'Flexible workweek': Is work from home good for the environment?

Steena Joy
·Contributor
·4 min read

According to a recent getAbstract survey, 43% of workers said they would like to work remotely more of the time post-pandemic, as many people enjoy the flexible schedule, time savings and access to the kitchen that working from home offers. So it is very likely that many companies will resort to Work From Home mode for their employees in the post-Covid-19 world.

Google has already allowed its employees to work from home at least till September 2021. Alphabet’s Chief Executive Officer, Sundar Pichai in an email to all company’s staff said that Google is also testing the idea of a ‘flexible workweek’ - attend office for three days a week while working from home the remaining days. Pichai said the flexible work model will help in greater ‘productivity, collaboration and well-being’ of employees. Needless to say, companies themselves benefit from savings in energy needed to power the lighting and other equipment in the office. Also savings in rentals for companies using leased spaces.

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Remote Work may be good for you and your company, but is it good for the Environment?
Remote Work may be good for you and your company, but is it good for the Environment?

So, Remote Work may be good for you and your company, but is it good for the Environment? Is it more sustainable to drive to your large office building or work on your laptop from your bed?

Like every story, there are two sides to this one as well.

First, the bad news.

  • Office buildings due to sheer size, are designed to utilise energy better than our homes. Therefore, getting workers inside a heated or cooled building uses less energy than each of us heating or cooling our individual homes.

  • Transporting materials and equipment to remote workers burns fuel and contributes to pollution and Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions.

  • The energy and bandwidth you use on things like Video calls translate to CO2 emissions. One hour of an ultra HD video call creates 2.8 kg of CO2 per participant!

The energy and bandwidth you use on things like Video calls translate to CO2 emissions
The energy and bandwidth you use on things like Video calls translate to CO2 emissions

Fortunately, the good news is that Work From Home benefits for the Environment far outweigh these demerits.

  • Global Workforce Analytics estimates that if everyone who works in an office, would work from home just half of the week, this reduces the Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions by 54 million tons per year!

  • Work From Home professionals are more aware of their energy consumption. They buy energy-saving devices, switch lights and electronics off when they don’t need them and are more prudent about regulating the heater or air conditioning. Also the source of the energy plays a vital role. In Iceland, many homes and businesses are powered by geothermal energy, so it makes less of a difference where you work. Likewise, if you use solar panels in your home, Work From Home becomes even more sustainable.

  • Commuting is reduced or eliminated for remote workers. This saves on the gas or electricity used by your vehicle. This also reduces traffic and wear on roads, and pollution. It’s a simple equation: fewer commutes = lesser GHG emissions.

  • Employees will use less paper, printing and copying fewer pages when at home. How often do we print out documents in the office that we don’t really need as a printed version? Employees who Work From Home use their own printer and paper, so they will be more economical about it.

Employees who Work From Home use their own printer and paper, so they will be more economical about it
Employees who Work From Home use their own printer and paper, so they will be more economical about it
  • When people eat at home, they use less of the paper and plastic cups, utensils and other supplies normally in an office kitchen.

  • Better air quality. Reduced gas emissions due to transportation to work every day, means better air quality in our cities.

  • Reducing textile waste as you can work in your pyjamas. People who Work From Home not only save money on work clothes, but ultimately help the Planet by avoiding fast fashion and textile waste.

  • The UN predicts that a staggering 5 billion people will live in cities by 2030, “exerting pressure on fresh water supplies, sewage, the living environment and public health.” Remote work encourages decentralisation and lets people work from their hometowns or other places of their choosing. This gives them opportunities to tend to own farmlands and even contribute to their own communities in rural geographies.

Finally whether you work in an office or at home, remember that the Environmental impact is made up of many daily choices, including what you eat for lunch, how much energy and paper you use and how you drink your water.

Drink and eat in reusable containers
Drink and eat in reusable containers

So try adopting these habits:

  • Turn off the lights/fans/AC when you leave the room.

  • Replace incandescent light bulbs with energy-efficient LEDs or CFLs.

  • Shut down your computer at the end of the day and unplug any electronics you're not using.

  • If you need to print documents, set your home printer to print two-sided.

  • Drink and eat in reusable utensils.

  • Sanitise your workspace with eco-friendly/organic, non-toxic cleaning products.