strictly-remote setting to a more hybrid, flexible combination. We’re not the only ones – according to studies, roughly 20%-40% of jobs could be done remotely, which is why companies like Microsoft, Google and Spotify are embracing the hybrid method as well.
As this seems to be a more permanent change than the panic-induced remote-work of 2019, a question of sustainability has to pop up.
When we say sustainability, we’re not just talking about the individual business and the needs of the employees (although that is a subject that needs to be explored). Sustainability in hybrid work includes wider-reaching effects, like the ecological impact of our ecosystem and on the planet as a whole.
We saw something amazing during the first few months of the global shut-down in 2019: the dolphins coming back to the canals of Venice, the Himalayas visible in the sky of Jalandhar... Amazing examples of what reduced emissions can do, with just a nudge in the right direction.
Of course, not everything is cut-and-dry. Simply switching locations where people work isn’t enough to make a positive impact – especially if, like some organizations, you require your employees to still print, sign and scan every individual document.
Carbon footprint or carbon copy?
There are, however, instances when hybrid or remote work really does make a significant difference. Here’s a couple examples:
1) Working from home means you reduce commute emissions.
Nobody can negate this fact. An astonishing percentage of the work force world-wide goes to their designated work location via motor vehicle. Most don’t make the effort to carpool or seek alternative methods of transportation, and electric cars are still far out of the price range of regular employees to even be considered viable alternatives.
When you consider the fact that an average commute in the USA is around 27 minutes in a single direction, it becomes more obvious that reducing this number, even by a little, could still be a great way of making a big environmental difference. And hey, it can also mean less money spent on gas for those that are more interested in the financial aspect of the change.
2) Large-scale food production requirements drop, and also decrease the need for single-use materials like plastic food containers if you’re eating in.
When working away from home, we tend to take our meals in a less sustainable way. Not only do we turn to ready-made options (like take-out, restaurants or pre-packaged meals at the supermarket), but we also tend to be more wasteful. It’s rare to see somebody save a left-over sandwich piece for later, right?
When working from home, people tend to cook more. Not only that, but leftovers are actually used up, meal planning becomes more standard, and food waste is significantly reduced.
Another amazing side-effect is that we are no longer reliant on single use cutlery and containers. This is a big deal – not all food containers are recyclable or bio-degradable, so their absence from the landfills can only be a good thing.
As a financial upside, making your own meals can help your finances directly (ingredients cost less than the ready-made meal), and indirectly – because the health benefits of a more balanced diet are a future medical bill avoided!
Despite these obvious upsides to remote and hybrid work methods, we can’t guarantee a definite change. Not all companies are equipped to give fair remote-work opportunities, and not every job can be done off-site. In some cases, like when employees have to equip their own home office with new equipment rather than lending it from the organization itself, remote work actually makes twice the impact. Additionally, non-digitized businesses that still subsist on hard-copies and in-person meetings will actually have a negative impact on the environment – like asking both employee and client to go to a secondary location for a meeting.
However, a digitized business with a mindset that values work-life balance and a positive impact on the environment will find a lot more value in a hybrid system, especially when it comes to employee satisfaction. The day-to-day stress of picking the kids up from school or commuting during rush hour is reduced (or even removed entirely), which leaves both management and employees free to focus on the pressing matters of being happy and making the world a better place.
All things in moderation. Source:Medium
So, to sum up, companies whose approach to either flexible or fully remote work methods doesn’t have the right basis are fighting an uphill battle. No number of emails or mandatory online meetings can make a business ready to go hybrid when it’s not, and this is an issue many organizations fail to recognize in time.
For those of us who are able to sustain a hybrid work model, there’s only a question of the more cultural challenges involved – but that’s a subject for a different blog.