Remote working could help the environment

(Drew Dies, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Passenger traffic in cities could be reduced by 3 up to 30 per cent, provided that teleworking becomes more widespread. Remote work was invented 50 years ago in the US in response to the oil prices.

The motivations for promoting remote work have changed over the course of recent decades. A sudden surge in fuel prices in the early 1970s in USA paralyzed passenger and freight traffic. At that point it was discovered that employees, and especially office workers, could perform at least some of their duties from home. Later, the development of remote work was driven by cost optimization — many employers saw it as an opportunity to reduce their demand for office space. Meanwhile, the efforts to reduce vehicle exhaust emissions may be an important factor in the promotion of remote work at present and in the future.

This ecological aspect of the popularization of telework is highlighted by the OECD forecast “ITF Transport Outlook 2019” concerning the long-term prospects for the development of transportation. The OECD experts predict that based on the current trends in economic development, the volume of passenger and freight transport could even triple over the next three decades. In the case of passenger transport, traffic could increase from 44 trillion passenger-kilometres in 2015 to 122 trillion passenger-kilometres in 2050. Even if the global commitments relating to environmental protection policies are fully implemented, the transport-related exhaust emissions will have increased by 60 per cent by 2050.

The prospect of an ecological catastrophe forces us to seek potential remedies. One of them is to encourage people to work from home in order to reduce the demand for transport. However, not all types of work can be performed at home. Because of that, it is difficult to expect that remote work could ever completely prevail over the traditional model of daily commutes to the workplace location indicated by the employer. Remote work can be successfully implemented in the case of office work, in sectors such as services, design, and education. Generally speaking, it is better suited to mental work than to a physical one. Telecommuting, associated with the development of the internet, creates the conditions for the emergence of new professions and new remote jobs.

Thus far, Denmark has been the only example of a country where more than half of all employees work remotely at least some of the time. The percentage of Danish employees who declare that they have experienced teleworking (51.8 per cent) is higher than of those who have never engaged in such work. In the most developed countries of the world, the number of people who do not have experience in teleworking is still higher than the number of workers who do it at least occasionally. The countries that are the most similar to Denmark in this regard include Finland (where 46.8 per cent of workers sometimes telework) and Sweden (45.8 per cent).

In Poland, the popularity of teleworking is much lower, only 7.1 per cent of all employees (i.e. every 14th employee) are engaged in remote work. This result is close to the European average, and is even slightly better than, for example, in Germany (where only 18.5 per cent of employees participated in some form of telework) or in Spain (17.3 per cent). The country with the least experience in this area is Slovakia, where only 12.5 per cent of employees have been involved in teleworking.

The OECD experts point out that the individual countries apply different definitions of telework, which makes accurate cross-country comparisons difficult. Moreover, the inflow of fresh data in this area is limited. As a result, all assessments are merely approximations. However, if we were to accept the daily performance of telework as a good measure of its popularity, it would turn out that the greatest progress in the popularization of remote work has been made in the Balkan countries of Serbia (15.6 per cent of employees perform work remotely) and Montenegro (14.9 per cent). Teleworking is also the bread and butter for 14.3 per cent of employees in Finland, 13.6 per cent in Albania and 12.2 per cent in France.

OECD expects that the efforts aimed at combating air pollution will push societies towards more rational behaviour in the field of work-related mobility. This optimization will take various forms. In the realm of economic and infrastructural policy, it can be expected that the development of public transport will take priority. Meanwhile, in the case of individual transport, the popularization of various forms of ride sharing should be expected (e.g. incentives for picking up additional passengers, or the shared use of taxis and minibuses). Such behaviours should also be promoted by regulatory measures.

Due to the use of various forms of persuasion, the share of public transport in urban passenger traffic (the volume of which will have multiplied during this time) should increase from 30 per cent in 2015 to 35 per cent in 2050. This will contribute to a 20 per cent reduction in CO2 emissions by 2050 (compared to 2015) despite the fact that the number of passenger-kilometres will double during that period. According to the technical forecasts of the International Energy Agency, in the time frame considered by the OECD, the CO2 emissions of the average vehicle should decrease by 48 per cent in the countries of North America, by 54 per cent in China and India, and by 43 per cent globally.

According to the OECD assessment, teleworking will not be able to completely protect us against exhaust emissions, but it is seen as one of the factors in slowing down the rate of environmental degradation.

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