New study reveals potentially huge advantage of working from home: ‘It’s one interesting piece of the puzzle’

A study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences has just identified the potentially huge energy savings and pollution reduction from remote work, The Washington Post reports.

As The Post has already documented, there was a massive jump in work-from-home arrangements when the COVID-19 pandemic picked up speed, and many workers enjoyed getting to skip their commute and work in their pajamas. The benefits and drawbacks for employees and businesses have been discussed at length since, especially as employers have struggled with whether to call everyone back to the office.

Now, The Post reports that researchers Fengqi You of Cornell University, Longqi Yang of Microsoft, and their team have introduced another factor to that equation: energy use.

According to their study, fully remote workers produce less than half the heat-trapping air pollution than people working fully in the office. They’re using a bit more power at home and doing more non-commute-related travel, but that’s more than offset by the complete elimination of their commute and their office energy usage.

Reducing office energy use is good for the company since it lowers expenses. It also helps the company maintain a green image and build public trust. Employees get to save time and reduce their stress.

Meanwhile, the less air pollution being produced, the more we can slow down the Earth’s rising temperature — and we need it because we’re currently set to experience the hottest five years of all time.

However, this study’s findings are more complicated than just “reduce in-office work to reduce pollution.” There are multiple factors and lifestyle choices involved, The Post points out.

John Trougakos, a professor of management at the University of Toronto Scarborough who was not involved in the study, said, “It’s one interesting piece of the puzzle, but not the whole story.”

Notably, adding one work-from-home day per week makes very little difference at all. Employees need two or three remote days in their schedule to start producing significant benefits. There’s also a major difference between being fully remote and having four days out of the office.

“The remote work has to be significant in order to realize these kind of benefits,” Yang told The Post. “This study provides a very important data point for a dimension that people care a lot about when deciding remote work policy.”

The benefits will also change over time because of factors like the increasing popularity of electric vehicles and affordable, less-polluting energy options.

“Things will change over time,” You told The Post. “This is a study for now.”

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