Key Takeaways

  • In 2019 only 17% of employees were working remotely. At the end of 2021, that number jumped to 32% – demonstrating how much COVID has impacted the labor landscape.
  • Changes to employee behavior, like car use, energy consumption, and dietary choices, were just some of the shifts researchers noticed when employees worked from home.
  • Researchers see the potential impact remote working can have on gender equity and added co-benefits of having a diverse and inclusive workplace.
  • Companies can increase diversity and inclusion by providing inclusive job descriptions, female empowerment groups, and mental health support.

Context

In the context of business, sustainability is often associated with environmental impacts, carbon footprints, and overall performance. Sustainability, however, goes far beyond environmental issues and business longevity. It also encompasses work environments that are dignified, diverse, equitable, and safe. To truly be on a sustainable path, a company must tackle social and environmental issues within its circle of influence. This is even more imperative as the “Great Resignation” has challenged many workers to set higher standards for their employers. If companies want to stay relevant and competitive, they need to do better.

Humanistic Management

One way some organizations are doing this is through Humanistic Management. It’s a holistic approach to management that centers decision-making around people and their social and ecological environments. Interested in understanding the impacts this management approach had on a company’s overall sustainability, a group of researchers in Germany tracked a Berlin-based tech startup following the COVID lockdowns in March 2020. This company had pre-existing sustainability goals and practices. Researchers then wanted to see how lockdowns impacted those practices and if Humanistic Management helped uphold them.

As researchers were trying to assess Humanistic Management within the context of a tech startup, they decided to zone in on the company’s Human Resources (HR) department. Since HR is in charge of the hiring process, communicating with employees, and managing much of the internal governmental policies set by executives, it makes sense that researchers looked at
Humanistic Management and Sustainability from HR’s perspective.

Findings

Keeping Humanistic Management in mind, researchers and the tech company collaborated to measure the changes in environmental impacts after going virtual. They found three distinct areas in which working remotely had made a difference:

happy workers are productive workers

1. Diet: 55% of polled individuals cooked exclusively at home during the first lockdowns. Upwards of 70% also said they plan to keep this up post-COVID. In contrast to eating out or getting food delivered, cooking at home is a more sustainable practice. Not only do restaurants create large amounts of food waste, but takeout and delivery also come with plastic waste and GHG emissions to go to the restaurant and back home.

2. Greenhouse gas emissions (GHG). On average, 98% of the emissions created by an employee come from their commute. Driving to and from work accounts for most employees’ emissions. Working from home cuts those emissions out while also giving back employees up to two hours of their commute back.

3. Energy consciousness: It is very rare for people to care about their energy consumption at work. Unless they’re passionate about sustainability and the environment, most employees don’t think about their energy consumption at the office. This is primarily because they don’t have to pay for it. However much energy they use doesn’t affect them at the end of the day, so they’ll use as much as they want. However, working from home means most of their energy comes out of pocket. This study found that people became much more energy conscious and conservative to save money. During the early days of COVID, almost everyone was cooped up at home, so people had to be more conscious about their energy consumption or face an ugly bill at the end of the month. Besides looking at the change in environmental footprint from working from home, the study also looked at the benefits and opportunities that diversity and inclusivity could produce. Specifically, researchers focused on gender inclusivity and found that the main benefits from increasing gender diversity are:remote working increases profits and employee retentionThis study found that remote work positively correlates with diversity in the workplace. Providing the option to work from home increased female applications while also increasing the number of women in leadership positions. Here are some of the things that you can implement in your workplace to promote diversity and inclusion:hiring for remote working positions

Relevance

This paper comes at the same time the “Great Resignation” is shaking many industries worldwide. As many people experienced job insecurity and general economic instability thanks to the pandemic, they had the opportunity to reassess their life values and goals. Additionally, many people were able to experience remote work for the first time in their lives. This further
reinforced the notion that life is more than just work.

Lockdowns also relieved some pressure humans consistently place on their ecosystems. We saw dolphins in Venice’s canals, rats overtaking New York City, and Flamingos flocking to Mumbai for the first time in who knows how long. Even for just a bit, we were able to see how much our economy burdens ecosystems and that even a few weeks at home could have a positive impact.

As sustainability becomes more and more relevant and essential for employees, companies that want to stay competitive in the search for employees must have strategies and goals that tackle these challenges. Unless you want to be left behind in your sector/industry, it is vital to think about how these issues affect your business and what you can do to tackle them.