Remote Working – An Ethical Alternative?
Remote working. It’s a reality for many a contemporary worker. Some people have taken to it more willingly than others. We’ve all heard the discussion before. Those who favour remote working love cutting their commute. There’s no lost love for cramped train and tube journeys spent contorted around fellow passengers. These people relish the opportunity to spend more time with their families, pets and dressing gowns. Team Remote favours the freedom that comes with getting hours of their day back.
Team Office misses the natter, the camaraderie, the sense of community with their colleagues. They are more productive in a group working environment. They roll their eyes at the thought of Zoom meetings and can’t bear looking at the same four walls day in and day out.
Regardless of where you sit on remote working, there are some things that are undeniable: its personal and environmental benefits.
Firstly, I think it’s important to note that while remote work is becoming increasingly common, it’s a privilege. It’s only available to certain kinds of workers and is only possible with reliable, secure, at-home broadband connections.
However, those who do work from home tend to say that they’re more efficient. They argue that they’re able to focus more, achieve more and work for longer hours. For me, it’s the extra time in bed that makes a world of difference. But remote working isn’t just an indulgence for the late-risers like myself, it’s the hallmark of post-pandemic business. Where some employers may view remote work as counterproductive, they will soon find themselves behind the times.
In a previous job, employees were only allowed to submit a request to work from home on a Tuesday-Thursday. The fear was that staff who worked remotely on Mondays and Fridays would treat their day as part of a long weekend. In another job, employees were only able to work from home after passing a 6-month probation period and after submitting a detailed request form.
These policies are reflective of management that doesn’t quite trust their staff. And that’s a problem. Many employers hear ‘home working’ and think ‘truancy,’ ‘procrastination,’ and ‘skiving.’ In truth, increased productivity is at home with remote working. According to Erik Bradley, chief engagement strategist at Enterprise Technology Research (ETR), “The productivity metric is proving that remote work is working.” In a survey published by the company, the percentage of workers permanently working from home is expected to double in 2021.
A Gartner CFO survey revealed that 74% of employers plan to permanently shift employees to remote work after the Covid-19 crisis ends. And by 2025, an estimated 70% of the workforce will be working remotely at least five days a month.
Personal Benefits of Remote Working
The necessity of remote working has dispelled ideas that a home working environment is a distracting one. In fact, there’s a solid argument that most professionals find the office more of a nuisance.
A recent SurePayroll study surveyed 2,060 professionals. 61% agreed that loud colleagues are the biggest office distraction. 40% consider impromptu meetings from co-workers a major distraction. Remote working removes these productivity killers, allowing employees to get on with their tasks without interruption.
Remote working can also be great for wellbeing. According to the same SurePayroll study, 82% of workers said that they experience less stress than when in the office. It goes without saying that stress can impact your quality of life well beyond a career.
For those of us who are lucky enough to retain our jobs or avoid furlough, there is a financial benefit of home working. Not having to go into an office saves the worker money on their commute, petrol, car maintenance, parking, coffee, lunches and more.
Home workers may be able to clock an extra hour of sleep from cutting commute times. They may just be able to stay in bed having negotiated a flexible schedule. Regardless, the benefits of that extra hour are diverse and profound. More sleep will make you feel better, have more energy, help you to produce better ideas and allow you to contribute to your team in a more meaningful way. In a 2013 study, the BBC partnered with the University of Surrey’s Sleep Research Centre to conclude that an extra hour of sleep improved participants’ mental agility in a range of computer tests.
An American study showed that students who slept for eight hours a night performed better in exams. Another found that two nights in a row of less than six hours’ sleep could make workers sluggish for the next six days. When remote working circumnavigates the blockers that prevent a good night’s sleep, we are able to work with better focus. The irony remains: if we were to return to the office now, we may be returning as worse employees.
Environmental Benefits of Remote Working
A huge consequence from having closed offices is the environmental benefit. For companies who support greener work policies, there’s no doubt that remote working is advantageous. Primarily, no commute means fewer carbon emissions are produced. As soon as March 19th 2020, a mere couple of weeks from the start of its first lockdown, there was a noticeable difference in New York City. Researchers from Colombia University told the BBC that carbon monoxide, mainly from cars, had been reduced by nearly 50% compared with the previous year. The same study found that there was a 5-10% drop in CO2 over New York and a significant drop in methane.
According to the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air, in China, from 3 February to 1 March, CO2 emissions were down by at least 25% as a result of the measures to contain the coronavirus. Marshall Burke of Stanford University’s Department of Earth System Science, reported in Forbes, stating that the fall in pollution during China lockdown “likely saved 20 times more lives in China than have currently been lost due to infection with the virus.”
Closing offices also means less professional waste. For example, digitizing documents for remote workers has led to less paper usage across industry. Workers are able to cut plastic usage by brewing their own coffee and cooking at home, eliminating the need for the plastic wrapping used on take-out drinks and lunches.
Remote work has also made a dramatic impact on power consumption – seen through lower electricity bills for offices. According to the World Economic Forum, power consumption has gone down due to work from home positions from the COVID-19 pandemic. Although you wouldn’t be far out in thinking that remote working has shifted energy consumption to the home, office buildings consume much more energy than the average household. In fact, a study by Sun Microsystems found that home energy consumption is roughly half of that which offices use.
What are the Risks?
Although affording employees autonomy shows trust, it’s irresponsible for management to allow their duty of care to falter under remote working conditions. For many reasons, the lockdown has caused a huge strain on people’s mental health – you certainly don’t need to read this post to be reminded why. Remote working does not mean that an employer is no longer responsible for the wellbeing of their staff.
Many employees find home working lonely and isolating, which can lead to feelings of depression and anxiety. Tragically, some home workers may be trapped in abusive environments, or spaces that trigger mental health conditions. It’s paramount that businesses are mindful of employee wellbeing while working from home.
Employers are responsible for the provision of mental health support. This may take the form of an employee wellbeing programme, where employees have unlimited access to a confidential mental health helpline. They may be offered free sessions with a qualified therapist, accredited by the appropriate Professional Board. Companies may offer free subscriptions to mindfulness and meditation apps. At the very least, businesses can refer staff onto local NHS and assistance services that they can turn to for advice and support.
Although Ethical is aware of the advantages of home working, there’s no denying that it carries risks. For employers, it will be difficult to find a balance between giving staff autonomy and providing the appropriate support. As we sit in our individual working spaces, effective communication is more important than it ever has been. Ironically, proper support matters more now, than when we had better access to those who could give it. In order to achieve the benefits that derive from remote working, understanding and engaged conversations are paramount. Conscious businesses have a big task at hand: making empathy their ethos.