In elementary school, I planted trees; cleaned up the beach; and made recycle, reduce, and reuse posters every Earth Day. After a month of learning about “going green” and estimating our own carbon footprint, I remember telling my parents they couldn’t purchase an SUV, and we needed to stop using plastic straws and be more sustainable.
Since then, my environmental awareness has taken a nosedive. However, this spring, I have been thinking about whether remote work supports sustainable living. Are we all sustainable superheroes now that we don’t commute in our pollution producing cars? Or, have we become extra energy consumers working from home?
From one office to thousands
While the future of work is unknown, we can all agree that going back to a commute would be tough. Eliminating daily commutes to work in gas guzzling cars is a major point for the affirmative side. No commute means better air quality, a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, and less consumption of fossil fuels. Sounds like sustainable living to me!
Highway vehicles alone put out almost 35% of the total nitrogen dioxide and contribute to the 3.3 million world-wide deaths due to poor air quality every year. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 29% of greenhouse gas emissions in the USA came from transportation in 2017. Conversely, remote workers in the United States avoid emitting 3.6 million tons of greenhouse gasses every year, which is the equivalent of planting 91 million trees.
Sustainable living in a singular office
While getting to one office might have had a negative impact, working in one might have been positive. Companies were making huge efforts to reduce their carbon footprint before the pandemic. Fast Company shared how Shopify launched a sustainability fund in 2019, committing to invest at least $5 million every year into technology and projects to fight climate change. Since then, they have offered remote work to all of their employees indefinitely.
Whereas before they could control their sustainability by making environmentally friendly choices for one massive building, they are now dealing with “more than 5,000 offices scattered around the globe. All these offices have different heating systems, different energy grids, and each employee making different decisions now that they’re untethered from a central office.” Therefore, sustainability is not only less controllable but also less trackable. Without clear data, the jury is still out on which is better for the planet.
Different region, different impact
In addition to the inability to track everyone’s home energy usage, where you live and work complicates the questions of whether working from home is having a positive or negative effect on sustainable living. BBC brings up two important factors.
The first factor is workers in other countries, such as Norway, were using electric vehicles at high rates. Therefore, the lack of a commute is far less impactful there than in other countries that are highly reliant on petroleum, including the US and UK. In other words, sustainable living practices were already in place.
Additionally, cities where public transportation is used at large to get to and from work might not see any major changes in energy consumed since buses, trains, and metros are still running.
Where you derive your energy matters
Secondly, where your energy comes from plays a role in determining whether working from home positively contributes to sustainable living. For example, if you live in Iceland (where a significant amount of clean geothermal energy powers commercial buildings), virtual work is not scoring you many brownie points. Conversely, if you live in a U.S. city where coal power is the main source of commercial electricity but many homes have solar power, remote work could have a positive impact.
Similarly, the temperature varies greatly across the U.S. and the globe. In places like Florida where the heat is treacherous, fossil fuels are pumping from every home all day and required in large office spaces. Therefore, cutting out the cooling of big buildings could be beneficial. Versus if you live in San Francisco where the weather is mostly mild, heating or cooling systems might be turned off when leaving the house so the change is negligible.
Small habits or big changes
On the other side of the coin, I see plastic Starbucks cups on everyone’s desk at the office, a product of getting their morning vice on the way to work. Yet, my guess is most drink the energizer from a reusable mug when working from home.
Also, what about the lights? In my apartment, I get great natural light all day so I don’t use much electricity, while my office is required to power overhead lights from 7am to 5pm.
More Sustainable? The takeway
Not everyone is environmentally conscious. Therefore, minor habits might not hold a candle to the millions of dollars that corporations can put into environmental efforts. For example, Zapier offset 647 tonnes of carbon through reforestation and Microsoft charges an internal fine of $15 per metric ton of carbon emission to encourage its departments to be as sustainable as possible.
At Hardly, we are striving to be environmentally conscious on all fronts. From our commitment to the sustainable packaging of products to our CEO’s use of S’well bottles, Hardly is making sure we do our part as a company of remote workers. Are you doing yours?
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The coronavirus swept the globe in the spring of 2020. What we thought would be a temporary illness for some has become a pandemic for all, for months on end. While the continuous spread of the virus might be coming to an end shortly, the wounds are deep. Work-wise, the impact is mixed; some negative and some positive. As I began pondering the future of work post-pandemic, I found I had more questions than answers.
If you read my article from last week, you know that remote workers aren’t interested in going back to the office full-time. However, they are also missing the collaboration and community that in-person interactions bring. Companies are happy to reduce their expenses by not paying for large office buildings while maintaining a productive workforce. But they also recognize the need for some physical space at least part-time.
The future of work will move towards a hybrid model. Gone are the days where all employees commute to the same building and sit at the same desk from 9-5. However, working in isolation from makeshift home offices 100% of the time will not become the new normal. Companies will allow purpose to dictate the use of office space and employees will have a choice. But more is unknown than known about work in 2021; these are the macro questions I’m grappling with…
Will remote work be an equalizer or widen the gap?
Remote work might provide more opportunities for underrepresented populations to thrive in the white-collar job market. On the other hand, going virtual might be one more thing that boxes them out. Specifically, I am interested in the impact remote work will have on women and gender inequality in the workforce. In a BBC interview, Melinda Gates said that women were clustered in low-paying jobs pre-pandemic, and therefore were 1.8 times more likely to lose their jobs. Women who didn’t lose their jobs were forced into balancing housework and work in an environment where they are both constant and competing.
In my eyes, there are two potential paths. First, remote work will help partners share household duties more equitably. Plus, the flexibility will prevent women from having to make difficult choices between children and career. Without long commutes and strict office hours, both parents will have the ability to work full-time if they choose, and participate in household chores such as cooking dinner, doing laundry, and picking up the kids. Men can spend more time inside the home engaging with their children and contributing to household chores, giving women more time to advance in their careers.
However, just because they can doesn’t mean they will. Jean-Nicolas Reyt states that women have a more difficult time advancing professionally because they are more likely to prioritize their family responsibilities over their careers. In the future, working from home might intensify these feelings making women less present, focused, and productive.
Will companies start to employ a more international workforce and what does that mean for domestic workers?
Remote work has expanded opportunities for international teams, but are domestic employees still more desirable? This year, our company hired four international employees, all in different time zones. From Thailand to Japan to London, Hardly has been able to pull talent from every end of the globe. Part of me thinks we are trendsetters. Without location being a factor, the talent pool is only narrowed by language and experience. With new platforms to make working with international teams seamless, distance will play a less prominent role in hiring.
Now, we have a “virtual first” style of work: designed for the remote worker rather than adapted. Everything will be saved to a cloud, and onboarding processes will be automated. Hiring international remote workers won’t require managers to do duplicative work or go out of their way, it will just be the standard. While there are many positives to hiring internationally, there could be negative consequences for the domestic workforce. US workers might be pushed out by companies trying to maximize profits by hiring people from countries where the cost of living is significantly lower and therefore, so is their wage. But currently, companies are rewarded for supporting America and Americans through job creation. Just like there has been a push to buy local, hiring local might become a new grassroots movement.
In the future, will workers and companies alike be dehumanized?
The pandemic has caused many of us to become more humanitarian. While some believe a shutdown is the best way to save lives, others believe keeping the economy running is the protection we need. Either way, we all agree that human lives have value and should therefore be treated with care. But what makes someone human and what makes us care about them? Without the break room chats or company holiday parties, the person on the other side of the email becomes faceless.
Some say they know less about their coworkers since working from home. People don’t discuss their children in passing, their quirky habits aren’t observable from across the room, and personality goes unseen with more communication via email. Without the ability to connect in-person, we run the risk of being degraded to worker bees.
However, some have had the opposite experience. Zoom has provided them a window into coworkers’ lives outside of the office in a very real way. A colorful painting in a colleague’s living room may lead to a conversation about their experience in Thailand, or seeing books may lead to a conversation of Russian authors.
If video chats and Slack conversations aren’t enough to help management form relationships with their team, they might not be as empathetic when a personal matter comes up. Employees won’t feel cared for and therefore won’t feel connected. On the company side, a lack of physical spaces makes it more difficult to embody a mission or culture. In other words, companies could become empty shells where people simply work to earn a paycheck and nothing more. A soulless company attracts soulless employees who only complete the bare minimum because they don’t believe in the work they are doing. To avoid this, companies will have to encourage coworkers to converse on a personal level and find a way to keep the company’s personality alive and well in a virtual setting.
If I’m honest, I have so many more questions about the future of work. Will people become more or less defined by their work? Will there be a great migration from urban areas to small suburbs? What new skills do you need to be a competitive candidate in the remote work scene? These topics may be seeds for next year’s articles but until then, use them as food for thought and if you have any predictions about the future of work, leave us a comment on our social media below!
Remote work has provided opportunities for people to engage who may otherwise not choose to do so in a face to face setting. Join Heather as she shares her story on how the remote environment has expanded the reach of teams driven by more communication rather than less.
Years ago when I lived in DC, I would get off at Farragut North Metro Station every morning and pass by the WeWork on K Street. I would imagine myself sitting against the huge windows sipping a cappuccino, signing up for speaker events and book signings, and networking with fellow young professionals of all industries. To me, coworking spaces were lands of opportunity; symbols of working on my own terms, community, and collaboration. Flexibility at its finest. Lack of structure left room for pervasive creativity, and the flow of people breathed new life into each day.
Fast forward to 2020 and the realization that I could potentially be living in San Francisco after leaving Japan.
I was excited about having the opportunity to join a coworking space. In such a big city there was a variety to choose from; some dedicated to providing a space for female entrepreneurs to network, some marketed towards those in the arts who want to be in an interactive cultural hub, and some focused on becoming your one-stop-shop for morning coffee, conferences, lunch dates, and happy hour cocktails. One coworking space even had yoga rooms, nursing areas for new moms, and beauty counters! I promise I’m not the only one who was buzzing about these new spaces. Prior to the pandemic, coworking spaces comprised less than 5% of the market but were the fastest-growing type of office space in commercial real estate, said Forbes. In fact, they were expected to make up 30% of the market by 2030 according to JLL.
Here comes Covid-19! So what now? The pandemic that many of us thought would be over by now has changed the way we do life and business forever. A Stanford study found that remote workers are 13% more productive. A recent Gartner study suggested that 74% of CFOs plan to permanently shift to more remote work post-COVID-19. In addition, the whole reason people were told to work from home was to prevent them from gathering in one space, so I initially thought that COVID would be the death of coworking. However, after careful consideration, I have done a 180.
My prediction: coworking spaces will begin to thrive during and post-pandemic and here are the three reasons why:
People miss the social interaction and sense of community
I am a social butterfly. Too long in isolation and I am itching to see another human. Yes, I know we have these cool techy devices that allow us to FaceTime, but it’s not the same as striking up a conversation with someone next to you.
Don’t get me wrong, I love the flexibility and that my commute to the couch takes two seconds. But I don’t think the pajamas and pancakes make up for the camaraderie I feel when I’m in an office setting. Humans are social beings. We are better together!
Now, you could make the argument that Zoom meetings and chat platforms provide just as much opportunity for social interaction, but 9 times out of 10 I am more engaged in a conversation when I am physically with the person rather than looking through a screen. An Inc. article stated that 45% of those surveyed said they specifically missed social connections at the office the most.
Coworking spaces provide a solution to this. We can be unsociable worker bees for three days out of the week and then get to interact with our team members in a rented space for a couple of hours on Monday and Friday to bond, brainstorm, and feel the sense of community around us.
People want to create more separation between their personal and professional lives
One of the difficulties with working from home is that there is no physical delineation between work and home. This makes it difficult to mentally draw the line too. Using the same space for our personal and professional lives causes work time and playtime to blur. Yikes!
While there is the perk of being able to do loads of laundry or prep dinner between traditional work hours, we are also answering emails and working on deliverables after six o’clock. For those of us who live on busy streets or with a roommate, it’s hard to get the peace and quiet we need to focus on the task at hand. And this is just the tip of the iceberg. My heart goes out to the mothers and fathers who are trying to run a daycare or 3rd-grade classroom while working.
Bottom line — people are starting to remember some of the benefits of commuting to a secondary location where their only job was to do the job they were getting paid for! Coworking spaces could provide the perfect balance between going into a corporate office and working from our living rooms. You won’t be expected to show up at 8 a.m. sharp or take sick leave every time you have a dental appointment, but you will have a place away from the distractions of your home to work efficiently. Who said you couldn’t have your cake and eat it too?
Conventional corporate offices are unnecessary and expensive, but companies realize employees need a place to work together in person
It’s no surprise that companies are thrilled that productivity is up and expenses are down. Fast Company stated long-term lease signing in NYC plummeted 72% in the second quarter of 2020. Companies are either relocating their headquarters or nixing them all together.
Companies are finding that “remote only” is not a sustainable long-term solution. Collaboration, onboarding, and team management are just a few aspects of work that are done better in person and affect company culture and profitability. Once again, it could be coworking spaces to the rescue.
Instead of wasting money on huge office buildings 365 days per year, coworking spaces allow for companies to make office space purpose-driven rather than obligatory. With the ability to sign short-term flexible leases for the month or reserve conference rooms by the hour or the day, companies can save goo-gobs of money and still provide employees face-to-face interaction when needed.
So what do coworking spaces need to do to become the future of work?
For one, safety is key. Remember, gathering in a space with a bunch of strangers is counterintuitive to being COVID conscious. Therefore, plans for sanitation and spacing are key.
Secondly, marketing might need to shift more heavily towards corporations playing into their desire to save money and have a flexible office space.
Thirdly, coworking spaces have to continue to innovate and maintain their personalities. Instead of being a skeleton for companies to fill, coworking spaces should still have their own theme or mission and attract companies and individuals based on that. As usual, it’s all about finding a happy medium.
Would you join a coworking space? Why or why not?
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When I imagined graduate school, I didn’t imagine the distance-work and the loneliness that would soon follow. I envisioned study groups at the homes of my classmates complete with wine and charcuterie boards, meeting my professors for coffee while discussing new theoretical research, and attending social science conferences with fellow honor society members. My classmates and I would share the blessings and the burdens of being Masters of Social Work students as we were all committed to the same purpose — to enhance human well-being and empower those who are vulnerable and oppressed through mental health.
My graduate school experience looks very different than what I daydreamed about. I opted for a more flexible option (an online program) so that I could move across the world with my husband. As the program progressed in a remote environment, I soon felt isolated and lacked a sense of belonging. Interactions with classmates were only through formal discussion board posts that did not encourage organic conversation or collaboration and lectures were prerecorded or in the form of PowerPoints. I had zero facetime with classmates and professors; it was as if I was going through the curriculum alone. I became disengaged and only did the bare minimum to get decent grades rather than diving into the material with excitement and a thirst for growth. I knew something had to change.
Distance work can cause similar feelings of loneliness and detachment.
Who doesn’t want to skip the commute and take the first call of the day in pajamas from the couch? Working remotely affords so many of us an enhanced quality of life. Many consider distance work to be a perk of the job – being able to work where you are happiest whether that is in your home office or on a beach chair in Tulum. That sounds amazing, right? However, one of the challenges we often forget to consider is how isolating working outside the office can truly be. Isolation can lead to a sense of loneliness, even if you are a part of a large team.
The good news is these feelings aren’t inevitable. This week I interviewed Dr. Tom Guariello, psychologist and professor at New York’s School of Visual Arts Masters in Branding program, on the topic. I have developed some tips and tricks to help conquer feelings of loneliness and boost your sense of belonging.
Step 1: Talk about it
Stop the silence and speak up about how you feel.
In Buffer’s 2018 State of Remote Work Report, they learned 20% of distance workers felt that loneliness was one of their biggest struggles with working outside the office. What does this mean? You are not alone! Chances are some of your colleagues feel the same way and are waiting for someone to share that they, too, miss chatting by the coffee machine and the weekly dessert hour (nothing beats sweet treat Friday!). By voicing your challenges related to loneliness, you can actually build a stronger relationship with your coworkers. Your openness could lead to more discussion and subsequently, make you feel connected after all.
But your colleagues aren’t the only ones you should talk to. My advice is to seek support from your boss as well. Their job is not only to ensure you are getting projects done on time but to also keep tabs on whether you feel happy with your work environment and culture. If you are craving more interaction with team members, host a weekly brainstorm over Zoom or provide edits over the phone rather than through email.
A good company cares about its workers and should welcome the opportunity to address whatever concerns you have around isolation.
Step 2: Connect with coworkers on a more personal level
One of the reasons you might be feeling lonely is because you find that working from home means all of your conversations with colleagues center around work. While being an employee at the same company is the initial connecting point, relationships are formed by learning more about the people themselves, not just the work they do. In order to regain that sense of community, you have to make a concerted effort to get to know your fellow distance workers on a deeper level. Do they have a family? What do they do for fun? What do you have in common? These are questions that were typically answered organically during face-to-face interactions in the break room.
Luckily, casual interactions can happen in a variety of virtual spaces as well. It just takes a bit more planning and intention. Dr. Guarriello is an advocate for very small change.
Look for little opportunities for connectivity by figuring out where you intersect with others, even if your Venn diagrams only overlap 5%.
Use this small amount as the foundation or jump-off point and build a positive relationship from there. Try inviting one distanced coworker to a 30-minute virtual coffee break or vent session via Google Hangout each week, or start off your Monday morning by sending a “How was your weekend?” message via your company’s chat platform. Dr. Guarriello even suggests asking coworkers, “What is the coolest thing that happened to you in the last 24 hours?” as a meeting ice breaker. Another option is to kill two birds with one stone:
Fruitful networking requires nurturing relationships, not simply making a request and forgetting about it. Try sending out 2 different invite requests, a regular 30-minute touchpoint and a happy hour invite to people you genuinely want to bond with within your professional network. People like to work with those they feel a connection to so getting to know their interests in addition to their resume is beneficial. Plus, who doesn’t like getting business done with a glass of vino in hand during these Linkedin meet-ups?
Step 3: Find meaning in your work
Dr. Guarriello shared that belonging is fostered through clarity of purpose. In other words, feeling passionate about your company’s vision and mission is key. Colleagues who share a mutual commitment to producing work that mirrors the company’s overarching goals have a stronger connection. Take some time to reflect on why your work is meaningful and how your contribution brings value to the team and company. Discuss your thoughts with your coworkers and brainstorm ways in which you can collaborate at a higher level to help each other live up to that commitment and common purpose.
Step 4: Stay engaged with friends and family outside of work
Lastly, socializing outside of the workplace is a must. Let’s face it, most of us have acquaintances at work, but our best friends may be from other parts of our lives. Distance work allows us the flexibility to meet up with neighborhood friends for lunch or FaceTime family members in different time zones during the day. So, make the most of it, and keep those relationships outside of work alive. Personally, I plan two periodic after-work outings and virtual chat sessions with friends or family members who I don’t often get to see each week.
You may also like…
Socialize Better, Faster, Stronger than Ever BeforeJoin Heather as she shares her story on how the remote environment has expanded the reach of teams driven by more communication rather than less.Read NowA Lazy Guide to Better Wellbeing in Remote WorkCheck out Hardly CEO Allison’s lazy guide to avoiding burnout, de-stressing, and centering herself. Read Now
Sick of connecting with loved ones over food and alcohol? Try starting a hobby together.
My grandmother and I started practicing our creative writing once a week by simply responding to a one-word prompt for 5 minutes and then sharing our prose. Not only are we bonding over an activity that stimulates our minds, but we aren’t ruining our fitness goals in the process!
P.S. Find the upside in solitude
While distance work loneliness does have its downsides, solitude can be advantageous— not just lonely. If you are lucky enough to have a quiet space to work in your house you might find that the seclusion increases your productivity. While it might have taken you 3 hours to write a memo before, not being interrupted by coworkers allows you to finish your work in only two. Another benefit of distance work is not being watched by superiors. If you are anything like me, I enjoy working in spurts and taking frequent breaks. In the office setting, I hated having to prove to others that I was getting my work done by being chained to my desk. And that can be lonely in a different way.
Tannenbaum, Arielle. “A Guide to Conquering Remote Work Loneliness From Remote Workers.” Buffer Resources, Buffer Resources, 13 June 2018, buffer.com/resources/remote-work-loneliness/.
Interview with Tom Guarriello