by Nathan Rogers

How COVID contingency best practices can help save the planet

Apr 22, 2021
IT Leadership

The shift to a hybrid workforce has had a positive impact not just on productivity and work/life balance, but on the environment and global climate change. Let's keep it that way.

A gloved hand examines conceptual damage to the structure of a leaf through a binary lens.
Credit: Yuuji / Getty Images

At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and most companies were forced to work virtually, few executives thought the situation would continue for over a year and might be the new work norm going forward. Today, although many companies have site-essential employees who continue to report to a physical workplace, most have to some extent embraced a future of work model that promotes virtual work for those employees who can carry out their responsibilities off-site.  

Last October, I announced to my team the decision to transition to a permanent virtual work structure with no plans to require individuals to return to an office, unless the nature of their work requires them to physically be on site.   We will use our physical hubs across the country as places to periodically convene, connect in person, and collaborate in our new hybrid workforce model.

Over the course of the past year, SAIC, like many organizations, has realized the benefits of working virtually, such as an improved work/life balance for employees, increased productivity, and cost savings that can be applied to strategic investments. As we celebrate Earth Day this month, we can also acknowledge the positive impact a virtual workforce and hybrid work environment has had on reducing the destructive carbon footprint that results from worker commuting and travel.

Prior to the pandemic, SAIC employees commuted an average 25.7 miles round trip to their assigned worksites from home.  Eliminating the daily commute saves approximately 8.3 hours/week per employee and nearly $50 in gas per month. From an environmental standpoint, this equates to the elimination of roughly 5,096 pounds of CO2 emissions per year. Our carbon footprint is further reduced by using collaboration tools like Zoom and Microsoft Teams that minimize the need to travel to meetings by automobile or airlines and play a key role in supporting a productive and collaborative virtual workforce.

An expanding climate for less commuting

This change in workforce dynamics will have far-reaching implications.  A recent survey of hundreds of federal government executives sponsored by SAIC, for example, found that an overwhelming majority of respondents (84%) reported they were more or just as productive since shifting to remote work. In fact, 82% of those executives responding said they expect remote work to continue going forward. The survey also noted that 41% of respondents expect to telework an average of three days a week post-pandemic, while another 41% expect to telework four or five days a week – compared to an average two days of weekly telework prior to the pandemic.

idc sustainability chart v3 IDC

Assuming the expectations of these government leaders come to pass, we could see very positive consequences for both the environment and the productivity of government workers.

Addressing the long-term health of the environment, while balancing short-term business goals, is a challenge faced by all companies. Even those that already have a small carbon footprint are striving to become more sustainable in their practices and are engaged in environmental stewardship efforts, including the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, improving energy conservation, and encouraging recycling and reduction. 

For me, this challenge is more personal. My passion for the environment started at a young age when I focused my Eagle Scout project on organizing an effort in my community to establish a curbside recycling program.  To this day I continue to advocate for the environment, most notably as a member of the Board of Directors for the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC). 

Tailoring tech for sustainability

As IT executives, many of us recognize the positive impact technology has had on business. It is also important to acknowledge the benefits that technology and new directions in digital transformation have on addressing climate risk and sustaining our environment.  This season is a perfect time to celebrate environmental protections and promote creative tech solutions to address environmental concerns. 

As we celebrate Earth Day this year and look toward many more to come, I challenge fellow IT leaders and business executives to apply sustainable practices in your personal and professional life and think of creative ways technology can be used to support and benefit the environment, as well as benefit business growth and productivity.

Some ways to get started:

  • Work with leadership to update policies regarding work from home or hybrid workforce models with an eye on environmental sustainability as one of the core benefits
  • Team up with your real estate team to reduce physical footprints and establish new energy and sustainability goals for smaller spaces that are for collaboration, celebrating, and community
  • Encourage employees to create energy efficient home offices that are sustainable and will lower their energy bills. Recognizing the many people are working from home, many utility companies, like Eversource, offer tips on conserving energy in home offices or provide information in newsletters or with monthly bills. They may also offer no-cost energy assessments and low- or no-cost improvements through third-party partners.