The Evolving World of Work and Sustainability

You have likely seen the recent stories of high-profile firms, including Apple and Tesla, demanding that their employees stop working from home and go back to the office.

In June, Tesla boss Elon Musk said employees who had been working remotely must return to the office or risk losing their jobs. Apple told staff in August that they should work from the office for at least three days a week. Larry Fink, Chief Executive of multi-national investment company BlackRock, argues that coming back to the office for at least three days a week could even help combat rising inflation by improving productivity.

Reconsidering hybrid working

As governments around the world have relaxed their regulations concerning COVID-19 lockdowns and masking, businesses both large and small have been reconsidering their hybrid working policies.

A mass return to the office would not only have a profound effect on workers, but also on sustainability and carbon emissions, according to a new Technology in Sustainability report from thought leadership expert iResearch Services.

The biggest challenge

In the newly-published How Sustainable is the Technology Sector? Part Two report, Alexandra Nicholson, Senior Director of Social Media and Impact at Pegasystems (Pega), a maker of artificial intelligence software, states that a mass return to the office is the most immediate concern for sustainability.

“I think the biggest challenge we’re seeing right now is how returning to office will affect our overall sustainability scores. I think that’s top-of-mind. Everyone had extremely low carbon emissions scores in 2020 and 2021, and we learned a lot about how to benchmark in that timeframe. So, as we start thinking about a return to the office, how do we continue those gains? I think that’s the most immediate concern.”

An associated consequence of the move back to central offices and an opening up of trade shows and events is a rise in commuting and the effect on carbon usage, Alex points out. For the sake of the environment, a balance must be struck between the need to meet face-to-face and sustainable virtual meetings online.

Return to travel and the office

“It’s also a return to travel, as well as a return to the office,” says Alex . The tech industry really relies on events to show, sell and connect. We need to make sure we’ve taken the gains from virtual events, and we’re allowing people to not physically attend something, not physically have to go somewhere, and instead get learnings in a really sustainable way that fits their personal footprint and the corporate guidelines of their employers. That’s going to be an important balance to find.

“People are really eager to go back to in-person because those connections are really strong. But we’ve learned that in addition to sustainability and accessibility, the virtual world has also helped democratize access to information regardless of geography.”

Views of technology leaders

How Sustainable is the Technology Sector? Part Two focused on the views of tech industry leaders, while the How Sustainable is the Technology Sector? Part One report is data-rich and covers responses from 550 technology industry executives in the 11 countries gathered in late 2021. But its findings also suggest that COVID-19 is one of the main barriers to businesses becoming more eco-friendly, with around one in three (31%) of respondents saying the pandemic has slowed the adoption of sustainability initiatives.

COVID hampers sustainability investment

More than half of tech leaders in France (54%) and Germany (52%) say the pandemic is delaying and hampering investment in a sustainable and accessible physical presence. In the UK, the figure was 36% and, in the USA, 16%.

But one in 10 company leaders in the UK and Italy believe that investing in their sustainable/ accessible physical presence will no longer be a priority for their companies post-pandemic.

A physical, sustainable presence was still a big focus for most tech executives. This is headed by industry leaders from the USA, at 78%, Japan at 74% and India on 64%. The UK figure was 54%.

Office effectiveness

iResearch Services’ Chief Executive Officer, Yogesh Shah, says, “With workers being away from the office for so long, there have been questions raised about whether working from home is here to stay. But this survey seems to indicate that tech companies still see their future as being office-based.

“It may be that tech companies work more efficiently in a central location and so they need a sustainable central location more than those in other sectors.”

In Europe, with autumn and winter approaching, COVID-19 numbers may increase once again, and businesses may need to re-evaluate their position on office attendance.

COP27

At the same time, the 27th session of the UN climate change conference COP27 – or to give it its full name, the Conference of the Parties to the UN United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change – takes place in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt, from 7-18 November. It will thrust the urgent need for sustainability and measures to reduce carbon emissions into the spotlight.

Disastrous tipping points

There was a flurry of announcements around last year’s event from big business concerning measures being taken to reach net zero and be more sustainable. With the advent of the energy crisis following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, attention has turned more towards securing power supplies and how to combat rising prices, but the record UK summer temperatures, along with fears that five disastrous climate change tipping points may have already been passed, are timely warnings that important issues including work and sustainability need to be addressed.

Sustainability motivates employees

Employers also need to bear in mind that sustainability is a powerful motivator to attract staff at a time when highly-skilled workers are hard to find and can encourage employees to work harder.

Part one of How Sustainable is the Technology Sector? found that a big majority of employees (89%) say sustainability is important when choosing a new employer. In China, almost all employees surveyed (98%) believe this, followed by 94% in Japan and Australia and 92% in the US. Not only that, but 58% of respondents say employees work harder for a business they believe is operating sustainably.

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