Hybrid working #2: How to create more sustainable workspaces

The second episode in our series on hybrid working discusses some of the ways leaders can create sustainable workspaces that are better for the environment.

Hybrid working #2: How to create more sustainable workspaces

The second episode in our series on hybrid working discusses some of the ways leaders can create sustainable workspaces that are better for the environment.

Hybrid-working-2-How-to-create-more-sustainable-workspaces

Meet the author

Tim Woods

Consultant

The second episode in our series on hybrid working discusses some of the ways leaders can create sustainable workspaces that are better for the environment.

In our previous article on hybrid working, we discussed some of the key ideas that leaders must take into consideration when transitioning their organisation from a remote-working setup to a hybrid working environment. But what do we mean by a more sustainable hybrid working world? 

In this article Tim Woods (Clarasys Behaviour Change Specialist) provides insight into the early research on the environmental impact of hybrid working and suggests ways that leaders can create more environmentally sustainable workspaces.

Sustainable workspaces and environmental factors


Intuitively we may think that working from home is objectively better for the environment.

However, working from home comes with its own risk of negative environmental impact if not done in the right way. 

For example, reduced commuting requirements may be offset by increased travel outside the workplace1, and any reduction of in-office energy consumption must contend with increased consumption at home.

Whether one is more or less sustainable than the other is largely irrelevant. What’s more important is how we can make each option more sustainable, as hybrid working by its very nature requires interaction across both domains. 

So what are some of the things organisations must take into account to be more mindful when transitioning to hybrid sustainable workspaces?

Focus areas for sustainable workspaces

 

Utilities

Given the reduced consumption of energy and water in office buildings, how has this impacted the residential use of these utilities? 

Early evidence suggests that there has likely been an increase in domestic energy consumption since the first national lockdown in March 2020 (Ofgem, 2021). It is estimated that households, where people work from home, use 17% more gas and 25% more electricity and that these households may each spend an extra £195 per annum on energy (USwitch, 2020)

The transition to hybrid working is also likely to accelerate the growing trend of water consumption on a per-person basis, which has increased to 143 litres from 85 litres in the 1960s (BBC, 2019)

Employers can support people to create better sustainable workspaces at home by providing incentives to switch to more sustainable energy providers, energy efficiency appliances, and by offering bursaries to retrofit inefficient housing infrastructure with insulation and glazing. 

These sustainability initiatives can be made even more effective when packaged into focused communication campaigns. We can draw inspiration from city-wide campaigns like that run by Hubbub in Manchester

Many people are confused about the role they can play in protecting the environment, unclear about which actions will have the most impact, and concerned that change will be difficult. By communicating best practices to reduce energy consumption through focused communications campaigns, we can help remove these barriers to change.

Technology

For many companies, the shift to remote working necessitated the provision of new technologies for employees such as laptops, mobile phones, and audio/visual equipment. 

This was necessary to ensure that employees were adequately equipped with the tools they needed to collaborate in a remote environment and meet HSE requirements. However, blanket provisioning of devices can also produce a great degree of waste due to duplication of devices. 

Employers should consider what devices are already available to their employees and factor this into their procurement strategy. This ties into the growing Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) trend which the National Cyber Security Centre (2021) defines as the concept of employees using their personally owned decide(s) for work purposes. 

BYOD policies can have many benefits including, giving users the ability to use IT they feel comfortable with, reducing overheads for the organisation and greatly reducing waste due to duplicate technologies.

While there are some obvious security implications, this policy should be seriously considered by any organisation looking to reduce the environmental impact of their hybrid working policy and contribute to the sustainable workplaces ethos. 

An alternative to BYOD is to consider your organisation’s participation in the ‘Circular Economy’ as it relates to devices. The aim of a circular economy, as defined by APC, is to “…keep resources in use for as long as possible, recovering and regenerating materials and products at the end of their ‘service life’.” 

In the context of digital devices, a circular economy encompasses the different processes involved in the lifecycle of the device. For example, a mobile phone is formed from the mining, extraction, and manufacturing of its components before entering a series of use, repair, and reuse cycles before it is retired. 

Companies can opt to only procure devices that comply with sustainable practices to minimise the adverse effects that their devices have on the environment. 

They should also look to engage with organisations that offer a circular solution to devices. This could be in the form of organisations that lease devices, repair broken devices or repurpose them for others to use after a user is finished with them. 

Conclusion


Successfully transitioning to a sustainable workspace hybrid working model will require a careful change management approach that considers environmental implications. Leaders must not only examine what is good for employees but also what is good for the environment. 

Now is the time to lay the foundation for more sustainable workspaces. By deploying targeted sustainability initiatives focused on utility and technology consumption, leaders can ensure that they are contributing to a more sustainable world irrespective of the final work from home / in office percentage split. 

References

  1. Moos, Andrey, & Johnson, 2006, ‘The Sustainability of Telework: An Ecological-Footprinting Approach’.

To find out how we can help you on your journey to more sustainable workspaces in the hybrid era, get in touch!

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