Remote work is a critical part of the modern workplace. A decade ago, working from home, at a coffee shop, or even on a beach was considered being in the lap of luxury.
Since then the concept has increasingly gained momentum as more and more employees have been allowed to work remotely on various days of the week. In some cases, entire offices have gone remote, basing every element of their entire operation on the cloud. As we know, the coronavirus has also played a key role in further promoting the use of the remote workspace.
However, successfully using something like remote work is a far cry from preferring it. As quarantines end and businesses resume activity, many operations are being faced with the question of whether or not they should continue to work remotely — at least in some capacity.
In other words, going forward, many entrepreneurs, bosses, HR reps, and managers must answer the question: is remote work genuinely preferable over the long-term, or is it simply an alternative for a worst-case scenario?
In early 2020 the rapid spread of the COVID-19 virus shook the world to its core. Shelter in place orders quickly became full-blown quarantines as country after country closed borders, restricted travel, and shut down businesses to avoid propagating the pandemic.
The initial reaction to these wide-spread shutdowns in the business sector was a slew of layoffs. This, in turn, led to a mass migration as temporarily relieved workers flocked to unemployment benefits in an attempt to stay afloat. Initially, the unemployment rate reached a staggering 36 million claims, and while that number began to decrease as the pandemic rolled into the summer months, estimates claimed that over 17 million unemployed would likely never return to their pre-pandemic jobs.
While tens of millions of workers found themselves unemployed overnight in the wake of the virus, though, that wasn’t the universal tale. In many cases, businesses already had an internal remote work infrastructure that they could lean on. Other companies that lacked this pre-existing infrastructure successfully scrambled to shift their business operations onto the cloud by setting up virtual workspaces practically overnight.
Whether it was expanding existing remote work capabilities or creating them from scratch, many companies managed to survive the initial wave of the pandemic by seeking refuge online. Internal communication channels were set up using tools like Slack, Zoom, and Asana. Customer-facing activities were amplified by building or beefing up e-commerce websites and social profiles. Whatever the specific need, each business found their own unique way to adapt to a virtual workplace setting.
As the first wave of the coronavirus tore across the globe, the question of whether or not to maintain a remote workplace was easy to answer. With brick-and-mortar offices and storefronts largely shut down and generally unpatronized, business owners far and wide had to either find a way to make remote work effective or temporarily shut down.
As countries have begun to recover from the pandemic shock, though, the question that has arisen is how each business should continue to operate in the future.
Some companies, such as restaurants and gyms, absolutely require an in-person portion of the business.
And yet, even those organizations have jobs and activities — such as marketing or accounting — that could remain at least partially remote.
The temptation to return to the way things worked in the past remains alluring, but the crossroads provided by the pandemic shouldn’t be treated lightly. Each business should carefully assess their situation going forward and consider both how and why remote work can remain an integral portion of their operation.
One of the most important aspects of increased remote work in your business has nothing to do with a pandemic — rather; it revolves around the environmental benefits that it provides.
The modern business world has heavily integrated the concept of corporate social responsibility (CSR) — that is, the idea that a company will self-regulate its activities in order to take into account its effects on the economy, society, and environment. By striving to maintain a remote work model wherever possible, businesses can create a CSR initiative that can impact the environment, in particular, in multiple ways.
Remote work takes place in virtual workspaces. Regardless of what apps or hardware is being used, if you’re functioning remotely, you don’t need an office space to do so. Even if you still require some office space or a storefront, by shifting as much of your activity online as possible, you naturally reduce the need for more square footage.
This means your company is taking up less space, will create less waste, and won’t use up as much energy when heating and cooling your spaces — all of which are good for the environment.
3.6 billion tons of greenhouse gases are created by the collective workforce each year simply due to the need to get to and from work each day. Whenever you allow an employee to work from home, you reduce that staggeringly gigantic number.
The more you can incorporate remote work into your business’s standard operating procedure, the less time your employees will spend in their cars on the road each day.
One of the biggest, even if subtle, effects that remote work can have on the environment is the increased dependence on a paperless business model.
From small things like electronic signatures to larger activities like implementing extensive digital management systems, operating paperless allows you to reduce paper and ink usage, both of which can have a dramatic eco-friendly impact.
While there are many ways that a remote work model can impact the environment for the better, it’s important to remember that this isn’t a sacrifice that your business is making. Remote work is as beneficial for your company as it is for the Earth. For instance, increased remote work leads to:
Smaller, leaner office spaces, less need for company vehicles, and the elimination of paper and ink can all lead to significant savings on overhead costs. This, in turn, will naturally increase your bottom line without the need for customers, employees, or the environment to be negatively affected by the change.
Not only does embracing remote work help to create a sustainable workplace that is focused on the health and wellness of the environment, it also has significant benefits for employees as well.
This one-two punch means while your remote work initiatives may be eco-friendly, they will also have the direct, very tangible consequence of improving employee happiness engagement, and loyalty. This, in turn, naturally increases employee retention. This is extremely important for a successful business, as high turnover rates in your workforce can lead to thousands of dollars and dozens of hours wasted each and every time you need to hire a new employee.
Research has shown that 69% of consumers consider a business’s environmental and social standards when they are considering patronizing their brand. In addition, nearly half of consumers are willing to boycott a company’s goods or services if they see that a company is apathetic, passive, or even irresponsible towards Corporate Social Responsibility initiatives.
By shifting to a remote work-dependent model, you demonstrate your company’s commitment to corporate social responsibility. This can do wonders for your brand’s reputation and can help to build a loyal customer base.
While it’s fairly easy to understand the reasons that remote work can help both the environment and your business, it’s important to consider how that increase in virtual workplace dependence can take place. While each company must tailor a remote work plan for its unique situation, there are a few things that tend to be universally important:
• The remote work shift must come from leadership: You cannot treat an emphasis on remote work as something begrudgingly provided as a perk for employees. Management and HR must embrace and lead the charge in order to find success in the remote work environment.
• You want engaged personnel: While leadership must lead the way, the goal should be to foster a buy-in mentality from your workforce. Encourage them to see the benefits of remote work on the environment and ultimately join in on the effort to make a virtual workspace effective in your situation.
• Remember to line up the tech first: Don’t dive into remote work without creating guidelines and an operational structure first. Choose applications that your company will officially use, make sure that your employees understand how to use them, and consider what hardware everyone needs at home in order to thrive in a remote work situation.
• Create a plan that is measurable: When implementing a remote work policy, always have a plan in place. In addition, set metrics and consider creating a remote-work initiative committee to help shepherd you through the permanent change.
As you create a plan, choose tech, and cultivate a pro-remote work mentality in your leadership and staff, remember to start small and build on your efforts as you go. Don’t be intimidated by a lack of resources or the discomfort of shifting from an established way of doing business, either.
Instead, look for the simplest, most effective ways that you can begin to increase remote work capabilities within your operations. Choose activities and departments that are easy to keep remote as a starting point. Then, as you begin to develop and cultivate a sustainable business mindset, look for ways to expand your remote work initiative to other areas of your company.
If you can do this over time, your enterprise can simultaneously reduce its impact on the environment, reap the benefits of remote work, and be ready for the next pandemic-level challenge if and when it arrives.
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