Reducing travel carbon footprint via remote working

As part of the Eastern New Energy (ENE) Project Anglia Ruskin University (ARU), aimed to examine the opportunities for sales and technical support businesses to reduce their travel footprint.

Logos for ARU, University of East London, Eastern New Energy, EU Regional Development Fund and HM Government

The Eastern New Energy project is funded by the England European Regional Development Fund

The research explores via interviews with seven employees from the business, regarding their recent experiences when they could not travel due to Covid-19 and evaluates how a permanent reduction in face-to-face meetings with clients might affect the business in the long-term. The purpose to understand how employees managed their work and travel, to highlight outcomes and challenges of remote working and to recommend ways to make remote or hybrid working successful if implemented.

The employee responses of switching to remote working were largely positive. With this option having only been available on request pre-pandemic. The findings can be placed into two categories: innovation and new practices.

Innovation

Trying out different ways to secure sales remotely, support their existing customers and communicate effectively with their teams, were consistently mentioned. This innovation was a crucial aspect of the adaption process. The absence of traveling provided more time to explore new tools and skills, aiding employees to better work independently from home.

  • Innovation in support for customers – adapting to customer needs in the absence of travel. Such as a video room with multiple cameras for remotely talking customers through equipment.
  • Innovation of sales approach – creating different strategies to stay competitive and relevant. Such as experimenting with mass marketing and more carful vetting of potential international customers by video before committing to flying to meet them.
  • Implementing new tools for better quality communication – using video conferencing and other tools to hold meetings and training webinars.

New practices

New working practices adopted by individuals to adapt to more remote working and working from home were uncovered. Employees interviewed compared the advantages and disadvantages of working from home and what they learnt to from that experience. Most comments were positive in nature.

  • Flexible schedules – being able to flexibly organise their own schedule with positive outcomes for both the business and the individual.
  • Managing home-work boundaries - events such as dentist appointments could be more easily scheduled, with workers able to compensate outside of working hours. Childcare was less of an issue for workers at home. These could be attended to without the restraint of formal request processes.
  • Recommendations

    The results from this research expose advantages and disadvantages of traveling to work either full time or using a hybrid approach. The main recommendation to emerge from the findings is to focus on what has been found to work and allow new organisational competencies to emerge from that. Based on these findings it indicates that a return to business as usual, based on excessive travelling, can be avoided without damaging the business.

    In summary, these factors can be crucial to remote working success:

    • Understanding the potential positive effects of work from home such as efficiency in work, reduced stress and a better work-life balance.
    • Limiting unnecessary travel to reduce carbon footprint.
    • Aligning to customer expectations and creating customer awareness on working changes.
    • Providing good quality equipment or technologies for remote working capabilities.
    • Providing training to managers and teams for adopting to flexible working options.

    However, it is important to recognise that full remote working is not without some issues which would need to be overcome. Employees found themselves needing to adjust to the absence of things which are only available in office, leading to the requirement of equipment procurement for employees at home. Team bonding and portraying of seller-client sentiment was also an issue with fully remote operations, suggesting that occasional or periodic travel is still crucial for working more effectively.