I took along a Microsoft RoundTable to the EcoCamp I was at over the weekend which sparked off a conversation on the value of working from home.

I had always assumed that home working was environmentally sound,  because of the savings in travel.  However one of the discussion group Jim Hensman at Coventry University has tried to quantify this for the university and noted that there may be higher energy usages caused by individuals heating their own homes and working in them rather than working together in an office.  Some home workers at the camp reckoned their energy bills had doubled because of home working.

My thoughts after this talk were:

  • Few homes are air conditioned so possible extra winter costs might be offset by savings in air conditioned office space in summer, and was this taken into account.
  • Not all homes are empty during the whole working day so additional heating costs would only accrue while the house was actually unoccupied.

Jim himself recognised that measuring any of this is impossible as we don’t have the necessary raw data.

Clearly some types of workers can’t do this e.g. the lecturers at Coventry University have to be there to lecture to students and take tutorials.  On the other side of things tools like Live Meeting and the Roundtable device (know known as the Polycom cx5000) make perfect sense in cutting down foreign travel.

Jim’s research on home working highlighted two other issues:

  • Home workers feel they are seen as somehow inferior / less efficient than those working at the office, by their managers.
  • Home workers feel isolated and detached from their work and team.

I feel the challenge is to overcome these prejudices where the environmental and economic benefits to employee and employer of home working can be established.

This is because the technology for remote or home working is easy, it’s the cultural shift that’s hard. For example at Microsoft, we have the tools in house to enable home working..

  • Office Communications Server keeps us in touch
  • LiveMeeting is a virtual meeting solution that not only works for our  internal meetings , but is also used to run small (say up to 150 delegates) virtual events and demos
  • DirectAccess is the secure vpn without a vpn built into Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2.

More importantly the UK MD, Gordon Frazer, has addressed the cultural issues by simply setting  out a policy which essentially means we only travel to meet customers. This is not only ensures we hit our aggressive carbon targets it means we are getting through the recession by keeping variable costs to a minimum like expenses.

Therefore as someone who rarely goes to the office:

  • I am valued for what I do not where I do it, and actually I get far more done when I’m at home.
  • I get an extra 1.5 hours a day of my life back because I’m not travelling to the office, and I can choose when to travel to avoid the rush hour when I do go in.
  • I save a bit more carbon because when my deliveries turn up I’m at home to receive them meaning they only make one journey.

I could go on endlessly but my point is that we need to do more remote working where it makes sense to save energy, and deal with the cultural issues, because actually this isn’t the new world of work it’s the medieval world of work where the majority of work was done locally.