COVID-19: Lessons learned about the potential of telework and its impact on ESG strategies

 

Article by: Nacho Guilera, Green City and Biodiversity Manager and Xavier Codina, Mobility Project Manager

Due to the COVID-19 crisis and the lockdown of all workers from considered non-essential activities, and also from those activities that can be carried out from home, a very significant reduction in mobility has occurred. For example, on a working day in Barcelona’s metropolitan area, the use of public transport has dropped between 90 and 95%, while private mobility has decreased up to 80%.

However, this mobility reduction not necessarily results in an equivalent reduction of economic activity, giving rise to a significant number of employees working from home (or teleworking). This fact demonstrates the enormous potential of teleworking in today’s workplace. Overall, it is estimated that approximately 60% of jobs could adapt to teleworking.

Telework allows employees to do their job remotely, mainly from their homes. This enables a working mobility decrease, with the consequent reduction of GHG emissions, time and economic expenses, creating environmental benefits in urban environments. Generally, people living farther from their offices are the ones telecommuting more often.

According to the International Labor Organization and Eurofound, before COVID-19 crisis in Spain only 8% of employees teleworked frequently and 13% did it occasionally (data from year 2018).

This forced situation allows to predict a boom in teleworking once the crisis is over. In this sense, some recent surveys (Colliers, 2020) confirm this statement through the following:

  • 82% of employees in offices would like to telework one or more days a week after the Covid-19 crisis.
  • 71% of those who had never teleworked from home before, would like to do so at least once a week in the future.
  • respondents say their productivity has not been affected by teleworking.
  • 74% of companies say they intend to formally implement telework (Gartner, 2020).

What is the potential of telework and its associated impact?

If we take as a reference the Catalan labor market before the crisis until 31st December 2019, from 3.34 million employees affiliated in the Spanish Social Security system or self-employed, approximately 1.56 million were in the tertiary sector (non-commercial) and therefore with greater potential to telework.

Considering the hypothesis in which 50% of this group of employees had the possibility to telework one day per week, the associated mobility savings in daily trips could be more than 300,000 trips a day (adding up round trips). Also, an annual reduction in private mobility of 400 million vehicles/km could be expected, which equates the total daily mobility of a 100,000 inhabitants city.[1].

Therefore, the previous hypothesis is supposed to have a greater impact in environment than other measures such as the implementation of low-emission zones -recently adopted in Barcelona-, or even greater than the implementation of Barcelona’s Mobility Masterplan horizon 2025 which aims a reduction of 242 million vehicles per km. More specifically, the hypothesis of wide telecommuting implementation would lead into an improvement in air quality, a reduction in air pollution related deaths, and a decrease of greenhouse gas emissions around 70,000 tons of CO2 equivalent, which is approximately what would be absorbed by a plantation of one million trees over 10 years.

But there are other positive impacts of wide telecommuting implementation: a reduction of traffic accidents, lower occupation of public space by vehicle parking, reduced congestion of public transport at peak times -which could be a key element over the coming weeks and months.

Regarding companies, teleworking has a direct impact on the welfare of workers, because it increases flexibility and reconciliation of work and family life. This is becoming more and more important in companies’ ESG strategies, as well as having more relevance in risk assessments and contingency plans. In addition, reducing working travel needs has an impact on reducing corporate carbon footprint, a key element in current climate emergency and the need for companies to collaborate in its response.

In Anthesis Lavola teleworking has been a common practice among the entire organization. During 2019 more than 15% of working days have been teleworked. This allows us to better reconcile work and family life, increasing productivity and reducing stress, but it is also a key element in reducing work-related mobility and therefore improving air quality and health in our cities.

This allowed us to maintain our operations almost at 100% throughout COVID-19 crisis and also to acquire expertise on the conditions and requirements needed for a successful teleworking implementation and promotion strategy. Precisely, this is one of the measures included in the Company Displacement Plans we have drawn up recently. These plans are the ideal framework for an analysis of workers’ mobility patterns, teleworking potential identification and the establishment of the roadmap for a teleworking implementation strategy in companies.

[1] Considering a modal share of the private vehicle of 36% and a travel distance of 17 km EMEF 2018 and MTA data.
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