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You might have already read our article on how the ‘new’ way of working caused by the Covid-19 pandemic has affected the recruitment industry. However, one thing we haven’t touched on is the environmental impact. With more people working from home – as well as the potential for a hybrid mix of remote and office working to become popular – how have our carbon footprints been affected?

This matters more to recruiters than might be expected. Companies looking to cut their carbon emissions have seen that remote working is a quick win, while environmentally minded contractors may be looking for roles they can work in without having to go through a polluting commute. The reduction in our carbon footprints due to the pandemic may have changed more than expected.

The pandemic and our working lives

As Covid-19 hit the UK, our working lives were transformed. Almost half of British employees worked from home in April 2020, with this figure rising to over 57 per cent in London. While many jobs were unable to be performed from home, as well as essential workers continuing as usual, the majority of office jobs were done remotely.

However, even as lockdown restrictions were eased at various points in the year, many people still did not return to the office. It looks like Covid-19 has erased some of the barriers to remote employment, and a McKinsey report has suggested that over 20 per cent of the workforce could work remotely three to five days a week as effectively as they could if working from an office. It looks like this is an aspect of the pandemic that is here to stay, at least partially.

How have our carbon footprints changed?

The massive changes the pandemic has had on our working lives have also had a surprisingly large positive impact on the environment. A major factor has been the lack of car travel caused by lockdown and remote working. Levels of NO2 – a greenhouse gas emitted by cars that causes acid rain – have dropped across the globe, from around 25 per cent in the US to as much as 70 per cent in Delhi.

This has been caused largely but the drop in people commuting to work. The International Road Transport Union estimates that road traffic across Europe will have dropped by 57 per cent in 2020 compared to 2019, a large part of which will be down to the lack of people travelling to and from the office. While there are certainly negative environmental impacts caused by remote work, it seems likely they are outweighed by the positives.

What does the future hold?

The pandemic is winding down as more and more people around the world are getting vaccinated. Does this mean remote working is over? That doesn’t seem likely, as only 12 per cent of employees want to return to the pre-pandemic method of office working.

Stewart Butterfield, CEO and co-founder of Slack, anticipates a hybrid model of working to become the new normal. He added: “The sudden shift to distributed work has provided a once-in-a-generation opportunity to reimagine everything about how we do our jobs and how we run our companies.”

It seems likely that remote work is going to continue in some form or another, bringing with it a range of environmental benefits. As contractors get used to better air quality and an improved environment, this could prove to be a virtuous cycle. Recruiters need to bear this in mind for the future, as remote work’s impact on carbon footprints changes the way we see employment.

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