What does Remote Work Mean for Sustainability in Cities?
Will we ever see a return back to offices like before?
In 2019, city life was at it’s peak. Every coffee shop had a queue out of the door, bars were buzzing, buses were crammed and shops were packed. But after the abrupt cultural shift following the pandemic of 2020, the modern cityscape looks quite different today.
Remote working has become one of the most popular forms of daily working life, with more and more employees choosing to work from home than in the office. Citing the benefits of a reduced commute, access to domestic facilities and easy child and pet care as some of the predominent reasons people like to work from home, it’s becoming more and more common for businesses to take up a hybrid or fully-remote approach to work. In fact, over 16% of businesses in 2022 are now entirely remote, working solely through Zoom calls and Slack messages.
So what does this mean for city life? And more importantly, what does this mean for sustainability within these cities today?
Less Commute = Less Pollution?
One of the biggest benefits of increased remote working in cities is the reduction of travel pollution and air pollution throughout the week. With more and more employees choosing to stay at home to work, this means that there are fewer cars on the road, fewer motorbikes, fewer taxis and Ubers… While standard buses might run as normal, the reduction in domestic vehicle pollution is going to have a significant impact on the
carbon footprint of the standard office worker.
However, studies are also showing that without the commute into work, remote workers are making an increasing number of leisure trips to make up for it - travelling into the city for social events and coffee shop working instead. While working from home can improve focus and productivity, many employees are finding they feel isolated and bored after spending too much at home, and seeking out new avenues of socialising in the cities instead.
Technology Wastage and Usage
When measuring our digital carbon footprints, the amount of tech (and unnecessary tech) we have in our homes has to be counted. Throughout the pandemic, there was a significant rise in the number of companies delivering or sending their employees company-specific laptops to work on from home. This often meant that multiple-worker houses were home to many duplicate laptops and computers in one space, increasing the amount of energy used throughout the day.
Some workers were also given duplicate mobile phones and tablets to work on, using more and more energy in the working week. And it’s equally important to consider how employees are using these devices - having meetings online instead of in person, communicating through emails, instant messaging and calls. Without the physical ability to speak to a colleague, these devices are likely to be switched on and active for a large portion of the day, ready and waiting for any digital communications - all contributing to the carbon output of the home.
Potential for Sustainable Spaces
So with many office spaces left open and empty now, some businesses and councils have begun to explore the different possibilities that this wasted space could be used for.
In cities like Amsterdam, New York and Singapore, work has already begun to transform these abandoned office spaces into sustainable housing alternatives - helping to both encourage sustainable construction and provide housing solutions for overpopulated areas.
As more and more workers choose to stay at home, the demands for traditional offices are decreasing, and the need for comfortable, productive living spaces (with additional sustainability features) is increasing. This means more sustainable housing overall, and more sustainable lifestyles within inner cities.
While remote working might not be the sustainable saviour of cities across the globe, the difference it’s already had on certain cities and urban landscapes is already making a positive impact on our environment.
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