As the hybrid work model continues to gain popularity, questions related to its sustainability arise. Although it has the potential to offer several benefits, it also comes with some challenges that must be addressed in order to ensure that it is a sustainable solution for organizations.
In this article, we explore the sustainability of the hybrid work model, examining both the benefits and challenges. By understanding the sustainability of the hybrid work model, organizations can make informed decisions about the future of work and ensure that they are operating in an environmentally responsible manner.
The hybrid work model has become the new normal in the workplace, with 85% of employers retaining it going forward. On the other hand, sustainability in the workplace is rapidly increasing for Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) reasons. This new reality means leaders must design better models that not only include the different preferences and needs of an increasingly diverse workforce, but also enable the adoption of more sustainable practices. These two trends intersect in several ways and can be integrated through smart technologies that help businesses to both enhance their productivity through hybrid work and reduce their environmental footprint through sustainable practices.
Hybrid Work Is the New Normal
If there is something certain about how 2022 marked the future of the workplace, it undoubtedly is the adoption of a hybrid working model. Over the past couple of years, millions of people and organizations around the world were forced into hybrid work, many for the first time. Survey after survey has shown that employers eagerly hope their employees will return to the office as soon as possible. Employees? Not so much, for reasons including time spent on commute, work-life balance, health, and family.
Statistics reinforce the idea that hybrid work is here to stay. A McKinsey survey shows that 75 percent of respondents said that they prefer a hybrid working model and 85% would retain it going forward, while only 25 percent said they prefer to be fully on-site. This new reality of work obliges leaders to design better models, as true flexibility must now include the different preferences and needs of an increasingly diverse employee workforce. And it’s no wonder that many organizations have realized the benefits of allowing employees to work in a hybrid work arrangement and started building down-to-earth strategies to build: more flexibility, reduced operational costs, and better work-life balance. At the same time, in-person collaboration and face-to-face interaction are still important for fostering a sense of community in the workplace, which is why a hybrid work model allows organizations to benefit from the best of both worlds.
Therefore, hybrid work continues to be one of the top priorities for CEOs, just like sustainability in the workplace.
A Strong Case for Sustainability in the Workplace
Sustainability in the workplace is crucial and its significance is rapidly increasing for both Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) and sustainability reasons. Although 90% of business leaders think sustainability is important, only 60% of companies have a sustainability strategy.
A sustainable workplace is one that operates in a manner that protects the environment, meets the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. For example, according to B Lab Global, over 4500 companies globally have become certified B Corps as of February 2022 (to become certified as a B Corp a company must meet the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability). A Deloitte report shows that 57% of companies have started using energy-efficient or climate-friendly machinery, technologies, and equipment and are also providing employee training on climate change/climate action.
Sustainable organizations also prioritize the well-being and rights of employees and adheres to ethical and transparent practices. Employees too (35%) think that instituting sustainability practices at work would boost productivity rates, position their company as a leader (31%), and open more opportunities for innovation (37%). Forty-three percent think it would improve workplace culture.
Business leaders are very aware that by prioritizing sustainability in the workplace, their companies are increasingly seen as attractive investments, as ESG considerations become a larger part of the decision-making process for investors. Overall, companies that adopt sustainable practices in the workplace stand to benefit both financially and through improved public perception.
Hybrid Work and Sustainability, It’s Not neither Or
So, the rise of hybrid work and the growing importance of sustainability are two key trends in modern workplaces. While the hybrid work model has gained traction in recent years, sustainability practices and principles are still being adopted and established in many organizations.
These two trends intersect in several ways, as the hybrid work model has the potential to be highly sustainable in several aspects. For example, by allowing employees to work from home, it reduces the need for commuting and thus reduces carbon emissions. Additionally, hybrid work can reduce the amount of energy used in the workplace, and many other examples. Let’s dive deeper!
Why Is the Hybrid Work Model Sustainable?
The hybrid work model provides good grounds to realize innovative ideas and practices which can reduce everyone’s use of the earths’ resources and make business more sustainable. With COP27 refocusing the world’s attention on the state of the planet, it’s clear that organizations of all kinds have a challenge on their hands to reduce their impact on the environment and operate in a more sustainable way. Here are some good arguments:
Reduced Commuting Emissions
By allowing employees to work from home, the hybrid work model reduces the need for commuting, which in turn reduces carbon emissions from transportation. A IWG report quotes the International Energy Agency saying that “with just a relatively modest one day a week of working from home during an average year, the overall energy saved from less commuting is around four times larger than the increase in residential energy consumption. Another study found that US workers, by switching to a more flexible working arrangement, could save 960 million hours of commuting time per year by 2030, while cutting carbon emissions by more than 100 million tons.
Remote work can lead to energy savings, as home offices typically use less energy than traditional office environments. The engineering consulting firm WSP suggests, based on a study of 200 of their UK-based employees, that working from home in summer and in the office over winter is the most effective way to reduce carbon emissions. WSP’s calculations show that working from home rather than the office in summer saves around 400 kg of carbon emissions, the equivalent of 5% of a typical British commuter’s annual carbon footprint. This is because homeworking staff cut out their carbon emissions from their commute which would otherwise be greater than their home’s energy consumption.
Reduced Office Footprint
The need for physical office space is reduced when employees are able to work from home, which can lead to a reduction in the environmental impact of the workplace. Along with saving on real estate costs, office space utilization can also support sustainability efforts. For companies concerned with the people, planet, and profit, using their space better is a great way to reduce their carbon footprint in a responsible, sustainable way.
ESG targets are now high on the business agenda and since buildings are responsible for around 40% of global energy consumption and 33% of greenhouse gas emissions, it is only natural that how offices are created and used should fall under the spotlight. For example, the IWG Spaces Tullinløkka location in Oslo is built from 100% reclaimed or recycled materials, many of them saved from refurbished or demolished buildings from across the city. Through this use of existing products, the build was achieved with a 95% reduction of CO₂ emissions.
The ability to work from home can lead to increased productivity and better focus, as remote workers are free from distractions and interruptions. This has a positive impact on both the environment and employee well-being. When employees are productive, they are able to complete their work more efficiently and effectively, which can reduce the overall impact of work on the environment. For example, if employees can complete their work faster and more efficiently, there may be a reduction in the need for energy consumption and carbon emissions associated with work, such as commuting and office space usage.
Improved Employee Well-Being
A hybrid work model can improve employee well-being by reducing stress and allowing for a better work-life balance. When employees are productive, they will complete their work faster which will reduce energy consumption and carbon emissions associated with work and increase serotonin levels. A healthy and happy workforce is more likely to be productive, which can contribute to a more sustainable workplace.
Moreover, when it comes to taking action, around two-thirds of hybrid and remote employees are willing to make their home office more sustainable with homemade meals instead of ordering out, unplugging or shutting down devices when not in use, and being more mindful of heating/air conditioning use.
Are There Reasons to Believe That the Hybrid Working Model Is Not Sustainable?
Although we might think that we are more sustainable when adopting a hybrid work model, a few studies showed that while we do travel less, which is good, we also tend to duplicate equipment and buy larger houses to accommodate home offices, which is bad. What else?
Increased Emissions from Energy Use at Home
According to International Energy Agency (IEA) estimates, one day of working from home can increase household energy consumption by between 7% and 23% compared with a day working at the office.
A study of the University of Sussex on hybrid working found that remote workers (in England) typically traveled further every week, despite taking fewer trips, than those working in the office. Furthermore, when we work remotely, we also seem to take more non-work-related trips – 8% more – such as to cafes or shops.
The increased use of technology in remote work can lead to an increase in electronic waste (e-waste), as devices and equipment become obsolete and are disposed of. E-waste is a significant environmental problem, as it contains hazardous materials and contributes to the pollution of air, water, and soil, leading also to resource depletion.
The Risk of Having Two Separate Organizational Cultures
Dividing workers between home and an office risks letting two very separate organizational cultures emerge: one that’s dominated by in-office workers enjoying the benefits of working, collaborating, and socializing in-person; and another where employees feel isolated, and adrift. In fact, 30% of business leaders are worried about keeping their organizational culture if they were to switch to a hybrid workplace.
How Can Hybrid Work and Sustainability Improve Each Other for a Greater Purpose?
The hybrid work model and sustainability are both realities that organizations must contend with in today's world. While some organizations may be more focused on implementing a hybrid work model and others on sustainability, it is important to understand that these two elements must coexist.
When thinking about hybrid work, organizations must not only consider how to move to smaller offices and manage remote work, but also how to do all these things in a sustainable manner. This means minimizing the environmental footprint and making sure that the organization's operations are environmentally responsible. What else can they do?
Organizations should continue to embrace technologies such as secure, high-performance collaboration as platforms for change and good, creating a more inclusive and supportive work environment for both in-office and remote workers.
Make It Comfortable
Investments in must-have tools that enhance the everyday work life toward a more unified hybrid work experience should be made. Even better, I predict that more companies will take the extra step to provide hybrid work toolkits for all employees, much like how companies furnished employees with company-managed mobile phones as a common perk.
Work With Purpose
Because hybrid work is about what we do and not a place we go, we all should be more strategic about when and why we go into the office. This will lead to more flexible work environments as well as helping us to be more sustainable. Working with purpose brings satisfaction and improves productivity. The more efficient you work, the bigger the energy savings. Happy employees means not only more profitable businesses, but also better conservation of natural resources.
Technology Is the Common Denominator Between Hybrid Work and Sustainability
With that in mind, organizations can implement sustainable hybrid workplace technology. This type of technology integrates both the hybrid work model and sustainability into one seamless workplace experience. The new YAROOMS carbon dashboard and workplace emissions tracking tools enable businesses to stay on track with their net-zero CO2 goals. Workplace leaders can now easily and accurately measure their organization’s CO2 emissions as they organize their work, whether it’s remote or in the office.
By implementing a sustainable hybrid workplace technology, organizations can address the challenges of the hybrid work model while also reducing their environmental footprint. Through our solution for a sustainable workplace, office managers have access to a real-time carbon dashboard that integrates with building management systems or that can estimate based on energy bills. It simplifies the process of tracking and reporting on each location’s CO2 Scope 2* emissions (generated by the use of office facilities) as well as the company’s Scope 3* emissions (generated by employee commutes and working from home).
In addition, sustainable hybrid workplace technology is efficient and cost-conscious, making it a practical solution for organizations looking to embrace both hybrid work and sustainability.
In conclusion, both hybrid work and sustainability are trends that are here to stay, and they will continue to shape the modern workplace in the years to come. Although the relationship between the two is complex and multi-faceted, it’s important for organizations to carefully consider both the benefits and the challenges as they work towards creating sustainable and effective hybrid work models.