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4 Unexpected Effects of Remote Working

09 October 2021

While the opportunity to work from home may once have been a tantalising opportunity offered to only a lucky few, the Covid-19 pandemic has pretty much made it the new norm. In just a few short years, we have witnessed a radical shift in the way we think about the workplace. The majority of companies were forced to send their employees home to work remotely for the first time - a trend that continues to persist. What was enacted at first as an emergency response has now become a norm that looks set to stay - long after the pandemic fades.

Some of the consequences of this massive increase in remote work are obvious. The sale of personal computers has, of course, benefitted, with global computer sales estimated to have jumped by 11% since most people were asked to bring the office into their homes. Conference calls have become standard practice, with many people attending milestone events such as weddings and birthdays via webcam. Digital workspaces are the new norm for how we communicate and share with our colleagues.

But the consequences of the shift to remote work have a much greater reach than these immediately noticeable effects, some of which may end up radically changing the face of society for years to come...

 1. Bringing life back to small communities

The opportunity to work remotely has breathed life into many small communities that up until recently were struggling. The so-called “brain drain” of young, educated individuals migrating to bigger cities in order to access bigger and better employment opportunities has reached a sudden halt thanks to remote working.

The switch to remote work means that individuals no longer have to relocate to big cities in order to progress their ascent up the career ladder. Many companies have begun to list their job postings without any demand for a particular location. What’s more, is opening up a world of opportunity for younger members of the workforce for whom homeownership has been something they have needed to sacrifice in favour of career opportunities.

Small towns across the UK are quickly becoming more viable options for young and ambitious workers to settle in, which could save what have for decades been dwindling population centres.

 2. Less pollution from commuters

For a time at which addressing the climate is more urgent than ever, the shift to remote work could not come sooner. Working from home means far less people taking cars, buses, and trains to and from the office each day. Every one of these skipped journeys adds up, and the rise of remote work can have a major effect on the level of air pollution in major urban centres.

Data gathered by the organisation Breathe London showed that coinciding with remote work becoming standard, London’s air quality demonstrated massive improvements. Emissions were shown to be down by 25% around the time of the morning commute, and a whopping 34% in the evening. These impressive numbers have captured the imagination of many, and numerous campaigns have since sprouted up advocating for the use of remote work as a tool for curbing emissions. Estimates suggest that remote work could cut out as much as 11 billion car miles in London alone, slashing greenhouse gas emissions by an incredible 3.3 million tonnes per year!

 3. Increasing residential space in cities

City centres have long been dominated by large office spaces designed to house massive workforces. The limited space available in most urban centres, coupled with rising population and demand for well-placed housing means that the price of urban property has skyrocketed in past decades. Millions of workers investing in desks for their homes and waving goodbye to the daily commute may well free up swathes of previously occupied urban space that was once used for offices.

Many people are already getting excited about the prospect of converting this newly freed commercial space into residential properties. Doing so would make living in the city centre a far greater option for many, and likely drive down the cost of property for all. There is already a great deal of buzz in the architectural community surrounding how best to convert the typical office block design into something more suitable for domestic life.

 4. Reduced waste

Environmentalists hail remote work for its ability to cut down on waste. Corporate offices have traditionally been ravenous in their consumption of paper, with dustbins and printers overflowing with stacks of paper - often for no good reason. In most instances, working from home removes the need for physical print-outs, saving a whole lot of paper. This is great news for the environment, as every tree that is saved from felling has the ability to remove over 6kg of carbon dioxide from the air each year, which all adds up to greatly reduce the overall level of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.  

A huge reduction in plastic waste is another lesser-known effect of the switch to the home office. It may not seem obvious at first, but working outside the home means being around a lot more single-use plastic items, which is important when we consider that around half of the 300 million tonnes of plastic the world produces each year is single-use.

Working outside of the home means a greater chance of using single-use cutlery, coffee cups, straws, etc. Eating lunch in the office can often mean ordering takeaway and again creating a daily mound of single-use plastic waste. Staying at home and having access to sustainable household items and cutlery may seem like a small change, but can quickly add up to a major reduction in plastic use!

 

Working from home may be new to many, but it’s pretty much guaranteed here to stay for many. The impact of the switch to home office ranges from minute to massive, but one thing’s for sure - we have truly entered a new era of work!