There’s much brouhaha about “green jobs” those that arise from new clean-tech companies, created to help solve the climate crisis. I’m all for this — we need this kind of innovation — but green jobs are hardly the economic cure-all they are often made out to be. In fact, they only account for a small fraction of the U.S. workforce.
It’s time to take a different approach to green jobs. We can transform the way people work to achieve change on a mass level, and every manager can encourage sustainability by making one modification that would benefit the environment. Additionally, this change can positively affect employee morale and productivity, as well as company efficiency and profitability. So here’s what you need to do:
Stop working in the office. Offices and office hours once made good sense. Before the advent of the Internet and personal computers, you had to go to work to gain access to information. If you weren’t at work you couldn’t do work.
Today, of course, that’s unbelievably outdated. We’ve seen the advances technology brings to our everyday lives: we can pay bills online and shop 24/7; we don’t need to wait for the morning newspaper to be delivered to the driveway; and we can check in for a flight online instead of waiting in line. More than 2 billion people use broadband Internet, up from perhaps 50 million a decade ago. Now, it’s estimated that approximately 40% of jobs could be performed remotely, at least part of the time.
In addition to not needing the office to communicate, we are doing a poor job of utilizing the office space we do have. Studies by the U.S. General Services Administration show that at any given time, over half the workspace in the United States and Europe is not being used.
So what does this have to do with the environment? Offices account for about 38% of all greenhouse gas emissions. And according to the U.S. Green Building Council, over approximately the next 20 years, greenhouse gas emissions from offices are expected to grow faster than those in any other sector.
Getting to the office also generates problems; American workers spend on average 40 minutes a day commuting — this amounts to eight weeks a year spent in the car. In total, this can waste more than 3.7 billion hours in lost productivity and 2.3 billion gallons of gas annually. What a price for something most of us don’t like doing: sitting in traffic.
What about my bottom line? Let’s say you are like me: a business executive, not a Greenpeace ambassador. You want to know how this affects your company.
For most, real estate is the second-largest expense. Sun Microsystems, now part of Oracle, embraced a telework initiative in 2000 that ultimately resulted in more than half of the company’s employees working remotely and a net savings of $80 million a year in facility costs. Sun was so pleased with the results it achieved that, in 2008, it spun the initiative into a separate company, now called Better Workplace, to bring these benefits to other companies throughout the world.
Defense contractor Northrop Grumman worked with Better Workplace to develop a mobile work strategy, devising a plan to achieve annual savings of $110 million based on 20% employee participation. In 2008 TIAA-CREF, a Fortune 100 financial services organization, started using Better Workplace’s software tools to manage and scale a flexible work initiative that resulted in the reduction of 75 thousand square feet of office space in midtown Manhattan and cost savings of $15 million a year.
But how does working outside the office affect employees? At TIAA-CREF, managers were initially concerned about performance issues with employees working remotely. But after the program’s implementation, nearly every manager who participated in a survey responded that employees performed as well — or better — when working from home. More than anything else,employees want flexibility: almost 80% of employees say they would like to work from home part of the time, and more than a third say they’d choose the option to work from home over a pay raise.
Happy employees yield healthier companies. Home-based workers are sick or absent less often than people who work in an office. That’s not because of contagious germs circulating office buildings, but because there is a whole population of people who fake an illness to shirk work. Sometwo-thirds of employees who call in sick aren’t really sick. That’s costly: these unscheduled absences cost employers $1,800 per employee per year — totaling $300 billion per year to U.S. companies. On the flip side, allowing people to work from wherever they want enhances attraction and retention.
Successful companies of tomorrow will evolve their office plan into a no-office plan. I understand that change is hard. People resist disrupting the status quo. But I’m asking you to think differently about how we work so that we all can enjoy a much smoother ride into the future. The long-term environmental cost is too great not to try. The journey alone — which will reduce costs and enable happier and more productive employees — is well worth it.
by Maynard Webb
Maynard Webb is the founder of the Webb Investment Network (WIN) and is currently the chairman of LiveOps, a cloud-based call center. He’s a board member at both salesforce.com and Yahoo, and was previously COO of eBay. Webb’s best-selling book, Rebooting Work: Transform How You Work in the Age of Entrepreneurship, was released in January 2013.