According to a report published this week, The Sustainability Benefits of the Connected Workplace, working remotely results in more than pajama-clad employees. It also has environmental and cost-savings benefits that can be replicated at other companies across the US.
“When a company is considering a work-from-home program or telecommuting or remote work, sustainability is probably not the primary reason why,” said report author John Pflueger, Dell corporate responsibility, principal environmental strategies, in an interview. “The primary reasons are issues related more to work-life balance and being the sort of employer that the 21st-century employee has come to expect. But we found sustainability-related benefits are an important side effect.”
The report follows a 2014 study that found Dell avoided 6,700 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions and saved $12 million in 2013 through its Connected Workplace program.
In its June 2016 study, Dell looked at emissions decreases (see chart) due to reduced vehicle use and facility energy use, emissions increases due to “rebound effects” such as increased home electricity use during the day, and emissions increases due to IT footprint. The study found Dell work-from-home programs mitigate about 1.15 metric tons of CO2e per employee per year. Most of the decrease comes from employee GHG emissions with a smaller percentage attributable to Dell GHG emissions.
As part of Dell’s Legacy of Good Plan, the company’s corporate responsibility program, it plans to enable half of its workforce to take advantage of flexible work arrangements by 2020. Dell’s Legacy of Good Plan has also set a goal to reduce GHG emissions from facilities and logistics operations by 50 percent by 2020, among other environmental goals.
For fiscal year 2015, Dell reported that one of every four of eligible employees was enrolled in its Connected Workplace program.
The average Dell employee works remotely 9.7 times per month, which is higher than the US average of 2.3 per month. This saves employees and the company money: more than $12 million in fuel costs per year, or about $350 per employee.
The Connected Workplace program also allows Dell to avoid 136 million miles of travel per year and more than 35,000 metric tons of CO2e annually. “Our employees will avoid a little over 1 metric ton per employee per year by working remotely,” Pflueger said — and that’s even considering rebound effects. “Those numbers seem to be borne out fairly well when you look at other studies that look at the state of work form home across the US.”
Plus it’s a selling point for millennials, Dell says. At the close of FY16, Dell’s university hiring represented 32 percent of all external hires, up from 24 percent in FY15.
It also gives Dell more hiring options. “It’s about finding the best employees for your company,” Pflueger said. “This means we don’t have to be limited to the folks who live in Austin. We can really work on making sure we’re finding the best people.”
While the benefits within Dell are apparent, they could be even greater when scaled up across the US, the report says.
While the impact within Dell is significant, the benefits are even more impressive when scaled across the US. At the current average of telecommuting 2.3 times per month, the US workforce currently avoids 2.7 billion round-trips per year, according to Gallup data. This equals a reduction in commuting footprint of 30 million metric tons CO2e of per year — and could be an even larger savings if increased to Dell’s average of 9.7 times per month.
Pflueger realizes that working from home doesn’t work for all companies. But it could be an added cost-savings and sustainability tool for many.
“It works for us,” he said. “Every company is going to have to consider its own situation and its own needs. But this is a viable option that is going to be available to a lot of employers and a lot of employees and it’s working very well for us. We’re pleased with the flexibility it offers our employ and the positive consequences it has on carbon emissions.”
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