creating the sustainable digital workplace

Going green – Creating the sustainable digital workplace

Digital technology is revolutionising the way we work while making businesses more productive. Crucially, though, the digital workplace also points the way to a greener and more sustainable future.

When Verizon carried out a survey of more than 1,000 businesses for its New Digital Workplace report, 39 per cent of respondents said they had advanced digital workplaces and for those companies, online collaboration has become the norm. The same survey found the vast majority of businesses were expecting remote work to increase.

That should probably come as no surprise. As Sampath Sowmyanarayan, President of Global Enterprise at Verizon Business, observed: “The global pandemic accelerated this move to a digital working environment.”

It is this transformation that enabled organisations to not only survive but thrive during the pandemic and currently, it is underpinning the transition to hybrid work. But as Sowmyanarayan pointed out, what we are seeing today should be considered as just the beginning of a workplace revolution. ”Business leaders need to use the lessons of the present to future-ready their organizations. By acting now, they can capture the needs of employees and customers and create alignment across the organization as they pivot toward the new normal.”

But there is a question to be asked. Will the digital workplace be sustainable?

Appearances can be deceptive. In the wake of the pandemic, more of us are working from home, a trend that has taken traffic off the road and reduced emissions. As such, the transition to hybrid working, in particular, seems in perfect alignment with the net-zero imperative.

But there is a danger that energy consumption simply moves out of the office and into private homes. Instead of heating one office space, individuals will be heating their own homes while also using electricity to power their devices and run their software. Think of it this way, the average email user is responsible for around 360kg of carbon emissions per annum and the internet as a whole accounts for 3.7 per cent of total greenhouse gas pollution. The digital workplace – whether located centrally or distributed – may look clean and green but that isn’t necessarily the case. Without a plan, the move to digital technology-driven hybrid working could prove to be no more sustainable than the more traditional model.

So how do organisations set about reaping the benefits of hybrid working while also ensuring that their operations are environmentally sustainable?

Green Thinking

In fact, digital working has the potential to help businesses move quickly in the direction of net-zero.

You can’t escape the fact that digital technology runs on electricity and despite a ramping up of renewable energy sources, the bulk of power around the world is generated by gas or coal. That will change over time. More renewable energy systems – wind, tide, solar and nuclear – will come online and the problem of intermittency will be addressed by better battery technology. But at the moment, all businesses need to think about reducing electricity consumption while implementing digital transformation.

And there are ways and means to do that. Email is more costly than either SMS ( which may not always be practical) or instant messaging. Thus, if employees are encouraged to use IMs rather than emails, the environmental cost of communication falls.

Collaborative tools also have the potential to reduce a company’s carbon footprint, not least because they reduce or remove the need to travel to meetings. In tandem – and to maximise the environmental benefits – companies can cut their power consumption by using the most energy-efficient devices and software. It’s also best – whenever possible – to use in-house networks.

Equally important, the physical structure (and infrastructure) of the workplace can be optimised. Good insulation, ventilation, efficient heating and proactive power management all play a part in curbing emissions.

Digital’s Positive Impact

In addition to measures to mitigate power consumption by digital software and devices, there is also a real opportunity to use digital technology as an enabler of greater environmental sustainability.

Speaking recently at an event organised by McKinsey, Christine Bastian, an Executive Vice President and Chief People Officer at Western Digital, described how her company had deployed 1,000 Internet of Things sensors to monitor factory operations. The insights gained from analysing the data have enabled the company to optimise energy consumption.

That’s just one example, but data collection and analytics will play a key role in the creation of digital strategies that deliver productivity gains while also helping companies meet their environmental targets.

And it’s important to remember that the greening of the workplace is not simply about reducing power consumption and emissions. There are other factors to consider too. How much waste is the organisation producing? Is it pursuing a circular economy model for recycling? Does its packaging reflect its environmental questions? Digital technology can help answer these questions by providing the data needed to formulate solutions.

Boosting Productivity

At a time when businesses in all sectors are seeking to boost sales without increasing their impact on their environment, digital technology is the catalyst for enhanced productivity. Collaborative tools such as file sharing, chat and video conferencing are enabling new and more productive ways of working. That trend will continue and as Verizon points out in its New Digital Workplace report, the key to further efficiencies will be the development of simple and easy-to-use tools coupled with a focus on how the various solutions can be integrated to create a single app-like experience.

By working collaboratively and more effectively using energy-efficient solutions, businesses have an opportunity to improve performance while reducing their carbon footprints.