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Remote Work Sustainability: Expectation vs Reality

remote work sustainability

When the Covid-19 pandemic hit in 2020, the world completely changed for a period of time. While it’s a time most of us would happily forget, many of the shifts that came about are becoming permanent staples in our society moving forward, particularly with work.

When Covid shut everything down, suddenly those who work in offices found themselves having to adjust to working from home. Some hated it and couldn’t wait to get back to the office, and others loved it, wanting it to become their normal, even post-pandemic. 

While remote work peaked in 2020, working from home and hybrid working are still at much higher rates than they were pre-pandemic, and there’s no sign that will change anytime soon.

This sudden increase in remote work has given us the opportunity to measure how remote work compares to onsite work in terms of environmental impact. In a time where the fate of the planet rests on this generation’s shoulders, we need to find as many ways as possible to reduce CO2 emissions.

However, despite popular belief, is working remotely actually better for the planet than working in an office?

In this article, I will attempt to answer that question. We will cover:

Environmental impacts of the workplace

I remember the news stories during lockdown in 2020 well. The canals of Venice became clear; New Delhi had the longest period of clean air ever recorded. Nature seemed to heal itself very quickly with the sudden absence of cars, planes, motorcycles, and just people in general.

So if most of the pollution we create is associated with going to and being at work, then switching to remote work must be far better for the environment, no?

Well, it’s difficult to say because it’s not that simple. But let’s take a look at the environmental impact commuting and workplaces have.

Commuting

Commuting is not necessarily one-size-fits-all. Americans reading this might associate commuting with driving, the Japanese might associate it with taking the train, and the Dutch might associate it with riding a bike. For our purposes, we will focus on commuting by car as it has the highest environmental impact.

Let’s look at the facts:

There’s no denying the massive environmental impact commuting has. Cars also emit a lot of nitrous oxide, more than they do CO2. This is a big problem because nitrous oxide is 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide.

It’s no wonder that when everyone started working from home, many of those who drive to work saw their personal emission drop by as much as 80%.

However, those who take public transportation or cycle to work did not see the same reduction in their emissions. In fact, some may have seen an increase in their total emissions, but we’ll get into the why of that later.

Energy used in the office

Was the reduction of cars on the road every day good for the environment? Yes, undoubtedly. Was the reduction of energy used in offices good for the environment? Not in every case.

Trigger warning: We’re about to do some math.

So, in California, an office space for a company with 90 employees generates roughly 234 tons of carbon dioxide per year. That works out to 2.6 tons per employee, not counting the additional emissions from commuting, which would, on average, add an additional 4.6 tons of CO2. This brings the total amount of emissions per employee to 7.2 tons per year.

That’s a staggering amount!

By comparison, the average three-resident household in California produces 4.17 tons of CO2 per year or 1.39 tons per resident. We can’t know exactly how much energy usage increases with people working from home, but it likely would not be as much as the 2.6 tons produced in an office setting. And with the reduction of emissions from commuting, in this example, working from home would be the more sustainable option.

However, as I said before, emissions are not always reduced when people transition into remote work.

CO2 emissions caused by commuting

How remote work changes things

Remote work certainly makes it easier for individuals to reduce their personal emissions. And companies as a whole can reduce their emissions by foregoing offices altogether. Of course, not every business can be fully remote, but most, if not all, of those who solely operate in the digital space, can. 

Moving to a fully remote model can save companies tons of money. McKesson, a medical supply company, found that by getting rid of their offices, they would save between $60 and $80 million per year.

The undeniable benefits

We’ve already confirmed the biggest environmental benefit of remote work sustainability: cutting out commutes. But let’s put the amount of energy this would save into a larger context.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) analyzed commuter trends and labor market data and found that if all employees were allowed to work from home one day a week, it would save 24 million tons of carbon emissions, equivalent to the amount emitted by Greater London.

That’s just one day a week!

Now I know what you’re thinking: Not everyone can work from home. That’s true, and I hear you.

Research suggests that 20% of all workers could work from home full-time without ever needing to be onsite. If that 20% of employees are allowed to work remotely, we could see the same environmental benefits as the IEA’s analysis suggests.

With the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, we would also see:

  • Less plastic pollution
  • Better air quality
  • Less strain on infrastructure

How do we know this? Because we already saw it during the Covid lockdowns!

Why remote work isn’t always a positive for the environment

Things are rarely black and white. I wish this piece could just be onsite work bad, remote work good. But it’s not that simple.

“Remote working has not delivered the environmental benefits that some people expected.” –

Steve Sorrell, professor of energy policy at the University of Sussex

For our hypothetical Californian company, transitioning to remote work was ultimately better for the environment. But what about in places where people take public transportation or cycle to work? What about people who live in cold climates?

Emissions would increase for these individuals. Instead of heating one office building, every employee would heat their individual home. Salesforce’s head of emissions reduction, Amanda von Almen, said that during the pandemic the company’s emissions didn’t go down; they were just moved around as people began working from home.  

And then there are the big tech companies like Meta and Google, who have invested billions into their sustainable campuses. It’s safe to say that most of their thousands of employees don’t have homes that only run on solar. For companies like that, the benefit of reduced commutes is all but negated by people working from home. 

Not to mention the emissions that have been caused by people setting up home offices. Between April and June 2020 alone, orders for office chairs increased by 300%, and orders for desks went up by 438%. The production and shipping of home office furniture and supplies do little to reduce carbon emissions.

Remote work has also increased the demand for larger houses to accommodate the additional office space. There has been an increase in people moving away from cities to more rural areas, increasing the amount they have to drive if they ever do have to go into the office. As people spend more time at home, they desire more space to make that time more comfortable. While it’s understandable, it’s not exactly environmentally friendly.

With remote work, people tend to travel recreationally a lot more. Chasing that digital nomad lifestyle and whatnot. And no shade to the digital nomads of the world, but we can’t lie to ourselves and think that it’s a sustainable way to live and work. 

Remote Work Sustainability: How COVID impacted global emissions

What about a hybrid model?

A hybrid working model seems like a great compromise for people seeking a better work-life balance. But how does it compare with onsite and remote work?

The shift to hybrid

Many companies have been wary of adopting a fully remote model. It could be that they don’t want to give up their offices or their employees don’t enjoy being fully remote. Or both, really.

A hybrid working model is great for employees who crave the increased flexibility it brings. Employees enjoy the freedom of being able to more or less choose the days they go into the office and the days they stay home. 

Hybrid work has been shown to improve employee retention and improve their mental health altogether. With benefits like that, it’s no wonder that more and more companies are shifting to a hybrid model instead of going fully remote. 

But is it better or worse for the environment?

Benefits and bottlenecks

The environmental benefits of a hybrid working model are few, I’m afraid. 

If people don’t move further away from where they work, then the one and only benefit we’ve seen so far is the reduction of commutes. However, with people moving further away from city centers and opting for larger houses, that benefit shrinks and shrinks.

Not to mention the extra energy it takes to power people’s homes when they’re there all day. With a hybrid model, people’s homes are consuming more energy and office buildings are consuming the same amount of energy as they were before. 

In 2021, Carbon Trust, a consultancy based out of the UK, wrote a report on remote work in which they stated:

“In a worst-case scenario, a hybrid working future could…create a world where buildings and homes are used inefficiently with a transport system that is unable to respond to changing demand and potentially more cars on roads.” 

Experts believe that an environmentally-friendly hybrid model could be possible, but that it’s still too early to know how to do it.

The problems with remote work sustainability

So what is the solution?

Often when it comes to environmental issues and challenges, we tend to oversimplify solutions. We might be tempted to say that remote work is the most environmentally-friendly way to work, but as we saw, that’s not the case for every company.

While it may be the best model for an all-remote, international company like Process Street, which has never had offices, the switch to remote isn’t the best option for others.

Hybrid working is really showing to be the worst for the environment overall, but again that’s a generalization. Some companies out there may be doing a great job of making hybrid work sustainable, and we just don’t know about it yet.

The point is, in order to decide what type of working model is the most sustainable for your company, there’s a calculator you can use to compare different working scenarios.

When the software company Buffer tested its own emissions and compared onsite vs. remote working for the company, they found that a remote model was the most sustainable option for them. You never know until you compare the numbers.

Ultimately, the climate crisis is by far the biggest thing affecting our future. Looking for more sustainable ways to live on the individual and small business levels is really great, but the reality is that it isn’t going to make a dent in the problem. We need sweeping and dramatic changes to combat the changing climate, as evidenced by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report in 2018.

Until homes and offices are all powered by renewable energy, the debate of which working model is best for the planet will keep going. For now, the best solution is to adopt the most sustainable option for your company. It may not be the perfect solution, but it’s the best we can do for now until the powers that be make the changes we really need. 

We would love to hear from you: which model your company uses, if you have changed it since the pandemic, and whether you feel your emissions have gone up or down. Feel free to comment below.

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The Secret to Unblocking Your Business Bottlenecks

Unblock any business bottleneck

If your processes are designed and run properly, you likely shouldn’t have any delays. 

But what if the great processes that you’ve constructed to the nines are still delivering delayed outputs? Did you miss something? Is the process simply not good enough? 

NO. 

If your processes are good, there could be another reason for delays. The answer: Bottlenecks. 

Think of your processes as a sunny day at the beach. You’ve come prepared with sunscreen, hats, sunglasses, snacks, an umbrella, and tons of water. But in the middle of your beach day, you run out of the water screaming with a jellyfish attached to your leg. 

The jellyfish is the bottleneck, and trust me, it stings just as bad for your business when one of those babies wraps itself around your company processes

The only difference is you can’t plan for the jellyfish. You can plan for bottlenecks with an effective process management strategy

Here’s how: 

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Creating a Magical New Hire Onboarding Experience (Employee Onboarding Podcast)

We’re kicking off Season 2 of our Employee Onboarding Podcast with resident new hire onboarding experience experts Ashley Chain & Erin Rice discussing thought leadership in employee onboarding.

In this episode, Process Street’s Erin Rice (People Operations Coordinator) and Ashley Chain (Director of People & Operations) discuss the key components of what makes an awesome onboarding experience, as well as details and insights of Process Street’s own internal onboarding process.

Listen now (or read on) for intel on topics like:

  • How to align company and departmental onboarding.
  • Creating processes to wow new hires.
  • Empowering new hires with actionable training material.
  • What are the intangible aspects of new hire onboarding?
  • How do you create a truly magical onboarding experience?

You can listen on AppleSpotifyGooglePodchaserPodcast AddictDeezer, & all your favorite podcast platforms!

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How to Tighten the Employee Feedback Loop & Reclaim Your Team’s Productivity

employee feedback loop

An employee feedback loop can be a great tool if you’re trying to improve the quality of your products or boost the satisfaction of your employees.

There are numerous benefits to gathering and utilizing feedback but there are also several key things to remember that will help you make your feedback loops as effective as possible.

We will look at the different types of feedback loops, how they can positively impact businesses, and the best practices for making them work the first time, every time.

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Make Your Company a Competitive Heavy-Hitter with a Culture of Quality

culture of quality

What if your business could establish a culture that harnesses quality as an operational weapon? What if you could make quality a repeatable, instinctive pattern of work that puts your company at the front of the pack?

The past couple of years haven’t been easy for businesses. The snail-paced unfolding of Brexit brought uncertainty and disruption for British and EU businesses, and anyone connected to them. 

Then the ravages of COVID-19 shut large swathes of the world economy down and brought the Great Resignation in its wake. And now, inflation is rocketing skyward, the ‘r’ word is on everyone’s lips, and the cheap debt of the last decade is set to be curtailed by the Federal Reserve’s hiking of interest rates

It’s clear that we’re in the middle of a rough patch. Businesses need to take measured, proactive steps now to weather the storm and make themselves as strong, healthy, and competitive as they can be.

In times like these, it can be tempting to reach for the nuclear option and take dramatic evasive action: diversification, cost-cutting, remodeling, and risk analysis are the order of the day. 

Culture doesn’t get much of a look-in. But here’s why that’s a mistake – and why focusing on quality, and how to graft it into the heart of your cultural DNA, is one of the best things your business can do to prepare for the next few years.

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Employee Retention Strategies to Survive the Great Resignation

Employee Retention Strategies

Since the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that over 47 million people in the United States have voluntarily quit jobs. This phenomenon has been labeled the Great Resignation.

Another survey found that most people who quit their jobs in 2021 did so because of low pay (63%), lack of opportunities for advancement (63%), and feeling disrespected at work (57%). At least a third of those who left say that each of these was a major reason.

So, you may be looking for strategies to reduce your company’s attrition rate and keep your best employees.

In today’s world of job-hopping and freelancing, it’s not easy to keep employees on board, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t put in any effort.

If you’re looking to successfully get through the Great Resignation, here are some strategies you may consider implementing:

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A Quick Guide to No Code Platforms

No code platform

Every business relies on different software applications to thrive in its niche or market. But if your business isn’t in tech, or if you don’t have any software development experience, odds are you’ll need to use pre-made software that doesn’t perfectly fit your business’s needs.

That is, of course, unless you write your own applications from scratch. But don’t you have to know a lot of programming languages or have coding experience to get the job done? Not with no code platforms.

Today, let’s explore what no code platforms are, how they work, and whether you should use a no code platform for your enterprise’s applications and software solutions.

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Soft Skills in the Workplace: 7 Ways to Earn Amazing Results

Soft Skills in the Workplace

 It’s a competitive world out there. Your business is striving every day to outperform your competitors. 

That might mean lower pricing, better website design, or more engaging content. But it’s not easy to find new ideas that will differentiate you from the rest.

Maybe you’ve invested in excellent communications, including the best business VoIP plans. You may even have invested in better job-related training. 

But do your employees have the right skills for success? Not just hard skills like technical knowledge – we’re talking soft skills.

92% of talent professionals say that soft skills matter as much or more than hard skills when they’re hiring. 

80% also say soft skills are increasingly important to company success. 

And Deloitte forecasts that soft skill-intensive occupations will account for two-thirds of all jobs by 2030.

What does that all mean? If you’re not nurturing your employees’ soft skills, you’re missing out on a massive opportunity to make your business more successful. 

So, what can you do? 

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A Complete Guide to Promoting a Healthy Remote Work-Life Balance

Healthy remote work-life balance

Our homes are no longer homes, and our offices are no longer offices. 

The long-term impact of an abrupt shift to remote work means many employees struggle to adjust. But employees aren’t the only ones who have to adjust. 

Companies now need to find a “new normal.” Remote work has given employees a taste of great flexibility and they’re not ready to part with it. 

To prevent the Great Resignation, employers need to find a way to keep their business running efficiently while also promoting a healthy remote work-life balance. 

We’ll explore how to adapt to this new reality. We’ll also look at how it’s impacting our recruiting, hiring, and managing of employees.

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5 Secrets to Hacking Reverse Mentoring

reverse mentoring

When I think of reverse mentoring, I think of summers with my grandparents as a teenager.

In 2011 they had recently replaced their dial-up with this neat little thing called “whiff-ee,” as my granddad pronounced it. But, as my grandparents grew up in the 1930s and 40s, they didn’t really understand how to use it. Thankfully, they had teenage tech support living in their guestroom for five weeks to help them with all their tech problems and to teach them how to connect all their devices.

I think many people have similar thoughts about reverse mentoring as I do. We think of the kids helping their grandparents with their smartphones and internet connections, setting them up with the simplest possible systems, but it is much more. 

As a younger Millennial/older Generation Z (seriously, no one knows where to put the kids born between 1995 and 1999), my generation has now entered the workforce, and our approach to working is different than that of the generations before us. 

34% of Generation Z believe opportunities for advancement are more important than their salary. If a significant portion of  Generation Z is less money motivated, how do you convince them to stay with your organization long-term?

Here are a few other problems you may often think of: the War for Talent, the Great Resignation, and an increase in older workers choosing early retirement. The answer to these problems is reverse mentoring. Please allow Process Street to explain how it works:

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