From Office to Online: Adapting Corporate Sustainability Initiatives in the Era of Remote and Hybrid Work

Oktober 11, 2023 | Leadership at Work | 6 min read

In 2020, the work-world as we know it changed, from physical-office, face-to-face collaboration to a pandemic-induced virtual workforce where Zoom ruled. Where working from home was once an occasional privilege for many, now remote work is the norm for millions of workers.

According to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics survey results, “telework accounted for about 50% of paid work hours between April and December 2020, compared with 5% before the pandemic.” And, “At the beginning of the pandemic, the extent of job loss was much lower for workers who were able to telework.”

When we examine this shift to remote work, there are obvious benefits to using less physical energy, space, and time to get work done. But the question becomes: how do these changes to remote and hybrid work impact corporate sustainability initiatives?

Remote Work Has Its Perks (And Its Drawbacks)

Prior to delving into the effects on corporate sustainability initiatives, it’s worth noting that remote and hybrid working models have their advantages — and challenges —­ from a business perspective.

Advantages to remote work are significant and include:

Increased Flexibility

Remote and hybrid work models allow employees to design their workdays, enhancing overall job satisfaction. In fact, according to a Pew Research survey, as of March 2023, “about a third (35%) of workers with jobs that can be done remotely are working from home all of the time.”

Cost Savings

Reduced office space and utilities mean significantly less spending for organizations, (which can be redirected towards sustainability initiatives). According to Global Workplace Analytics, nearly 60% of employers identify cost savings as a significant benefit to telecommuting. Examples include IBM, which slashed real estate costs by $50 million, Sun Microsystems, which saves $68 million a year in real estate costs, and Nortel, which estimates it saves $100,000 per employee the company doesn’t have to relocate.

Talent Pool Expansion

By hiring employees from different geographical locations, companies not only tap into a wider talent pool, but can promote diversity and inclusion. According to LinkedIn data, a “skills-first” approach to hiring creates more opportunities for both companies and individuals.

On the other hand, the challenges of remote work cannot be ignored. They include:

  • Communication and Collaboration Complexity
    When communication is digital, tone, meaning, and intent can often be misconstrued. Not to mention, it can take longer — particularly when compared to walking to a co-worker’s desk and simply asking a question. Overall, maintaining effective communication and collaboration can be challenging when teams are dispersed.
  • Employee Wellbeing May Suffer
    Remote work can blur the lines between work and personal life, leading to potential burnout and reduced employee wellbeing. CivicScience data poll results show a total of 38% of hybrid workers and 41% of fully remote workers say they are unhappy to some degree with their current position, compared to just 21% of people working fully in person at an office or location.
  • Compromised Data Security
    Despite all gallant efforts to keep company information secure, protecting sensitive data can be more challenging in remote environments. According to a Gitnux market data report, the rise in cybersecurity risks from remote work is significant. “A 66% majority of organizations see remote work as increasing these risks. Human errors cause 90% of data breaches, and 60% of remote workers use unsecured devices for work.”

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Building Better ESG Initiatives

With all we know about the benefits and drawbacks of remote work, it’s crucial to consider how these factors can influence sustainability initiatives and a company’s ESG (Environmental, Social, Governance) standing.

When it comes to social impact, remote work can reduce commuting stress and allow for a better work-life balance. Not to mention, remote and hybrid work models can promote diversity by breaking down geographical barriers (as long as organizations foster inclusion through virtual networking and equitable access to resources.)

As Global Analytics Workplace states: “Hiring sight unseen, as some all-virtual employers do, greatly reduces the potential for discrimination,” and “Ensures that people are judged by what they do versus what they look like.”

Remote work’s contribution to environmental sustainability is even more immediate: reduced commuting — one of the biggest environmental benefits — leads to fewer cars, lower carbon emissions, and a cleaner environment. As evidence, IMF’s blog reports that “Emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases plunged 4.6% in 2020, as lockdowns in the first half of the year restricted global mobility and hampered economic activity.”

Office energy consumption is another significant factor. With fewer employees taking up electricity and desk space in offices, commercial energy consumption is reduced. According to a Loughborough University, School of Architecture, Building and Civil Engineering study, “Despite the expected rise in residential energy consumption, research shows that the overall impact of remote working on the global CO2 emissions would be an annual decline of 24 million tons.” By adopting energy-efficient technologies in the office spaces they do have, organizations can directly up their sustainability game.

How to Stay Compliant With Remote and Hybrid Employees

Remote and hybrid work is not only here to stay, overall, it’s a net win for sustainability. But keeping a workforce is compliant from a distance is no easy task.

Key elements to consider:

  1. Invest in data security technology — to safeguard valuable data, it is crucial for organizations to invest in advanced data security technology. Educating employees about the tools and knowledge required to maintain information security becomes paramount. By doing so, businesses can effectively protect sensitive data from potential threats and ensure the overall integrity of their operations.
  2. Give workers reliable communication tools — In order to foster effective collaboration, it is crucial to provide workers with reliable communication tools such as laptops, cell phones, and other necessary devices. Equipping them with these essential tools will enable seamless communication, enhance productivity, and promote efficient teamwork within the organization.
  3. Offer mental health support resources for managing stress, isolation, and maintaining a work-life balance. Offering comprehensive mental health support resources that can assist individuals in managing stress, combating isolation, and mastering the art of maintaining a healthy work-life balance. These resources are designed to provide practical guidance, strategies, and techniques to promote overall well-being and emotional resilience.

When it comes to hybrid employees, organizations should ensure equal access to resources, opportunities, and recognition as in-office employees receive. Not to mention, putting in place policies that support flexible work hours and locations, all in the name of healthy work-life balance.

Comprehensive and well-designed training programs play a critical role in ensuring that remote and hybrid employees remain compliant and aligned with sustainability goals. These training initiatives cover a range of important topics, including data security to safeguard valuable information, sustainability education to foster environmentally responsible practices, and inclusion and diversity training to promote a culture of fairness and equality in the workplace. By addressing these key areas, organizations can empower their employees to contribute to the overall success and sustainability of the company.

All Sustainable Roads Point To Remote Work

In conclusion, the shift to remote and hybrid work models has left an indelible mark — and that’s a good thing. Remote work and ESG goals can intertwine beautifully, creating new opportunities to meet corporate sustainability goals.

By prioritizing employee wellbeing, fostering diversity and inclusion, and embracing environmentally-friendly practices, organizations can elevate their ESG standing while benefiting, particularly from the significant cost savings.

While effective training and compliance measures are essential for creating new sustainability opportunities, the overall result can be a win-win. Not only for the company but for employees and the planet.

Wondering how to implement effective corporate sustainability training into your organization?