Home is where the heart of the problem is

It sounds so comforting, so inviting; “Working from Home”. What’s not to like? For many people, it means no commute, no more early mornings, and more quality time with the family. The enforced change of lifestyle creates a chance to strike, at last, that real balance between work life and home life which we have long been aware is the key to lowering stress levels. What a sigh of relief we can all breathe. Really? Perhaps, not all of us. Some simply cannot work from home due to the nature of their jobs, yet they still have to stay there. Some can work from home but are confined to small spaces. With children also at home, those spaces get smaller. Without a garden, the spaces are restricted. Certainly, for many, the quality of life changes by being at home. The harsh truth is that, for many others, it does not change for the better. For those working from home with limited resources and dwindling or nonexistent household budgets to turn to, stress levels rise, worries mount up,
and so do bills.

The longer you’re in your own home, rather than out and about or at an employer’s premises, the more electricity you use. Here is a problem that is set to get worse. A headline from BBC News recently highlighted an issue that has far wider societal and environmental implications than merely the domestic ones to which it alludes: ‘COVID-19: People working from home ‘face £45 monthly energy bill rise’.

Locked down and forgotten

How does the problem get worse? This is because its impact is not simply on the individual, or the family, it is also on the environment. The pandemic quite rightly occupies the news and occupies all our thoughts. Other concerns recede. Or it may seem that other more global, more seemingly distant concerns have lessened in gravity. With less overall economic activity, less travel, and minimal use of office blocks going on, “many nations are reporting significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions for the year 2020”. The danger with such observations is that they feed a false sense of relief when it comes to climate change. The author of a new study on the topic goes on to say: “While pandemic-induced economic shocks will likely have little direct effect on long-term emissions, they may well have a significant indirect effect on the level of investment that nations are willing to commit to meet or beat their Paris emissions targets.” In other words, with the world  staying at home, governments may take their eye off the ball. In itself, this approach is contagious. As some organisations feel that, because they have closed their premises, their carbon emissions – and hence their carbon footprint – reduce, the reality is ultimately very different.

The mutating carbon footprint

A new strain of carbon footprint is emerging. As people work from home, they consume more energy. Many homes are far less energy efficient than the working locations their occupant/s may otherwise have attended during the working day; locations where facilities managers attend to energy measures, where systems are in place, where environmental sustainability policies are observed and, increasingly, green energy sources have been adopted. The carbon emissions of these home workers’ homes directly track back to the reporting responsibility of the employer; they are merely dispersed impressions of the same footprint. 

Employers have a responsibility to help their workforce through these difficult times; one that extends beyond any fiscal relationship or commitment. Managing an organisation’s carbon footprint now entails managing it across a far wider ‘estate’ where far more diverse energy efficiency practices are observed, if any at all.

A big personal cost is being faced by many, as a result of a global crisis. Employers must accept the role they have to play in alleviating the burden on their employees. As they do so, they will ease the burden on the business; that of an expanding global carbon footprint. As the energy consumption spreads cross the workforce, it doesn’t just become far more complex to report on it, it increases due to domestic behaviours. People use more energy at home than they would be party to using at the office. The likelihood is that this is predominantly ‘brown’ energy, derived from conventional fossil fuels. These are among the prime sources of pollutants contributing to the climate change catastrophe.

Track and treat the energy problem

This home energy consumption is insidious in its effect on both the home worker and the environment. From the individual’s perspective, the rising costs will be hidden for some time, with the effect only reverberating later. People on quarterly electricity billing will not be hit by the immediate impact, it will creep up on them. As for the environment, just at that point when we should be collectively
addressing energy issues, our ability to do so is now put to the test. Rather than progressing, we are in danger of regressing. Now for companies who have previously been getting to grips with measuring their carbon footprint with a view to controlling and ideally reducing it, access to the base information which employers are obliged to report on – who is consuming what, where –becomes more tenuous.

Are businesses going to be asked to amalgamate the energy use of their home workers by laboriously scrutinising every energy bill from everybody
across their at-home workforce? The answer is, they are. The workload will be excessive. If working from home endures, its impact on the environment
must be more closely tracked. This falls to employers.

Employers must look at smarter ways of identifying the energy use now contributing to their dispersed carbon footprint.
Only by tracking it, and measuring it, can they then manage it.

At the same time employers must support their workforces by advising on energy-efficiency measures so commonly in place in the workplace. We are
all living in hard times. Those who can affect change to help alleviate the pressures must start to do so.

Smarter solutions

There is an alternative. That is to measure energy use at source. The Internet of Things is an environment for the collection and transmission of data. Sensors can measure not just electricity used, they can also provide data on temperature, humidity and air pressure. The data is uploaded, via Wi-Fi, to the cloud. At any moment in time an employer can access a simple dashboard to understand energy consumption across the workforce. It’s a smart solution to a baffling problem. One thing is for sure; we cannot continue into an uncertain future without significantly changing so much about the way we do things. In many areas, technology will be a robust support to helping us do so much. It will not remove the human responsibility, but will make it easier to meet. Meanwhile, any caring employer will be looking at ways to help their workers through difficult times. This is how we’ll get through them.