The novel Coronavirus has locked down entire cities, triggering the world's biggest work-from-home experiment, as reported by CNN and the China Daily. Remote working opportunities have expanded along the years thanks to new technologies and changing family demographics. Nevertheless, research from WSP UK showed that the sustainable future of smart working is still to be fully depicted.
Which is the link between an outbreak and remote working?
The novel coronavirus (COVID-2019) outbreak, begun in Wuhan (China), is now forcing major Asian hubs like Hong Kong and Singapore to close down shops and public facilities. Furthermore, it is locking millions of people in their apartments, resulting in what many have already identified as the world's biggest work-from-home experiment. In fact, around 60 million people were put under full or partial lockdown by Chinese government authorities last January. Restrictions to contain the virus have been implemented: millions of employees in the affected areas are now working from home, but the pressure for companies to get back to work is rising. The coronavirus could cost China's economy $60 billion in lost growth only during this quarter.
Is work-from-home for everyone?
The China Daily reports that more than half of Beijing's workers are currently choosing remote work. But China is not alone: the governments of Singapore, Hong Kong and Macao have proposed the same countermeasures to their civil servants as well as to private employees. For some sectors, like the digital-based ones, working from home has been surprisingly effective, with employees needing only a computer and a connection to work. Instead, front-end employees or factory workers often don't have the option to perform their activities remotely.
Is work-from-home healthy and sustainable?
For years now, smart working opportunities have expanded enabled by new technologies and pushed by changing family demographics. Defining the right guidelines and providing the required infrastructure will be the basis for such a beneficial solution for both employees and employers. Improved childcare, equal opportunities and work-life balance are only some of the positive effects that can be triggered with remote working. Sustainability, instead, seems to still be an open question: a research from WSP UK showed that "when comparing the carbon output of 200 WSP employees from commuting and home/office heating, it was found that office working in winter and home working in summer can lead to an overall reduction in carbon emissions". This seems to be due to the fact that, for the UK home-working staff, the carbon emissions from commutes would be greater than the home's energy consumption in summer, and vice versa in winter. Enhancement in technologies, smart home adoption and incentives will be therefore crucial to transform smart working into a full healthy and sustainable option for the future.