Teleworking and sustainability: positive impact and challenges

Although teleworking tentatively started to appear in our lives at the beginning of 2020, the pandemic imposed it on us by force. That experience shed some indisputable data about the sustainability of our cities. For this reason, the United Nations 2030 Agenda included it as one of the recommendations in order to meet the SDGs.

What environmental data are we talking about with teleworking?

The analysis derived from the teleworking effect on the environment is clear and, in principle, as regards environmental sustainability, it is positive.

Teleworking means not taking any means of transport, neither public nor private, to go to your workplace, since work is carried out at home. Thus, CO2 emissions generated by attending work, are eliminated. This transport is 30% of the greenhouse gas emissions in the EU. Conversely, the costs incurred by electricity in workplaces are also reduced.

According to a study by Greenpeace, if all the businesses in Madrid imposed one more day of teleworking a week, there would be 406 tons of CO2 emissions less per day. In Barcelona, this figure would be 612 tons.

The figures are revealing. Not going to work would prevent traffic jams and many road accidents, improve air quality and eliminate a significant part of the noise and light pollution. Therefore, we would breathe better and have less stress. As a result, an efficient public transport and electric network would remedy part of the environmental problem caused by the emissions.

What other benefits does remote working provide?

In addition to the improvement of air quality, the advantages of remote working are numerous. These are a few of them:

  • Consuming less energy at work, companies can take on the corporate social responsibility of protecting the environment and saving on costs.
  • Employees, by being able to work from any location, can choose to live in rural areas which today are a part of the co-called empty areas. By doing so, the data reports that this reduces stress and improves quality of life.
  • The digitalisation and automation required, further contribute to a paperless culture.
  • Companies can aspire to hire the best talent, since they can offer more attractive work incentives with this flexibility. In addition, it enables them to hire workers even if they are located in other geographical areas.
  • It has been proven that it increases productivity. This is due in part to employees not losing time on transport and, also, that they are more committed to corporate goals.
  • It facilitates reconciliation between work and family.

What drawbacks does teleworking entail?

Not all are advantages. Teleworking also causes a series of drawbacks and, above all, presents numerous challenges. People who encounter drawbacks to this way of working argue that office buildings are usually better equipped for sustainability than homes. These are efficient buildings equipped for minimum energy consumption. If this expense is taken home, perhaps, we do not gain as much in efficiency as it may initially seem. In fact, expenses are doubled.

As regards reducing the carbon footprint, by not having to use transport for getting to work, they allege that this depends on the type of vehicle they use. Thus, the sustainability of teleworking will very much depend on the context and every circumstance.

Conversely, and outside the environmental approach, but within the SDGs, Greenpeace defends that teleworking may increase social inequality.

From the psychological point of view, it also means significant challenges which, in some cases, are not easy to overcome, such as less opportunity to socialise or loneliness.

Therefore, seeing the pros and cons of remote working from sustainability perspective, it seems that a hybrid model is the best solution. It is imperative to find a balance to make this option sustainable, such as improving the efficiency and effectiveness of public transport. However, the business model of companies and their activities must be taken into consideration. They do not all have the same circumstances.