Love it or hate it, remote-working can increase organizational resilience. Now follow the tips here to make it eco-/employee-friendly, too.

Summer seems to be getting hotter each year. Amidst prolonged heat waves and unpredictable weather conditions, nations pledge their commitment each year to prevent further climate change, but a rising pollutant could threaten their agenda: work commutes. 

Across the region, return-to-office policies are contributing to city traffic congestion that is returning to pre-pandemic levels. On top of that, Asian countries reportedly have the worst air quality in the world. 

Without significant changes, increased pollution levels could very well reverse climate change efforts in place. Could remote-working be a healthier, more eco-friendly path forward to help combat climate change?

Barbara Matthews, Chief People Officer, Remote

Benefits of remote-working

The personal benefits for remote work have been widely reported in terms of employee productivity; employee engagement and retention; and work-life balance. Remote work also benefits the environment in many ways:

    • When daily commutes were halted during the pandemic lockdowns, daily global CO2 emissions were reduced by 17% in April 2020 compared to mean levels the year before, according to an analysis published in the journal Nature.
    • Energy consumption in offices are also affected in large and small ways, such as the reduced need for onsite tech infrastructure as applications move to cloud-based servers. One firm with 90 fully remote staff, Buffer, estimates it would likely produce 234 tons of CO2 equivalent in a year if they opened a physical office, equivalent to more than a household of three occupants generating an average of 1.39 tons of emissions annually.
    • A major plus point is offering workers the option to live in their location of choice to areas with less pollution or more affordable housing, or to be closer to loved ones. In Melbourne, this move has introduced more affordable housing and prompted the development of better transportation policies as part of working towards a more sustainable future. After all, housing is increasingly becoming people’s workplaces so these policies empower more people to be able to access remote-working opportunities.
    • The work model helps buffer against some of the challenges of local and global talent shortages. With the pandemic introducing businesses everywhere to a new, more sustainable way to operate, many firms are taking the opportunity to fill critical roles by thinking beyond their own borders and tapping into a global talent pool.

While some may argue that remote-working can also increase carbon footprint through less efficient home offices, or the need for more overseas business travel. Organizations can step in to ensure that sustainability-driven decision-making happens during and outside of working hours.

In the era of distributed work, employers need to recognize their responsibility to guide good practices outside of the office, too. For example, what existing initiatives are helping employees to go green at home? The measures could help employees adopt energy-saving habits, go paperless, and switch to LED light bulbs. 

Tips for remote-first flexi working 

It is easy to want to dive head first into promoting and enhancing remote-work, but there is a critical success factor that cannot be ignored: intentionality.

Employers cannot expect great work environments to happen by themselves, and will need to consider the following factors to build a strong remote-first culture:

    • provide the tools and resources that employees need, such as access to co-working spaces or home office equipment
    • pivot to remote-friendly project management that emphasizes asynchronous communications where everyone does not need to be online at the same time; and where documentation is the default
    • Use remote-hiring to actively pursue diversity and make diversity and inclusion a part of global recruitment strategies
    • Encourage people managers and senior leadership to model the way and build a culture of flexibility where output is valued over availability
    • Make sure you are equipped to manage legal, tax, and other compliance requirements to hire and pay employees internationally

Although we may not be able to reverse the effects of climate change, it is still possible to prevent further damage to our environment. The trend of remote-working has shown that there are ways we can all contribute toward leaving a lasting, positive impact (net-zero and carbon neutrality) on the environment in the years to come.