It has been a long year and a half of COVID. Thanks to shutdowns around the country, many American workers have found themselves adapting to working remotely. Spare bedrooms have become offices. Couches have become desks. All of that could soon be changing.
Now that the lockdowns are ending, and many offices are opening back up, it is time for an accounting of what worked and what did not with America’s great work from home experiment. For some, remote work has been more successful than for others. Many prefer in-person meetings, and having team members all in one place. Plus, there is something reassuring in the return to “normal” operations.
All of that being said, it is indisputable that working from home is less wasteful and more productive than working in offices. Looking only at paper waste, the average office worker generates about two pounds of paper waste every day, using approximately 10,000 sheets of paper per year. That is not to mention the food waste and wasted food packaging created from working lunches and leftovers. Very little of that waste is replicated at home.
For one thing, most remote workers do not have the facilities to replicate the creation of paper waste in an office. For another, workers working from home will eat out less and prepare food more, generating less food waste. This has led up to a 30% reduction in sales at some fast food establishments, but also less waste.
Simply getting to the office also creates waste. Commuters generate 3.2 metric tons of carbon emissions and consume 313 gallons of gasoline per worker per year. Magnified by the size of the office workforce, that amounts to an overwhelming use of fuel and generation of carbon just to get people into and out of their offices.
Speaking of offices, powering them up requires energy for every computer, workstation, light fixture, printer, copier, and telephone in the modern office space. According to the World Economic Forum, power consumption has gone down overall due to the office shutterings caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, meaning working from home actually saves us energy.
The biggest waste of all when it comes to office work, however, is time. From those long commutes to time spent in needless meetings or over the water cooler, companies and workers around the country have found that productivity is increasingly improved when workers are at home, even if they work fewer hours. The hours they do spend working, since they are focused solely on work activities, are more productive — up to 77%.
Remote work was adopted by many as a last resort in dealing with COVID, but as time has gone on, it has proven to be more productive and less wasteful than working in offices. For those companies that are moving back to in-office work, be prepared to work harder to reduce unnecessary waste.