As organizations around the world grapple with the impacts of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), many companies have moved towards remote work. While remote work can be used as a way to mitigate health risks, we believe that a long term remote work policy can also be an opportunity to reap environmental and economic benefits.
Setting up remote work
Instigating a mass remote work policy is a form of change management. This is already difficult under ‘business as usual’ circumstances without the added pressure of doing so hastily or reactively. Workplaces considering developing and implementing a remote work policy should collaborate with their IT, operational, legal, and HR departments to do so. After all, working remotely is about more than having a laptop and a high-speed internet connection! Employees need supports to be productive in a remote environment, with realistic expectations and guidelines on how to operate and communicate. One major consideration is also employee mental health, especially when remote work is in support of self-quarantine policies.
Thankfully, regardless of the size of your organization, there are many resources available to help make the transition. These range from consultancies that specialize in the move to remote work, such as Workplaceless, or the consultancy group 22North, which offers a service called Ready for Remote to the large library of free remote work resources provided by the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation. There are also some Canadian tech companies that offer solutions that support remote work including video conferencing and sensitive data sharing.
Benefits of remote work
Once set up, remote work can have a positive impact on the environment. Transportation accounts for just over a third of carbon emissions across the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area and work-related trips account for 40% of the morning rush hour traffic. Having more people working remotely reduces traffic congestion and emissions. A Harvard Business Review study of the US Patent and Trademark Office found that allowing certain employees to work from home decreased their driving by 84 fewer miles.
There are also cost benefits to the employer as well as staff. Employers can reduce their office rent by switching to a cheaper co-working space or get rid of their rent altogether if they go entirely remote, and employees can save money on transportation costs.
Another major benefit of remote work is that it improves employee satisfaction and employee retention. According to Global Workplace Analytics, if given the choice between a pay raise or working from home, 36% would choose working from home. Their report also found two-thirds of employees would take another job to improve their commute. With the average Toronto commute times increasing, allowing the flexibility to work from home gives employers a competitive advantage when recruiting new talent. A Forum Research poll found that average commute times in Toronto have increased from 29 minutes in 2013 to an average of 42 minutes in 2019.
Lastly, allowing for remote work leads to greater productivity, since teleworkers are away from the distractions of the office. Many companies, including Best Buy, British Telecom, Dow Chemical and others found that teleworkers are 35-40% more productive.
Allowing staff to work from home must be an ongoing commitment
While there are many benefits of remote work, a recent article by Forbes warns companies against introducing temporary work from home policy due to a situation such as a virus outbreak because removing such remote work policies, according to Forbes, negatively impacts employee retention and productivity. Workers who are only temporarily allowed to work from home may question why they are not trusted to work from home more regularly.
For companies to reap the benefits mentioned above, they should consider including remote work as part of a broader suite of long-term policies and options for employees to choose from to achieve environmental stewardship goals, for corporate social responsibility, or fulfilling other environmental, health, or well-being mandates.
With proper planning, implementing a remote work policy can help with business continuity if employees become ill. But remote work policies offer many more benefits to employers and their staff beyond accounting for potential disruptions to the normal workplace that can only be realized when implemented long term and coupled with other sustainable commuting programs, resources, and support within a larger organizational mandate.
Note: pointA does not derive any monetary benefits from the aforementioned companies or have any working relationship with them.