By: Sam Bowman
Thousands if not millions of people are working from home and staying off the streets to follow COVID-19 shelter at home orders. The halt in commuting and travel has impacted the environment in many ways. Wildlife is roaming freely where they never used to. Waters in Venice, Italy are cleaner than they have ever been, and CO2 and NO2 emissions are down by 50 percent compared to the same time last year.
As the environment flourishes, the question is this: how can corporations take advantage of and capitalize on the “new normal” to preserve and further these environmental improvements? Working towards a sounder environment is not only good for the earth and its wildlife but for a company’s bottom dollar as well.
The most effective way a company can make a positive contribution to the environment is by promoting a remote work policy. Reducing the amount of time employees commute to and from work every day by offering working from home as an alternative, especially in larger companies with hundreds to thousands of team members, can make a significant difference. Let’s take a closer look at how remote work can save the earth and how a company can implement a successful work-from-home program.
The Largest Environmental Benefit of Remote Work
Air pollution is one of the leading causes of death in the world. Some air pollution sources are naturally derived from wildfires or dust from windstorms, but the burning of fossil fuels caused by vehicle traffic is the biggest culprit affecting air quality. Unlike acts of nature, however, it can be controlled, reduced, or prevented.
Airborne pollutants block the body’s ability to fight infection and can cause acute respiratory diseases and conditions such as asthma. Asthma can be treated with inhalers and medications, but it would be better if respiratory conditions could be avoided in the first place.
Air quality has dramatically improved in the last decade, but there is still room for improvement. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reported that the top 35 cities in the country experienced 799 air quality days that were “unhealthy for sensitive groups” in 2018. Sensitive groups include people suffering from asthma or other respiratory conditions as well as heart disease or other health issues who were advised to stay indoors on unhealthy days.
The fewer people needing to commute every day, the less pollution we are likely to have from fossil fuel emissions. Working from home will clearly help the environment because fewer people will be driving, and the improved air quality from fewer airborne pollutants will save countless lives.
How to Implement a Better Work From Home Strategy
Not every company can implement a work-from-home strategy for all of its employees, but even small steps toward decreasing the commuting load can positively reduce a company’s carbon footprint. Identify which departments can work remotely. Perhaps only part of the bookkeeping or human resources (HR) departments can telecommute. Staff involved in data entry may be able to work from home. Key departments, such as the sales team, may even be able to work remotely one to two days per month when they’re required to file paperwork or write reports. Even if only a small number of employees qualify for remote work status, it will contribute towards your company’s commitment to the environment.
Once the target staff is identified, it’s important to implement guidelines so working from home can be completed efficiently and safely. The most important element a remote worker needs is reliable, high-speed internet. For employees who don’t subscribe to higher-speed fiber optic broadband, consider paying the difference to upgrade them, especially if data downloads, uploads, or video conferencing is required. This small expense can improve your workers’ productivity because they won’t have to waste time with slow connection speeds and lag time that can interrupt teleconferences.
After internet connectivity is addressed, make sure the HR team communicates the company’s expectations for employees working from home. Develop a clear plan. Add a section in the employee handbook with rules, requirements, and procedures for remote workers. Some items that should be addressed include work hours, what method of communication the company headquarters and employees will use to communicate (phone, email, or text), and basic safety procedures to safeguard the company’s sensitive, proprietary information.
Cybersecurity is essential to protect your company and client data from hackers and thieves. Employees transitioning into part-time or full-time remote work should be trained on the basics of cybersecurity, such as running antivirus and malware regularly, recognizing phishing scams, and protecting their email communications. Businesses should incorporate a virtual private network (VPN) with encryption so remote workers can transfer data to and from the headquarters through a private, secure server.
Committing to Sustainability Has More Benefits Than a Cleaner Environment
As your company strives towards reducing its carbon footprint by implementing a remote work strategy, there will be other positive impacts. Your employees will save money on gasoline, transportation, and time spent on commuting, and your company may improve its productivity. Remote work is a win-win for everyone involved.