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A Remote Workforce and Its (Non) Impact on The Environment

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Being able to work from home is a dream for many people, particularly those of us with long commutes and dreary offices. Between 80 and 90 percent of the US’s workforce admits they would like the option to work remotely, ideally two or three days each week.

Today, these people stand a better chance of getting their wish than previous generations. In the past two decades, the number of Americans who have worked from home at least one day each month has risen by 300 percent. This is still on a small scale for almost half of remote-workers, however. 45 percent of telecommuters work from home just five days out of each month (or less), and 24 percent work remotely 10 days in the same period.

Remote work offers various benefits, not least from an engagement perspective. Research shows that those who work remotely from time to time tend to be more engaged in their work than those who are never given the chance to work from home. Telecommuting is an ideal solution for employees with mobility issues, as well as parents looking to relieve child-care costs.

Beyond these, however, telecommuting is of major benefit to the environment. In this day and age, taking a green approach to business is incredibly important, and adopting a more environmentally-aware mindset will help businesses cultivate a more eco-friendly operation.

Here are four benefits remote working offers businesses today.

# 1: Less Gas Emissions and Expenditure

Traffic is a problem for drivers, for businesses facing widespread lateness, and for the planet itself.

According to Global Workplace Analytics, traffic jams cost the US economy upwards of $78bn each year in productivity, and consume close to three billion gallons of gas, leading to 26 million tons of greenhouse gases.

Businesses which offer employees the chance to work remotely can help to increase productivity, cut wasted gas, and help reduce congestion even a little. Research shows that each 1 percent reduction in vehicles can create a three-fold drop in congestion.

Estimates suggest the following savings could be made every year if those with jobs accommodating remote work were allowed to work work from home at least half of the time:

54 million tons of gas emissions could be avoided, which would have the same effect as taking 10 million cars off the road
$20 million in gas could be saved
119 billion miles of highway driving could be avoided
$64 million worth of oil, equivalent to 640 million barrels, would be saved

Without doubt, the figures speak for themselves.

# 2: Remote Working Encourages Smaller Business Spaces

When businesses employing hundreds of people in one location encourage staff to telecommute a few days a week, or on a permanent basis, less physical space is needed.

This allows companies to invest in, or transfer to, smaller properties incurring lower costs. If certain employees work jobs which are incompatible with telecommuting, an office will still be required to run in a traditional manner, yet with a far-smaller workforce.

Overall, across years and decades, companies reducing their in-house staff can create a cultural shift resulting in less demand for business properties. One major knock-on effect of this could be a reduction in deforestation and less strain on land resources.

# 3: Remote Work Reduces Businesses’ Carbon Footprints and Energy Usage

Research suggests that businesses allowing employees to work remotely even just half the time can save as much as $11,000 per year through reduced overheads.

After all, businesses staffed by dozens, possibly hundreds, of people in one site go through significant amounts of resources and energy each day. Electricity is needed to run lighting, computers, vending machines, air conditioning, and other essentials, each incurring its own costs. Office equipment and paper is also used daily.

Workers based in their own home will be responsible for maintaining a green lifestyle, but a business will need less electricity for lighting, air conditioning, and other essentials.

# 4: Working From Home Leads to Less Food and Drink-Related Waste

For employees working at home, refreshments can be taken from your own kitchen rather than using vending machines or driving to a nearby coffee shop or convenience store. Not only is this more cost-effective, it also leads to less non-recyclable containers, bags, and wrappers being tossed in bins. Even if fewer recyclable items are purchased, this places less strain on recycling plants.

By reducing the amount of waste-materials you direct into bins every day, telecommuting employers and employees can reduce their carbon footprint.

However, telecommuting is only a viable solution if the quality of your online platforms and tools is of a high standard. Sub-par technology will only cause frustration, delays, and possibly prompt companies to rethink their entire stance on working from home. Video chat and conferencing plays a large role in remote work, allowing workers to discuss issues and hold meetings from anywhere, so this aspect in particular is vital to get right.

Services which rely on the general internet run the risk of the above issues. Businesses must invest in cutting-edge solutions which accommodate global video chat without the technical complications lower-quality services sometimes suffer.

Tony Zhao, CEO of video chat company Agora.io, highlighted the importance of high-quality video: “Video chat plays a key role in effective remote work, as it allows businesses to hold conferences and meetings across the globe without carbon-emissions related to car or plane travel. However, international calls to regions with less-reliable internet connections, or those to more remote areas, can lead to poor-quality communication, affecting working relationships over time. Using a provider which has bypassed these issues is essential to ensure fluid, clear communications conducive to productive remote work.”

In order to ensure a cleaner, healthier environment for ourselves and future generations, businesses must embrace a greener ethos. Allowing staff to work from home is a major step in reducing carbon footprints, creating a happier workforce, and cutting overheads. By embracing remote work, companies of all size can help to create a safer, brighter future, maximizing their budgets and resources alike.

Photo Credit: Sean MacEntee via Flickr

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