A Global Workplace Analytics report estimates a 25-30% increase in the number of work from home employees by the end of 2021. This trend is the result of the COVID-19 pandemic and social distancing rules. Today, society faces a sustainability crisis, one that’s aggravated by unsustainable business design. Looking beyond the pandemic, this article focuses on remote work software with sustainability in mind and asks:
Is remote work software a tool to drive sustainable business practices and development?
Is remote work software a disruptive technology, changing how a business operates in a future where sustainability is applauded?
If remote work software is a disruptive technology driving sustainable business development, then organizations need to sit up, take note, and add remote work software solutions to their sustainability toolkit.
What do we mean by disruptive technologies, sustainable companies, and remote work software?
Disruptive technologies, sustainable business, and remote-work software are three separate and complex concepts. Before considering how these three separate concepts interlink, they are defined below.
Disruptive technology examples and definition
Disruptive technologies are innovations that significantly alter the status quo, changing the way consumers, businesses, and industries operate. It’s an innovation with attributes that improve on current standards.
For instance, the transport application Uber is an example of a disruptive technology. Uber redefined the transport market across cities globally, providing an alternative to the traditional cab industry. Uber switched up the status quo and stormed its way towards international success.
What are sustainable companies?
A sustainable company is an organization that operates within economic, societal, and environmental limits, to deliver equal value across generations, indefinitely.
A sustainable business model moves away from the outmoded Freeman model - where a business's sole purpose is to provide an economic reward to shareholders.
In the Freeman model, other facets supporting the organization are degraded. That is, stripping natural resources to depletion, and using underpaid workers to boost a profit line. This exposes organizations to environmental and social threats, which ultimately render businesses economically obsolete.
Work from home with the right tools
Remote work software is a tool supporting teams who aren’t co-located. Remote work software breaks down geographical barriers and provides a single online location that can be accessed from anywhere, at any time, for team-wide coordination and collaboration.
[Related Article - How Digital Transformation Solutions Can Help Your Create a Remote Work Culture]
Examples of remote work software include video conferencing applications (e.g. Zoom), web collaboration tools (e.g. Slack), and Software as a Service (SaaS) tools e.g. time and attendance tracking apps, project management and business workflow management applications or cloud-based business phone systems.
Working remotely hit the spotlight following the COVID-19 outbreak. Remote work software allowed many organizations to continue to operate on a global stage while maintaining social distancing rules and helping employees work from home with ease.
Across the globe, the number of people who work from home and remote locations has grown by 159% since 2005. The pandemic has accelerated this growing trend. As such, a Global Workplace Analytics report estimates that there will be a 25-30% increase in the number of work from home employees by the end of 2021. In addition, predictions given by Fast Company state that remote work software, like mobile work tools and virtual reality, will become the preferred form of doing business in the future.
Why do we need sustainable companies?
The 2021 World Economic Forum’s Global Risk Report identifies extreme weather, climate action failure, and biodiversity loss as top economic risks in terms of both likelihood and impact.
These are top risks related to the environment and unsustainable human activity. If businesses don’t transition towards sustainability and learn how to work with nature, it is widely predicted that the foundations of the economy will crumble at a greater rate than seen during the pandemic.
These critical risks should prompt urgency for the transformation of business-as-usual tactics into practices that are environmentally sound and socially responsible.
How can remote work software create more sustainable companies?
Climate change and biodiversity loss are the juggernauts of society’s sustainability crisis. They are wicked problems, defined as interconnected issues, with many feedback loops that require cross-collaboration for solutions.
Global pandemics are closely tied to these sustainability issues. Research indicates the degradation of the planet’s natural systems is causing a rise in pandemic frequency. Other reports attribute climate change as a root pandemic cause.
With the interconnectedness of the issues at hand, is it possible to infer the solutions as also interlinked?
That is, work from home mandates and supporting software have helped businesses navigate a pandemic risk. Using remote work software, can businesses also mitigate climate change and biodiversity loss.
COVID-19 has thrust society into a remote-work experiment, giving the means to test the above theory in real life and real-time. Below, the results of this experiment are explained.
Work from home mandate as climate change mitigation
Since the industrial revolution, unsustainable economic development has raised carbon dioxide levels by 50%, with the world emitting around 36 billion tons of carbon dioxide each year. Emissions dropped in 2020 globally due to the COVID-19 crisis.
2020 quarter 1, emissions were down by 5%, mainly due to an 8% decline in emissions from coal, 4.5% from oil, and 2.3% from natural gas. Carbon dioxide emissions declined in most regions that suffered the earliest and largest impacts of COVID-19 (China (-8%), the EU (-8%), and the United States (-9%)). These trends will decrease emission levels by 8% relative to 2019 measures.
Emissions declined as work-related travel subsided. Looking at the total US GHGs by economic sector, transportation takes the lead spot, accounting for 29% of emissions. Of that 29%, 53% of emissions are related to the daily commute, as detailed below (as broken down by the Center for Sustainable Systems at the University of Michigan):
42% of emissions are attributed to passenger car travel
2% of emissions are associated with rail travel
9% of emissions are expelled from air travel
1% of emissions are from motorcycles and buses
Looking at the UK, the daily work commute accounts for 37% of the total carbon dioxide emissions from passenger transport.
Cutting the daily commute, business travel, and office-related emissions via work from home initiatives moves society closer to achieving targets that restrict global temperature rise. We want to limit warming to well below 2 °C this century, as stipulated in the Paris Climate Agreement 2015.
Yet, current global policies have had analysts at the Carbon Tracker in tears, with projections indicating 2.9°C warmings above pre-industrial levels. The unconditional pledges and targets governments have made as of April 2021 - including long-term or net-zero targets - will limit warming to 2.4 °C pre-industrial levels.
To limit warming below 1.5 °C, estimations state the GHG budget will last between 6 to 11 years at today’s emission levels. It’s clear that action is needed, and any means of reducing GHGs emissions should be applauded. Online-based remote work and remote work software come as one mitigating measure to add to a business’s toolbox for sustainable business development.
Remote work software to support biodiversity
The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences report (2018) concluded that humans have annihilated 83% of wild mammals and half of all plants. Marine animals have plunged by 80% over the past century. Society is in a biodiversity crisis and is entering a sixth mass extinction event.
As a rule in nature, no one species can survive without the flourishing of another. This holds true for humans. Biodiversity is the binding between all organisms on earth, meaning the biodiversity crisis is also a crisis to human health, livelihoods, and the economy. Once again society finds itself in an urgency, where any means to mitigate the problem should be upholden. Remote work comes as one such mitigating tool.
How can work from home and part time remote work policies support biodiversity? Online-based remote work has indirect, positive feedback loops supporting biodiversity, such as:
Online remote work reduces commercial land use: Natural systems are ripped apart to make way for swanky new office buildings and concrete parking structures. But the COVID-19 pandemic and work from home policies have dented the demand for office space by ~20%, supporting the preservation of natural environments.
A reduction to waste that is harmful to wildlife: According to the British registered charity WRAP, staff who work from home are more likely to make their lunches and breakfasts, as opposed to purchasing on-the-go convenience options with expendable packaging. Once more, the need for office disposable coffee cups, plastic straws, and throwaway dishware is removed. Online work also eliminates the disposal of 246 trillion sheets of paper every year.
Online remote work has triggered behavioral changes supporting nature: Studies show individuals are dedicating more time to nature-related activities such as outdoor sports and gardening. This is increasing individual connectedness with nature, with research calling this reconnection critical in treating our global biodiversity crisis.
Reduction in noise pollution and its negative effects on nature: According to a study published in Science, human-induced noise pollution is having a serious impact on biodiversity in the USA. Noise levels in 14% of places inhabited by endangered species have increased tenfold. Noise inhibits communication between wildlife and causes noise stress. Noise pollution reduced considerably during COVID-19 lockdowns and remote work, with fewer people commuting.
By creating more sustainable companies, is remote work software disruptive?
Although remote work software is not a singular solution to solve the complexities of business sustainability, the sustainability benefits brought cannot be disputed.
Society finds itself at crossroads, where businesses can either continue as usual risking the breakdown of economical and societal stability, or undergo the developmental shifts needed for improved sustainability.
COVID-19 comes as a watershed moment, showcasing the sustainability benefits of remote work. As businesses adopt this working style as a pandemic response, future conditions will continue to favor online remote work, with mounting pressures on organizations to be sustainable. Exemplifying this pressure, a poll of 1.2 million people across 50 counties found 81% of respondents believed climate change was a global emergency to be urgently addressed.
The advantages sustainability gives companies are already being seen. For instance, a 2018 study by the Bank of America Merrill Lynch found firms with a better sustainability record produced higher three-year returns, were more likely to become high-quality stocks and were less likely to go bankrupt.
Remote work software is challenging old work paradigms, presenting sustainability advantages in an environment where green businesses are desired.
The work from home revolution and its supporting software is disruptive, changing how business is done. As businesses undergo a digital transformation, remote work software comes in as a green solution for companies to shift towards sustainable business models.
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Jane Courtnell is a Content Writer at Process Street. While earning a degree in Biology at Imperial College London, Jane developed an enthusiasm for science communication. She continued her studies at Imperial College's Business School and with this, began looking at how biology can be used to solve business issues, such as employee wellbeing, customer success, business operations, and business sustainability.