Hybrid Work Can Heal the Planet

It’s no secret that the planet is in crisis. From rising global temperatures to retreating glaciers, extreme weather events to rising sea levels, the evidence of climate change is everywhere. While some employers are encouraging a return to the office as the world starts to normalize after the global pandemic, there’s one looming question. Is it a good idea for the environment?

While there’s no substitute for in-person collaboration and discussion and building interpersonal relationships, working remotely benefits the environment in a variety of significant ways. From reducing everyday plastic waste to lowering commuting emissions, ditching the office environment is simply a more sustainable way to work.

A hybrid work model strikes the right balance, allowing employees to work from home while providing opportunities for occasional in-person interaction. So, how can hybrid work heal the planet?

Reducing general waste pollution

Consider all the plastic, paper, and other waste created in the office. From plastic straws to Styrofoam containers, all sorts of everyday rubbish can’t be recycled. These single-use products often aren’t biodegradable, contributing to pollution and even threatening wildlife.

A study shows that people who work at home follow more eco-friendly waste practices and recycle more. Not only does this keep these products out of landfills, it also cuts down on emissions tremendously. As discarded paper products rot, they create methane gas which is much more toxic than carbon dioxide. Companies that adopt a hybrid working environment reduce their physical waste pollution as well as their emissions.

Saving paper

It’s no secret that paperless processes are better for the environment. By switching to a hybrid working model and sharing, saving, signing, and sending documents digitally—rather than physically--businesses save paper and money. Paper-intensive practices not only have a big impact on the environment, but they also cost companies in terms of productivity.

A recent UK study found that individual employees lost more than 28 working days each year dealing with paper-related tasks. From printing and stapling to collating and signing, the study found that each worker printed nearly 450 pages per week. Embracing hybrid work and digital technologies enables companies and employees to follow more sustainable practices, saving paper and time all at once.

Reducing automotive emissions

When businesses allow employees to work from home, they significantly reduce the need to commute. In turn, this reduces the carbon emissions that come from transportation. Recently, the International Energy Agency claims that even working from home just one day a week, the overall energy saved from less commuting is four times as much as the increase in residential energy consumption. Another recent study found that switching to flex work can save Americans 960 million hours of commuting by the year 2030, all while reducing carbon emissions by 100 million tons.

Reducing the office footprint

When employers switch to a hybrid or fully-remote working model, they need much less physical office space. Aside from saving on real estate costs like a mortgage or lease, businesses can also promote sustainable initiatives through better office space utilization.

Home offices use much less energy than the traditional office environment, so remote work immediately leads to energy savings. With occupancy patterns changing in the office, there’s no longer a need to heat or cool a large space or keep the lights on year-round. Energy prices are higher than ever, so businesses who adopt a hybrid working environment can save money even as they do good for the environment.

How companies can adopt a hybrid work model

As described above, businesses that implement a hybrid work model support sustainable goals, all while saving money. A hybrid work model also makes employees happy, providing freedom and flexibility to set their own schedule and work where they want and how they want. The result is a happier workforce and, in turn, a more productive one.

If you haven’t already made the switch to hybrid, here’s how to adopt and implement this sustainable working model:

1. Get feedback from your team

Before embarking on a hybrid work plan, get feedback from all stakeholders and employees. Determine what working arrangements they prefer and what schedule works best for their needs. Consider how they want to communicate—whether through text, the phone, video calls, or something else. As you collect answers to these considerations, you can determine what hybrid model works best for your entire team.

2. Set out clear policies

Hybrid work is meant to be flexible, but that flexibility can leave a lot of space for confusion and miscommunication. Successfully switching to hybrid involves getting everyone on the same page, and you can do that by defining your policies from the start. You should set out clear expectations for employee schedules and availability; tracking who is in the physical office; frequency of communication; equipment use; and other considerations. By outlining your policies upfront, you’ll help your team successfully navigate a new working environment.

3. Provide access to communication tools

Many employees still don’t have the tools they need to work at their best from home. Invest in the right resources for your employees to succeed both at home and in the office and provide remote communication tools for your team. From phone and video conferencing to slack and even internal social platforms, make things easier on your employees—even if that means covering certain communication tool expenses—so everyone has the right resources to succeed.

4. Provide opportunities for in-person collaboration

Many companies maintain company culture and preserve team camaraderie by providing unique opportunities for interpersonal engagement. Providing each employee with a budget to work together in nearby flex workspaces is one way to foster in-person collaboration. By scheduling frequent meetups, for example, you can build relationships among distant coworkers and foster community.

Hybrid work is good for the planet, for employers, and employees

From reducing carbon emissions to improving employee job satisfaction, a hybrid work model provides significant benefits. And with employees becoming more hesitant to make a full return to the office, it’s a model that’s here to stay.

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