How hybrid work can lead to sustainable business practices

The transformed office could provide new opportunities to reduce consumption and conserve resources, with benefits for employers, employees, and the planet.

By Jared Lindzon — November 18, 2021

Prior to the pandemic, Julie M., a client services associate for a financial services company, spent more than two hours and $60 most days reverse commuting from her apartment in New York to her office in suburban New Jersey, first by foot, then by train, and then via a rideshare.

When her employer switched to a hybrid work model, however, Julie was finally able to find a space at the company’s previously overcrowded Manhattan office, located within walking distance of her home. The transition has allowed her to save time and money, and she says the less populated office has also dramatically reduced its environmental footprint.

“We’re saving paper and energy, and on a personal note, I’m no longer taking the train or an Uber — I’m walking to and from the office,” Julie says.

Even with full return-to-office plans still moving targets, it’s clear that the future of work for many will be hybrid, with employees working remotely most or part of the time. Only 6% of employees worked remotely prior to the pandemic, but recent studies suggest that 61% want to work from home at least three days per week moving forward, and 21% want to work entirely remote. With the potential of 10 times the number of employees working from home each day, the opportunity for cost and waste savings is significant, says Joe Karbowski, CTO of FM:Systems, a digital workplace management company.

The transition to hybrid work enables employers to equip employees with tools that are better for productivity and the planet.

Illustration by Josh Cochran

The transition to hybrid work enables employers to equip employees with tools that are better for productivity and the planet.

“When you look at that number on things like reduced carbon output from people staying at home, reduced building costs, reduced waste gives you an opportunity to make decisions at a scale that was previously not moving the needle,” he says.

More than a dozen peer-reviewed studies have confirmed that employees prefer working for organizations that take environmental sustainability seriously. In fact, according to a recent study conducted by GHD, a global professional services advisory firm, 30% of Americans indicated their employer’s sustainability practices impacted their decision about whether to work for them, and they would consider green credentials when choosing a future employer.

This transition opens up new possibilities for sustainable business practices, enabling organizations to dramatically change their consumption patterns, reduce their environmental footprint, equip employees with tools that are better for productivity and the planet, and appeal to worker preferences in an increasingly competitive labor market.

A win-win-win opportunity

Improving sustainability through the transition to hybrid work provides benefits for employers, employees, and the environment, all at the same time. That’s because many of the systems, measures, and technologies that create a better hybrid work experience also enable more-efficient management of physical office resources, from smarter use of space to conservation of energy and water.

Creating that more sustainable and flexible workspace first requires leaders to define their goals, set benchmarks, and align on a strategy, explains Saurine Doshi, global chair of the service practices for Kearney, a management consulting firm.

Doshi encourages organizations to define their sustainability targets, ensure leaders are aligned, and determine how they’ll measure their progress. “Anybody who’s doing it has to first determine what the goal is — whether it’s to do the best you can, or if you want to be industry leading? Do you want to have a zero-carbon footprint? With or without offsets? And in what time frame? All that has to be defined,” he says.

Manufacturer 3M, for example, said earlier this year it is set to spend $1 billion to fast-track its sustainability initiatives, with funds earmarked for its long-term goal of achieving carbon neutrality by 2050 and to increase its commitment to renewable energy and the reduction of water usage at its facilities.

Realizing the potential benefits of adapting to hybrid work — where work is conducted in the space that best suits the task at hand — brings with it an opportunity to adopt an “only-what-we-need-when we-need-it” approach to resources, ranging from power to square footage.

“We’re now basing facilities decisions on utilization, not headcount,” says Laura DelaFuente, global director of workplace experience at HP. “We’re creating more choice for employees, including multifunctional areas that can be adapted to meet their needs.”

“We’re now basing facilities decisions on utilization, not head count.”

— Laura Delafuente, Global Director of Workplace Experience, HP

In some cases, that could mean moving walls to turn individual cubicle space into open collaboration areas, or incorporating movable, adjustable office furniture that employees can reconfigure as necessary. Organizations may also choose to eliminate personal workspaces altogether and replace them with hot desks, or shared workstations that employees can reserve for use when they’re in the office. HP recently announced a collaboration with ROOM for a prefabricated office space that is purpose-built for hybrid workplaces. The spaces are outfitted with an HP Collaboration All-in-One PC and webcam pre-installed with Zoom Rooms software, a sit/stand desk, a whiteboard, and optimal lighting for video conferencing. The walls are made from recycled PET (polyethylene terephthalate, a plastic resin) engineered to reduce outside noise.

Smart facilities that conserve resources

A range of technologies can help companies pinpoint what resources they need, when and where they need them, increasing efficiency and conservation.

This includes a number of solutions that use Wi-Fi connectivity combined with sensors to determine how rooms and offices are being used, and how frequently. With that data, organizations can turn off power, heating, and cooling in empty spaces or implement a smart heating and lighting system. In order to better manage their consumption, from HVAC to hot-water systems to ventilation, organizations will need to adopt building energy management solutions that track office space utilization data and monitor and manage total consumption and energy usage.

A range of technologies can help companies pinpoint what resources they need, and when and where they need them.

Illustration by Josh Cochran

A range of technologies can help companies pinpoint what resources they need, and when and where they need them.

Additionally, by tracking occupancy across the building, some software can also allow employees to check which rooms are available for an impromptu meeting; book a workstation in advance of their arrival; or see which colleagues are working from the office each day.

“You want to make sure that it works seamlessly and that people have a good experience,” says Doshi. “You don’t want people to stop coming to the office.”

Doing more with less (waste)

Equipping hybrid employees with new tools and tech to do their jobs in a hybrid world not only helps them maintain productivity wherever they are, but also gives businesses a chance to choose more sustainable devices.

The most important piece of equipment for any hybrid employee is a powerful and portable laptop, such as the HP Elite Dragonfly, HP Elite c1030 Chromebook, or HP ZBook Studio mobile workstation, all of which include components made from recycled ocean-bound plastic and long-lasting batteries for seamless transition between home and office. For even more energy efficiency, hybrid workers can use a solar-powered charging bank, providing them with limitless clean energy for their portable devices.

While many companies adapted quickly to remote work with more mobile devices and cloud solutions, one area that often posed a challenge for remote workers was printing — especially for those who didn’t have printers at home, or needed to print frequently.

“The pandemic has reinforced the idea that work is not a separate place, and for many people that involves printing where they are,” says Alberto Mendoza, future products marketing manager at HP. “Just like we’ve seen with computing, printing needs to adapt to hybrid work in terms of mobility.”

HP Roam for Business addresses that challenge, allowing mobile workers to safely and securely submit print jobs on the go, from any device and any location, and then print only when they are at an HP Roam-enabled printer. This gives hybrid employees flexibility and security, and also helps reduce wasted energy, paper, and supplies from unintentional prints. This added layer of efficiency can even reduce printing needs by 15% to 30%, according to HP studies.


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“People have gotten used to doing a lot online and remote in organizations, whether they are in healthcare, financial institutions, governments — where paper requirements tend to be the highest,” says Doshi. “In some industries, you can automate some workflows and reduce the number of pages and the amount of paper you require.”

Cutting the commute

Transportation is the single largest contributor of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States, accounting for 29% of the country’s total emissions, according to the EPA. Working from home during pandemic lockdowns gave millions of employees the chance to skip their daily commute, saving time and reducing carbon emissions by 13% in 2020.

Research from the freelancing platform Upwork shows that working from home during the pandemic led to 890 million fewer miles traveled in private vehicles. Another study found that US workers, by switching to a more flexible working arrangement, could save 960 million hours of commuting time per year by 2030, while cutting carbon emissions by more than 100 million tons.

“The secret or passive piece that comes with [hybrid work] is the transportation footprint that is lifted,” Karbowski says, explaining that employers can count the emissions saved toward their sustainability goals.

The pandemic also inspired more people to pick up a more environmentally friendly mode of transportation, such as a bike, train, or electric scooter. New innovations in ride-sharing platforms, on-demand shuttle platforms, and EVs also have the potential to take a big chunk out of America’s single biggest source of carbon emissions.

With the workplace changing so rapidly, Karbowski says there is a collective responsibility to maintain a strong focus on sustainability as we not only adapt, but innovate, in the face of change.

“The opportunity to evolve work in a more ethical and sustainable way is there for the taking,” he says. “It’s up to all of us, as citizens of the planet, to do it in such a way that helps not only the company and the employees, but the world around us.”