Not everyone can work remotely. But for those that can, the shift towards remote work looks like it's here to stay, with benefits for employees, employers, and the environment.

A lot of us probably think that our daily commute to work doesn’t have much of an impact on the environment. But in fact, transportation is one of the largest sources of carbon emissions in New Zealand, and commuting accounts for a sizable proportion of that.

There are a few different ways we can reduce that impact, like walking or biking to work, catching public transport, and increasingly, working from home. Widespread adoption of working from home (WFH) practices would mean less cars on the road, less demand for public transportation, and reduce our overall carbon footprint. On top of that, it could also mean less stress for employees, time saved on the commute, and better work life balance.

Benefits of working from home

In a world where businesses are under increasing pressure to show their commitment to climate change initiatives, a WFH policy is one way to make business practices more environmentally friendly. It's also proving highly popular with employees, who are just as productive working from home, but often, happier too.

In May 2020, a University of Otago study of 2,595 New Zealanders working from home during lockdown found that most people were equally or more productive (73 per cent). Many wanted to continue working from home at least part of the time post lockdown (89 per cent). Sixty-five percent felt optimistic they would be able to continue some form of remote working, which represents a significant shift in our work behaviour.

For employers, remote work can also reduce commercial real estate and operational costs. With fewer people working on-site, organisations also may benefit from lower electricity usage, less equipment, and less wastage. Some may choose to downsize their commercial property and require less space for parking in urban centres.

Industry insights

Flexible work hours and WFH options vary considerably by industry. According to Stats NZ, the industries in which people were most likely to work from home were:

  • financial and insurance services (71 percent)
  • information media and telecommunications (66 percent)
  • professional, scientific, technical, administrative, and support services (59 percent)
  • rental, hiring, and real estate services (58 percent).

The industries in which people were least likely to work from home were:

  • retail trade, accommodation, and food services (15 percent)
  • transport, postal, and warehousing (20 percent)
  • manufacturing and electricity, gas, water, and waste services (24 percent)
  • health care and social assistance (24 percent)
  • construction (26 percent).

Things to think about

Here are a few useful things to consider before you create a WFH policy for your business.

  • It's a good idea to set up your work from home policy as a test and learn so you can make adjustments along the way.
  • How many people in your business are able to work from home? For example, it might not be practical for an office manager to work from home, but an IT specialist might be fine.
  • Do you have the tech set up for people to work from home, like two-factor authentication or a Virtual Private Network (VPN) for remote access?
  • You may need to think about equipment requirements, or health and safety. You could set up cheat sheets that share tips on a healthy, ergonomic workstation.
  • Make sure there are easy ways for people to communicate remotely, like Microsoft Teams, Zoom, or email.
  • Are there days where it would be good for everyone to be in the office?
  • Consider how you'll know it's working i.e. you could set up a survey to get feedback, or establish a way to track work progress.

How to make it work

When it comes to figuring out exactly how to set up your policy, there are lots of great resources available. These are a few of the best:

  • Certnz

    In-depth information about keeping your business data safe, including cyber security policies, device controls, and remote access.

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