Hybrid working and ESG: match made in heaven or irreconcilable differences?


As employers grapple with the practicalities of implementing hybrid working, they need to consider a whole host of employment issues, such as whether contracts need changing, flexible working policies and discrimination issues.   But with ESG performance increasingly scrutinised by customers, candidates and investors alike, how can businesses ensure that their working practices align with their ESG targets?

The short answer is that it's not always easy.   You might think that increased working from home is environmentally beneficial:  fewer journeys = fewer emissions, as well as decreased plastic waste from eating at home. But in fact working from home has significant environmental downsides, particularly in the winter - heating lots of homes rather than one office results in more carbon emissions.  And hybrid working may be the worst of both worlds from an environmental standpoint, with offices needing to be fully heated and air-conditioned even when many staff are at home. 

But that's not the end of the story.  What may be bad for the E can be great for the S.  Hybrid and remote working could be a powerful driver of diversity and retention, enabling working parents, staff with disabilities and workers based outside major cities to have access to working arrangements which suit their needs.  And hybrid working (and the shift to remote communication) may enable teams to be better connected, with benefits for oversight and ultimately corporate governance (the G).   In any case, pragmatically, hybrid working looks set to be a permanent feature of many workplaces and businesses are unlikely to abandon it altogether on environmental grounds.   So what can they do to square the circle?

First, businesses should assess what their individual ESG priorities are.  Although reducing carbon emissions is likely to feature in most business' ESG plan, other goals may be equally important.  Second, look at how they can mitigate the environmental impact of their activities.  Carbon offset schemes may be worth exploring, as well as incentives for employees to minimise their own carbon footprint.   Even something as simple as encouraging cycling or car sharing when staff travel to work can make a difference.   Employees could also be encouraged to install smart meters at home or insulate home offices in order to avoid unnecessary energy consumption.   Of course, employers will need to bear in mind that medical conditions or personal circumstances may make this more challenging for some employees and should design such schemes to be as accessible as possible.  Finally employers should consider how this can be presented in the business' ESG reports and what goals can be set for the future.   Although hybrid working and environmental sustainability may at times be a challenging combination, they're not always incompatible - and there's plenty of scope for working on their relationship. 

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