Working from home is definitely good for the environment, according to a new report from Oxford University released today to coincide with National Work From Home Day.
Many businesses have long advocated the green credentials of home working as it limits carbon emissions associated with the daily commute. However, some argued it was unclear if home working delivered a net reduction in emissions because the savings were countered by the increase in energy use associated with staff heating and lighting their homes all day.
The problem is then further exacerbated because many firms also continue to keep their subsequently under used office space operational.
However, a new study from Oxford University commissioned by remote access software specialist Giritech and the online conferencing arm of BT argues that home working can reduce carbon emissions overall as long as it is correctly managed.
Report author Professor David Banister said that research gathered from across the world proved that home working can reduce the UK's carbon footprint, but only if it is accompanied by changes in behaviour. "This would include providing secure and efficient technology to facilitate collaboration as well as properly managing heating at the employee's end and the reduction of office space and heating costs at the employer’s end," he said.
He added that in order to maximise environmental savings through home working firms should aim to have employees working from home more than one day a week, so that they can genuinely begin to reduce office space and associated carbon emissions.
Mike Hockey, business development director at IT services firm 2E2 which has worked with several local councils on rolling out their home working initiatives, agreed that firms had to take the plunge and actually set up shared hot desks and close down offices if they are to maximise the cost and environmental savings achieved through home working.
"When desks are only occupied on average 40 percent of the time it really does make sense [to try and cut down on real estate]," he said. "If you can close offices it can then help ensure that home working is taken up, which is usually welcomed by staff because most people like working from home."
However, the report also found that while home working "conclusively" reduces carbon emissions adoption is being hampered by a lack of support from businesses.
According to the study eight out of ten workers believe it is not possible for them to work from home, despite 65 percent being keen on the idea of tele-working. Employers also cited a lack of appropriate technology and a lack of senior management support as major obstacles to rolling out home working.
"There is a real desire by employees to work from home, [but] this interest is not being met by employers," complained Aamir Butt, UK CEO at Giritech.
Banister also argued that while the number of people working from home was increasing the government was not doing enough to stimulate adoption through either incentives or increased taxes on pollution.
"Working from home has not featured very highly in Government policy and there has not been any clear statement or encouragement from central or local Government on this," he said. "There is an opportunity for teleworking to sit at the heart of a coordinated policy that could involve sustainable transport."
The only government incentive that could have been interpreted as a move to encourage home working, the Home Computing Initiative which offered employees tax free PCs, was axed last year amid Treasury complaints that the system was being defrauded and despite commitments that a replacement would be investigated a new scheme is yet to appear.
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