Do your homework: is working from home the new way to go?

12 August 2014

A growing number of businesses have embraced flexible working strategies, using technology to allow their employees to work from home. A report by Carbon Trust has studied the benefits of ‘telecommuting’ or working from home. Read on to find out more

More and more businesses are adopting flexible working strategies, which allow staff to work from home, on the go, or at ‘hot desks’ within their workplace.

Telecommuting has been hailed as improving work-life balance; cutting office costs; and reducing the carbon emissions and environmental impacts associated with commuting. But does allowing your staff to work from home really save your business money?

A report by the UK-based Carbon Trust explores the benefits of employees shifting to telecommuting, or working from home. Over 40% of jobs in the UK are compatible with working from home, but only 35% of companies have policies that allow employees to do so.

Since 2007, the number of people telecommuting in the UK has increased by almost half a million. The report states that if these numbers continue to increase it could cut costs for UK employers and employees by £3 billion and save three million tonnes of carbon annually. 

Telecommuting is a smart option for businesses, because it offers benefits for employees and for the environment. Working from home offers employees more freedom with their time and gives them more opportunity to balance their life, and work in a way that is productive for them.

It also reduces commuting, which saves money and time, and lowers CO2 emissions. Telecommuting also offers employers the option to downsize their offices, which can lower energy use and costs.

Carbon Trust’s research found that working from home offers the biggest benefits to people who live far from their office, or travel in by car. However, employees who can walk or ride to work, or take public transport can find that working from home can have the reverse effect, pushing up costs and carbon emissions.

Shorter journeys mean that the increased carbon emissions associated with powering and heating employees’ homes during the day are higher than the savings which result from a cancelled commute, which means net higher emissions.

Hugh Jones, managing director of Carbon Trust Advisory, said the report highlighted the nuanced impacts of working from home. “Significant financial and carbon savings can be achieved from the roll out of homeworking.

“But companies must be careful to ensure that they get the balance right, for if employers do not take account of their individual circumstances, a rebound effect from employees heating inefficient homes may actually lead to an increase in carbon emissions,” he says.

At SBN we offer our staff the opportunity to work from home. Many of our employees work from home for one or more days of the week, and our regional employees telecommute with our Auckland office.

“We have a policy to allow staff to work from home. We see a host of social as well as environmental benefits for our team. It saves us travel time, it provides a quiet environment when needed, and shows trust,” says SBN CEO Rachel Brown.

“For many companies, one of the obstacles to allowing staff to work from home is the issue of trust, since managers can’t see what people are actually doing. However there are ways of overcoming this, for example make sure home offices are set up properly with appropriate desk and office space; make sure staff can be contacted at any time during their work hours; and ensure transparency on both sides. If someone wants to use flexi-time to attend to children’s functions, for example, ensure they let you know in advance. This honesty will bolster trust on both sides.

“Our experience is that our staff really value the opportunity to work from home at times and it works very well for our team.”

To read Carbon Trust’s report: “Homeworking: helping businesses cut costs and reduce their carbon footprint,” click here.