Homeworking: Here to stay?

Energy and Power May 26, 2021

As lockdown eases, many people in the UK are looking forward to being back in the office. But how many of us will return to our previous working habits once restrictions are lifted? The truth is that the pandemic has taught us that so much about our working routines is just force of habit and learned behaviour. For many, Dolly Parton’s routine in the 1980 hit ‘9 to 5’ had stood the test of time and the morning commute was still an all-too-familiar part of the working day. But will these lyrics soon seem dated? Before coronavirus, many of us would have said that we couldn’t do our jobs from home. Since we have been forced to, however, we have found that we can make it work, and what’s more, it has saved us time and money and is often more environmentally friendly. We have held many meetings and events virtually and have cut our carbon footprint with fewer car journeys, fewer flights and generally less travel overall.

It looks like homeworking will stick around as many of us are considering continuing to work from home regularly, so it makes sense that we take homeworking emissions into consideration when we calculate business carbon footprints. In fact, leading offset providers are making it a mandatory requirement of their footprinting protocols. In response to this, RSK’s carbon team has devised an emissions calculation methodology that is premised upon what is thought to be an average homeworking day.

“Calculating homeworking emissions is a challenging exercise because there are so many different variables,” comments Dominic Walkling, RSK’s Carbon Footprint Lead. “This is especially the case for global businesses such as RSK, as the homeworking environment varies so much in different continents, countries and regions. We cannot possibly account for every individual’s differing circumstances, so we have developed a model that estimates these values depending on where people are based.”

We have included within this benchmark the emissions associated with: a single laptop computer; a single desktop monitor; the broadband supply; lighting; other appliances, for example a further monitor and mobile phone charging; air conditioning (for countries where this is likely to be necessary); mains gas heating (for countries where this is likely to be necessary); waste; and water.

We investigated all these items to determine their average consumption of electricity over the course of a standard working day, which was assumed to be eight hours. For heating, a benchmark was applied to estimate emissions using the industry standard practice for an office working space of 15 m2 per person. Water consumption, wastewater and waste were assumed to be the same as average office consumption rates per person. We applied these benchmarks to the annual number of homeworking days and gave consideration to the country in which the homeworking was taking place, as this defined the emission factor used for electricity consumption and whether air conditioning or heating were needed.

To calculate the rise in homeworking emissions due to the pandemic, contracted homeworking and homeworking due to COVID-19 had to be considered separately, as the former would have taken place anyway. To calculate the emissions for contracted homeworking, the number of these homeworkers was simply multiplied by the number of their annual working days, accounting for holiday, to provide the total number of homeworking days. This number was then multiplied by the benchmarked emission factor that RSK produced, as described above.

Homeworking days = number of home-based full-time employees × annual working days

For homeworking as a result of COVID-19, emissions were estimated by calculating the average percentage of time that an employee had worked at home rather than in the office then multiplying this figure by the total number of working days per year. This number was then multiplied by the benchmarked emission factor that RSK produced, as before.

Homeworking days = (number of office-based full-time employees × the percentage of office occupancy) × annual working days

Of course, this model can be adapted according to the specific business’s usual routines, for example, by varying the working hours or the annual number of working days, but once in place, the benchmark can be relatively simply adapted to any business. Businesses may elect to take this further by surveying the particular homeworking conditions of staff, such as office size or additional equipment used.

“As well as providing figures for your business’s emissions, the calculations can demonstrate the differences in carbon footprint between homeworking and office working or for a mixture of the two,” continues Dominic. “Of course, homeworking results in savings from reduced commuting, but there are many more factors that need to be taken into account. For example, studies show that half-full offices produce more than half the emissions of a full office. Having figures for these alternatives can help businesses to understand the most carbon-efficient options for their business operations and employees.”

If you would like to find out more about calculating your carbon emissions, including homeworking emissions, please contact Dominic Walkling.