From an ecological perspective there’s scarcely a news bulletin that doesn’t feature the environment these days, and with good reason. There’s direct scientific evidence that glaciers and ice caps are receding at an alarming rate and that air pollution is at critical levels in many cities. Clearly something more radical than talking about the issues needs to be done. The UK’s commitment to achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2050 is an important statement of intention and direction, even if the process and cost of delivering it are less clear.
From an economic perspective UK productivity (critical to economic growth) has not significantly improved over the last decade (Source ONS 2019). Our historic gains in productivity were driven by automation and information technology, but instead we’ve seen by a switch away from capital investment towards a rapid growth in low-wage employment.
From an employee perspective the vast majority of organisations claim a strategic commitment to employee experience and engagement, yet more than 50% of staff report that their employer fails to provide a positive work environment or meaningful work (Deloitte “Human Capital Trends” 2019). The uncomfortable question here is whether staff are being treated as “disposable”.
So what links these three important, but apparently unrelated issues?
Organisations seeking to reduce their overall carbon footprint need to look carefully at a number of issues; where people work, how they get there, the devices they use and the IT services they access.
In the UK it is estimated that 12% of all electricity is used by ICT and the Department for Transport reports that business travel (including commuting) is responsible for 31Bn car miles annually. We cannot meet our sustainability objectives without addressing both these issues.
Moving datacentre workloads to the cloud and adopting a low-energy device strategy will help, but ultimately we need to look at patterns of work and travel to work as very significant issues. Less than a third of the UK workforce are able to work flexible “on-demand”, despite flexible and remote working being reported as key contributors to employee satisfaction, specifically because of their contribution to work-life balance.
IT is a key enabler for this flexibility and two thirds report a “less than good” IT experience, while only 16% of employees reported that their IT experience at work made them feel valued. Crucially only 38% of workers felt confident in using the technology they had been issued with (all figures Capita “State of IT – The Employee Verdict” 2019).
We have an interesting conundrum. From an ecological and staff engagement perspective we need to encourage flexible working. Most staff have a strong desire to work flexibly, but many are not confident that the technology will allow them to be productive. A significant number of staff are restricted, either partly or wholly, from flexible working, often by management concerned over productivity, collaboration, security or supervision.
What is needed is a secure working environment that is simple to access from any device and any location, but crucially one with excellent user experience which makes collaboration as simple as internet browsing, and which simplifies business processes (accessing and running them) through automation.
If we deliver this we can improve employee satisfaction and staff retention. We can also reduce travel to work and therefore reduce both carbon emissions, pollution and congestion on roads and public transport.
With over half the local authorities in the UK declaring a climate emergency, there is no more pressing problem to address than this. The link between Planet, People and Productivity is one which every organisation must consider and look to address.
About the author:
Ewen Anderson is co-founder and CIO of Px3, a company which provides analytics and consultancy to help organisations improve their workplace sustainability. Ewen has a background in management services, enterprise IT and executive leadership. Over the last 20 years he has worked as a strategy consultant for many FTSE 100, public sector and Not for Profit organisations. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org