Flex Work Doesn’t Automatically Cut Your Carbon Footprint—You Need Tech

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In a hybrid world, predictable work schedules are an energy-saver. But companies committed to true workplace flexibility need to bring tech into the mix if they’re going to meet their carbon emissions goals.

Is working from home is better for the environment? In 2020, the world saw carbon emissions plummet as cars disappeared from the roads and downtown business districts went dark. Those lower numbers persisted into the following year: A 2021 Carbon Trust study showed remote work was linked to lower emissions in all six of the European countries the study considered. It’s inarguable that remote work and giving employees the option to work closer to home means cutting back on commutes by car, thereby slashing carbon emissions, and reducing oil dependence.

And if remote and hybrid work can mean your company uses your traditional office space for less time, that will translate to less energy spent on lighting, heating, cooling and more.

A simple way to do this is to be prescriptive about when employees come into HQ: “Companies need to move to more efficient buildings that are structured in a way to have, for example, certain teams going on certain days, so that they can keep a certain level of utilization across the week,” Carbon Trust ICT Sector Business Development Lead Laura Tedeschi told Protocol recently. Employees are already using HQ offices less. Strategically consolidating that usage can really turn into emissions savings.

However, for companies that want to be truly flexible, pinning down a “These days in the office, these days from home”-type schedule by individual employee or by team doesn’t necessarily fit the bill. I’m thinking about, for example, the perspective of Deloitte CEO Richard Houston, when he announced that the company’s 20,000 U.K.-based employees may choose when, where and how they work, in perpetuity:

“We will let our people choose where they need to be to do their best work, in balance with their professional and personal responsibilities,” Houston said at the time. “I’m not going to announce any set number of days for people to be in the office or in specific locations. That means that our people can choose how often they come to the office, if they choose to do so at all, while focusing on how we can best serve our clients.”

Likewise, PepsiCo Chief Talent Officer Sergio Ezama, who helped launch the company’s “Work That Works” hybrid workplace strategy, expressed a similar sentiment when lauching Pepsi’s post-pandemic flex work policy: “We don’t care about how the sausages are made,” Ezama said. “If you can do your job sitting on the beach in Bermuda drinking a Margarita, good for you. We care about outputs — this company is about outputs and value creation. So if there is a better way to do that, where the output is actually better and in the process, people have better lives, can spend more time with families, then that’s great.”

In a hybrid world, companies who want true flexibility need technology that tracks, anticipates and responds to office energy usage.

Motion-activated lighting, self-moderating energy-management systems, robotic janitor technology — these innovations are already being used in some office buildings to make sure the lights and HVAC aren’t burning through carbon when no one’s around. Sandeep Ahuja, co-founder and CEO of sustainable building design startup cove.tool, told Protocol that implementing tech like this to track space usage could help companies cut energy usage by as much as one fifth.

We’ve built Upflex to help fill this need. It’s workspace management technology that centralizes all your employees workspace usage data in one dashboard, and then parses that data for you into actionable insights and easy-to-read reports. That means you have the information necessary to build a flexible work policy around what employees want, what they’re already doing, when your space is in use. With that policy in place, you can bring your energy expenditure concerns into the mix, and start looking at opportunities to strategize around lessening your environmental impact. Data-driven decisions are better for business — and better for the planet.