In the first part of this blog, I wrote about emerging workplace trends that are poised to define the future of work. I also elaborated on sustainability in the context of the future of work and touched upon a few themes that collectively define what it means to be a sustainable workplace.
In this blog, I shall expand upon hybrid work as an enabler of sustainability and dwell upon the benefits that it confers upon its adopters. I will also spend some time detailing the criticality of technology in this issue and what companies could do to leverage technology to enhance their sustainability.
Making a case for hybrid
Consider the following facts:
- An estimated 40 percent of all emissions come from offices and commercial buildings.
- 88 percent of companies with proper sustainability practices have better operational performance and cash flow.
- Employees in green-certified buildings exhibit a 26 percent increase in cognition and take 30 percent fewer sick days on average
All this points to a single, unassailable truth: hybrid work models foster sustainability, which boosts employee morale and company profitability. Considering our survey findings, where reducing business travel and commuting were listed among top priorities in designing an environmentally sustainable work model, I can safely say that sustainability is the top priority for most senior executives (more than 90 percent of polled senior executives hold this opinion). Implementing a hybrid work model is one of the most straightforward ways to achieve the dual objectives of reduced carbon footprint and increased profitability.
An unintended but a welcome side-effect of improved sustainability is greater employee retention. In my view, employees are more likely to stick with workplaces that exhibit values that are in sync with their own. Exhibiting a solid strategy to deal with environmental issues is a powerful signal that can attract the most capable candidates. In a market that is as starved for talent as ours, that could prove to be a major competitive advantage for companies seeking to become leaders.
That said, a hybrid-work model that is implemented as a knee-jerk reaction to the ESG mandates of the company could be antithetical to the overall goals of sustainability. The pandemic opened my eyes to the downsides of hybrid work, where over 70 million laptops were shipped to employees and a large portion of those were expedited deliveries. All this, despite the companies knowing that expedited deliveries cause more carbon emissions than normal deliveries (e.g. air freight over regular freight).
Remote work usually requires enterprise-enabled laptops, and the production of an average laptop emits a staggering 331kgs of carbon. That’s as much as what a family sedan would emit when driven for 480 miles. This worrying statistic, coupled with the impact of mining rare-earth materials and the need for erratic off-site service visits for maintenance results in a manifold increase in the costs of remote work.
To reap the benefits of a hybrid work model to its fullest, companies need to set clear boundaries regarding the extent to which they’re willing to accommodate remote work. Establishing clear institution-wide priorities also helps employees when making decisions independently in a manner that is sync with their organizational objectives.
Technology as an enabler
For the frontline executive, talking about sustainability in abstract terms is not useful as it rarely translates into action. Under such circumstances, the only viable alternative is to turn to technology as a key enabler in implementing sustainable practices. It should come as no surprise that our survey revealed that 86 percent of respondents claim to have invested substantially in novel technologies to support sustainable work models.
In addition to virtual meeting technologies and enterprise collaboration tools, there is a second tier of technologies that is proving to be of immense interest to executives seeking to architect bespoke work model re-designs. This tier includes advanced process analytics, advanced people analytics, cloud technologies, AI/NLP and employee engagement programs supported by gamification and wellness applications.
We’ve accommodated these technologies into our ACE framework (Assess, Consult and Evolve) where we measure and benchmark carbon consumption on devices, identify key contributors to a sustainable workplace, build a roadmap aligned to organizational sustainability goals and execute initiatives where a refurbished or remanufactured device delivers same performance as a new one at one-third of the total carbon footprint.
Establishing digital DNA
I've established sustainability as a key component for future success and have shown you how technology is a key enabler of sustainability. However, all of this becomes a moot point if your employees actively resist such changes.
Resistance as a problem can largely be overcome by ensuring enterprise-wide digital dexterity, which is a bigger hurdle in legacy companies. The survey report states that 36 percent of respondents cited digital dexterity as a more important hurdle than IT skills to implement tech solutions to support a sustainable work model.
Respondents who had achieved total digital dexterity reported that it had greatly increased the ease with which they were able to transition to sustainable work models.
On the heels of digital dexterity comes data integrity. And several respondents affirmed their belief that hybrid work models would succeed only if they could keep company data safe.
Data security continues to pose a major threat to the democratization of hybrid work models, and its relevance is only going to go up with the expected surge in the usage of advanced analytics, which would make data more valuable.
As the leader of HCLTech’s Digital Workplaces unit, I am a strong advocate of a zero-trust approach to security and would cite four solutions that form a comprehensive approach to this issue:
- Having a robust framework for identity and access management
- Plugging in updated existing models of EDR (endpoint detection response) to resolve newer breed of threats
- Marrying user-behavior analytics with security to plug vulnerabilities within workflows
- Going the extra mile to secure the data landscape used by senior executives through advanced technologies
Hybrid work models are here to stay and our senior leadership is surprisingly welcoming of such changes. But achieving sustainability cannot come at the cost of sacrificing operational flexibility and profitability.
Operational requirements limit the flexibility of hybrid work and constrain opportunities for reducing environmental impacts. New technologies, and more sophisticated methods of deploying them, can help to address this challenge, but many firms will need help from ecosystem partners to succeed.
In my opinion, the only way for companies to bridge the sustainability schism is by carefully designing a hybrid work model that takes into account the sustainability goals and requirements of the company.
Some factors would be common for all: enhanced security, better analytics, stakeholder management and employee well-being are non-negotiable to the process of designing sustainable hybrid work model.
And let’s not forget the intangible dimensions to building a sustainable workplace: DEI, environmental impact and other social issues which are just as integral for companies as other factors.