Article: Can hybrid working lead to a greener future?

Employee Engagement

Can hybrid working lead to a greener future?

Allowing people to work close to home, and enabling them to split their time between home and a local workplace, has the potential to reduce an employee's work-related carbon emissions by 70-87 per cent, reveals new research by IWG, in partnership with Arup.
Can hybrid working lead to a greener future?

Hybrid working can facilitate major carbon savings and has the potential for significant impact on the climate crisis, according to a new study by global flexible workspace solutions provider IWG in partnership with Arup, a global team of experts and advisors dedicated to sustainable development.

The report, titled 'The Future of Work: A Cleaner, Hybrid Future', examines the impact of hybrid working on carbon emissions.

It compares the carbon impact of hybrid working against commuting into a city centre five times a week. The study measured the environmental impact of hybrid working, based on both building and transport emissions, on six cities across the US and UK with a deep dive on two major carbon contributors – London and LA. Others examined were New York City, Atlanta, Manchester, and Glasgow.

Data from these cities showed the potential for huge carbon savings in major urban areas, such as Singapore, through the widespread adoption of hybrid working, which has rapidly expanded amongst white collar workers, who are now using the available technology to work where is most convenient and they are most productive.

Cities in the US showed the largest potential carbon savings when taking transport into consideration, due to the prevalence of commuting by car, with Atlanta (90 per cent reduction) just edging out Los Angeles (87 per cent) and New York (82 per cent).

The potential carbon savings remain significant for UK cities with Glasgow (80 per cent), Manchester (70 per cent), and London (49 per cent) all showing potential to benefit from workers reducing their commutes and working closer to home as part of a hybrid model.

IWG’s study with Arup compared different working scenarios for white-collar workers including:

  • Exclusively from city centre workspaces
  • From city centre workspaces and local workspaces
  • From city centre workspaces and home
  • A combination of all three

The team looked at the total emissions per worker based on transport, heating, cooling, lighting, energy use and more, to understand the climate impact.

The impact of the commute

A traditional five-day commute into a city centre has the biggest carbon footprint of all.

In Singapore, the transport sector contributes about 15 per cent of total carbon emissions, making it the third-largest source of emissions. As of 2022, the number of private cars in Singapore represent 53 per cent of all registered vehicles in the country – the largest portion of the total vehicle population and among the contributors of congestion and pollution in the city-state.

The study found that in London, carbon emissions were reduced by 49 per cent for those mixing time between a city centre HQ and local workspace, and 43 per cent lower when splitting time between a local workspace and home, when compared to a traditional 5-day commuting pattern. The key driver in emissions reductions was distance; when workers more frequently stay near home, their emissions are lessened.

Local buildings offer carbon savings

Compared with offices in the city centre, local workspaces were found to have less emissions per square metre of floor area. Crucially, local workspaces have higher utilisation rates, and therefore, each person is responsible for less emissions than a central office location.

Employees benefit from hybrid working

Hybrid working is proving to be especially attractive for employees, with 88 per cent of workers saying flexible working was important in a new role to save money and achieve a better work-life balance.

In a Randstad survey, 35 per cent of Singapore employees expressed their preference for hybrid working because they do not like commuting to the office, and 52 per cent said that allowing employees to work remotely is the ‘best benefit’ employers can offer to help support work-life balance.

A separate survey from Cisco also finds that about half of Singapore employees (49.5 per cent) say that reduced commuting time is one of the key drivers for improvement in their overall well-being. By living and working closer to home, hybrid working helps people live healthier and be more productive, while also helping generate personal savings from Electronic Road Pricing (ERP) charges, season parking, fuel expenses and transport fares.

Employees who have optimised their working habits like this are leading more localised lives, living and working closer to home, making them healthier and more productive. Analysis by IWG highlights the extent of the savings that working locally can offer hybrid workers. Someone based in Cambridge – which has seen a huge increase in local working over the past year – could save up to 2,931 pounds a year by working from Cambridge-based workspace instead of a London HQ just one day a week, with this figure increasing to 8,793 pounds by working locally three days a week.

“Five-day commuting to city centre offices has the largest carbon footprint of any working model. Simply spending less time in or travelling to a city centre drives a drop in emissions from buildings and vehicles alike. Allowing people to work close to home, enabling them to split their time between home and a local workplace, has the potential to reduce a worker’s work-related carbon emissions by 70 per cent,” said Mark Dixon, CEO of IWG.

“The single biggest change we can all make right now is to provide people with the choice to work closer to where they need to be, and with lower impact on the environment. And that’s down to all of us. The results of our research with Arup show clearly that given the right will this is within our power – right now.”

Matthew Dillon, Director of City Economics and Planning at Arup, added that changing our behaviour is key to achieving our carbon targets. “We can choose to walk and cycle, and to make more journeys by public transport.  Governments must also choose to invest in these networks, and use them to secure both environmental benefits and economic growth.”

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Topics: Employee Engagement, #HybridWorkplace, #ESG, #FutureOfWork

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