Returning to work vs working from home

Is working remotely set to be the new thing post COVID-19?

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.

Environmental Impact

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.