Coronavirus has had many knock-on effects that have caused people to change the way in which they live their lives. From social distancing measures to ensuring that our hands are clean at all times and wearing protective masks, we have all had to do our part. Perhaps one of the most notable changes for a lot of people was going from working within an office to working from home.
The spread of remote working is changing how the workspace operates all around the world. Recent trends are showing that working from home is rapidly on the rise. It seems that almost accidently, companies globally have stumbled across a new way to work, but is it a better way to work?
This piece will explore the advantages and disadvantages of working from home vs returning to work in the office post Covid-19, as well as the impact it has on the environment.
First and foremost, from an environmental perspective, it would seem that on the face of it remote working should have a positive impact on the world and could lead to a more sustainable future. This is for a variety of reasons.
Working from home would remove the need to commute to work, and therefore, in turn, reduce the toxic pollutants that are usually released as a result. Furthermore, aside from gas emissions released into the air, there would be a reduction in the fuel that is initially consumed by vehicles in the first place. Despite recent efforts to convert to electric vehicles, most people still have petrol and diesel cars.
Another benefit could be a reduction in office waste. Within the office, employees use resources such as paper and plastic on a daily basis. By encouraging remote working, the responsibility to deal with the cost and disposal of such physical supplies is then passed on to the employee. Typically, workers may then prefer to operate digitally, therefore creating less waste.
As well as a reduction in office waste, remote working could cause a reduction in energy usage. With employers having to ensure that their workers are comfortable within their workspace, maintaining a preferable temperature can come with a high cost. In contrast, remote workers would have complete control over their energy usage and the costs that come with it. Therefore, it could be argued that employees would want to keep their costs low and therefore use less energy.
It may seem instinctive to assume that the arguments above collectively supporting remote working as an alternative to office work, would contribute to a more sustainable environment worldwide. However, research has shown that this may only be the case during summer, especially in the UK. During winter, the need for individual workers to heat their own homes caused a higher impact on the environment than that of a single office, so much so that even with workers’ daily commutes added in, office buildings still had a lower impact. Conversely, during summer, working from home is far more sustainable because there a lot less energy consumed.
It is worth noting that this pattern may not be the case in other areas of the world. For example, as mentioned earlier, a lot of countries globally are still heavily dependent on vehicles that require petrol or diesel. However, in countries like Norway a high proportion of vehicles sold are electric and therefore, in contrast, the impact of their commutes on the environment is much lower. Another variable that could cause a different pattern to that of findings in the UK is air conditioning. Air conditioning is used frequently throughout the world in countries with hotter temperatures. It generally consumes more energy than heating, and therefore has a higher impact on the environment per individual worker. With that being said, it may not be as sustainable to work from home in both the summer and the winter in countries like these.
Higher employee retention & loyalty
Working remotely can offer employees an incentive to stay in their current job for many reasons. For example, commuting, clothing, a flexible working schedule and better job opportunities. Research has found that from a sample of remote workers over half would be likely to look for another job if they were no longer allowed to work from home. This shows how much this type of workforce values their working environment and how it influences their decision making with regard to job choices.
Access to a wider pool of professionals
Hiring remote workers would mean that employers would no longer be restricted to local professionals and mean that people from geographically remote areas are more accessible to fill their vacancies. This also means there is a larger, more diverse workforce available in the market to select the best and most suitable candidates.
Saving on costs
Any business having to provide a workspace for its employees is going to have significant costs that decrease the profits made in the process. For example, utility bills, rent, furniture and technology. Having employees work remotely can help to reduce these costs and increase profits.
Improved employee motivation
With flexibility, remote employees have more control over their work/life balance. This can lead to healthier and happier staff who are motivated to be productive. In turn, businesses may experience lower staff turnover and higher job satisfaction rates.
Potential productivity increase
Research has been conducted into the effects of remote work on productivity levels by employees opposed to working in the office. It found that, by a landslide, remote workers were a lot more productive than their traditional office counterparts. This was due to fewer distractions and workers being able to focus at home. In addition, the study also found that remote workers took fewer breaks and sick days.
Challenges monitoring employee performance
Remote working increases the difficulty for employers to properly oversee, analyse and evaluate their workers’ performance and productivity levels opposed to doing so within a physical workplace. It takes more management to organise and monitor employees’ status. It is very hard to hold a remote team accountable even when, for many people, procrastination can spiral out of control.
Costs of remote work
Although businesses would save on many costs that would ordinarily face them in a physical workplace, setting up remote work for employees can come with costs too. For example, the cost of initial training and equipment, or maintaining suitable communication channels like broadband or a work telephone.
Implementing remote work within your business could likely increase the risk of information security issues. If your company deals with the transfer of sensitive data or money online, you are exposed to potential vulnerabilities. For many companies, data security is a core reason as to why their employees remain within the office.
Communication issues and decreased team cohesion
Aside from video interaction, face-to-face interaction is mostly lost. This will make it more difficult for remote workers to create and maintain the strong team bonds that are built within an office. You cannot simply have a chat whilst walking past a colleague’s desk, nor call an impromptu meeting. These moments are often where office camaraderie is found and bonds are formed. Aside from work culture, often simple communication in itself becomes difficult. You cannot just ask a quick question to the colleague sitting next to you; it has to be done via digital tools such as email, messaging apps or video call software. This can make even the simplest of questions long winded and slow down efficiency.
Remote working isn’t suited to all job types and industries, so it’s not as straight forward as generalising whether or not it is effective for everyone. For example, remote working might be more suited to jobs that involve marketing, customer service, consultancy or different types of administrative work. It’s also worth noting that the effectiveness of remote work is not only dependent on the type of job, but also the type of person. Skills such as time management and self-discipline are likely needed for an individual’s remote working to be efficient.
To conclude, I think it’s important to weigh up the effectiveness of remote working as an alternative to the office environment by considering the different factors that influence it. Firstly, with regard to the environment, I think it is important for businesses to consider their geographical location. As discussed previously, variations in season and global location can mean different impacts upon sustainability based on whether employees are office based or working remotely. It may be integral for organisations to consider that their decision could have a negative effect upon their environmental footprint within society.
Internally, it is also important for businesses to take into account a range of different factors. Businesses should work out whether they believe that the jobs their employees do are suited to working in a remote environment and whether their employees have the correct skillset to work efficiently under such conditions. For example, employees operating in a culture whereby a business holds traditional values dear may be less familiar with technology and would not have the knowledge to work well on a remote basis.
All in all, there is no right or wrong way to operate when it comes to the debate between remote work and traditional co-located offices. Working from home isn’t for everyone, although it does offer many advantages. If it aligns with the way your company works and the goals you are trying to achieve then its introduction may be a success. Either way, it seems that after coronavirus, the implementation of remote working for many companies will show no sign of slowing down.
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