Working from home was very much normalised through the pandemic and the various lockdowns that occurred. As businesses were forced to adapt, allowing staff to get their work done at home was something that became standard business practice virtually overnight.

Of course, what probably wasn’t understood about remote working was that it has a number of benefits to both staff and the businesses they work for. Where many companies had worried about issues like productivity, it was revealed that on average workers were 47% more productive when working at home.

Another potential benefit of remote working was related to the environmental impact. With fewer emissions as a result of no commute, lower paper usage, and no one to power a large office — it looks like the environment can finally thank us for avoiding going to work on a regular basis.

It is also true, however, that this period of intense remote working was unlikely to last. Instead, there has been a transition to hybrid working. But does hybrid working share these environmental benefits — and could we be missing a bigger picture on the environmental impact of work away from the office?

The Rise Of Hybrid Working

‘We had to make decisions fast during the first lockdown’, says Mike Knivett, Managing Director of Sussex-based SEO firm Artemis Marketing. ‘Some of our staff could work from home, but other aspects necessitate being in the office for at least part of the week. The move to hybrid working was a no brainer for us’.

Artemis was far from alone. Hybrid working feels, to a certain extent, like a natural progression from having remote working forced upon a business operation. Giving staff the flexibility to work from home part of the time, but also having the office available to them if they need it, feels like a solution that could work for everyone.

But if your already green-conscious business has put a focus on the environmental benefits of remote work, it is important to note that hybrid working may not share all of the green advantages of having staff work remotely.

Hybrid Working Has A Sustainability Problem

Research by the University of Manchester and Lancaster University revealed that there had been a rise in hybrid working and that it had become a common feature of British life. It was suggested that this also had the potential to make a big positive environmental impact by reducing the level of commuting and, therefore, emissions.

However, the research also revealed that the switch to hybrid working led to a ‘mass duplication of carbon-intensive technology and furniture’, due to the fact that existing office equipment was generally not provided to those working from home.

Are We Less Sustainable At Home?

Perhaps one of the more worrying elements of hybrid working is that it is new to all of us, and while we might make assumptions about its potential environmental credentials, they may not necessarily reflect reality. Indeed, the more research that is done into hybrid working, the more we realise that just like traditional work, it is possible to do it sustainably or otherwise.

‘When workers’ homes become their offices, commutes may fall out of the carbon equation, but what’s happening inside those homes must be added in’, explains Amanda Schupak. Writing for The Guardian, Schupak asks that we consider the following: ‘How much energy is being used to run the air conditioner or heater? Is that energy coming from clean sources? In some parts of the country during lockdown, average home electricity consumption rose more than 20 per cent on weekdays’.

Another major issue is that while at work, people generally feel at ease working in the same room as a number of people, but at home, they usually prefer to work alone. This has ramifications for energy use.

We Need To Learn To Be Greener At Home

While playing our part and being environmentally aware in our everyday lives, there are a number of potential strategies that could be effective with regards to making hybrid working better for the environment. One of the first is encouraging individuals to use a ‘hot desking’ strategy at home. Where one member of the household works remotely from a single computer at any one time, this means that use could be rotated without a need for multiple machines to be running at once.

Another option could be finding a way to allow multiple people to work from home in the same room, by using privacy screens or something similar.