Future of Work Sustainability Impact | Deloitte US has been saved
By Nicole Overley and Sean Morris
The COVID-19 pandemic brought large-scale disruption to the forefront of the working world and showed how changes to government’s ways of working can simultaneously shape our climate. In just a few short weeks in 2020, nearly 49 million people in the United States transitioned to hybrid work or telework.1 This shift reduced harmful emissions and exposed the possibility of slowing climate change based on how and where employees work.2 An extraneous event like COVID can cause unplanned disruption – but it’s disruption that resilient leaders can use to catalyze meaningful transformation for both their organizations and for the environment.
Leaders at all levels of government serving diverse populations and missions can seize this opportunity to make a socially responsible, operationally efficient impact by integrating their Future of Work (FoW) goals and climate action. The urgency to act is shared among workforces – the environment is fast becoming a top concern for government employees.3 As a result of President Biden’s Executive Order, federal agencies are now on the clock to lead by example and meet certain climate and energy goals by the end of the decade.4 Many states and municipalities have followed suit or already had climate goals of their own in place.5 The question is not whether action will be taken, but how government leaders can do their part to ensure both the nature of work and climate change can simultaneously adapt to the moment we are in to achieve both evolving Future of Work-related and sustainability goals.
FoW x Climate Change
Leaders at all levels of government are now in a unique position to build on the momentum of disruption caused by the pandemic to set a new standard for the workforce while tackling climate goals head-on. To think through what kind of action might be right for their organization, it’s important for leaders to pinpoint exactly what kind of Future of Work and what kind of climate action goals they want to achieve. The intersections of those goals in the following matrix show various actions that organizations may want to consider to create positive change starting today.
FoW and Climate Change
Government agencies from federal, to state, to local are already implementing these changes to achieve their goals. Consider the following example of a state government that has successfully benefitted from integrating their Future of Work and climate action goals.
State Government: Transitioning to Hybrid Work
For one state government, the pandemic accelerated its pilot transition to a hybrid in-person and a teleworking model. Although the transition has been affected by new variants of COVID-19, the hybrid model will lay the foundations for long-term improvements in the state’s workforce experience while helping to reduce its carbon footprint.
The state is taking an orthodoxy-overturning approach to transitioning its workforce to a hybrid model while enhancing its operational sustainability. Recognizing that it would no longer need as much space if half its population is teleworking on a given day, the state began a real estate portfolio review. To give employees enough time to collect their belongings and consolidate their files, the state began messaging its transition about six months later. It then began exiting existing leases. The downsizing as a result of the state’s lease consolidation efforts will result in a less carbon-intense workplace footprint, bringing this state closer to its climate goals.
The state has adopted a data-driven approach to its change, using dashboards to track key progress indicators as identified by leaders. These metrics include innovative work-related outcomes, like percent of employees who have successfully transitioned to a hybrid model, and integrates those with climate-related outcomes, such as total paper waste eliminated as part of their transition efforts.
Some employees are now able to work at satellite offices, taking an innovative approach to innovation and cutting their commute time (and harmful emissions) while increasing their well-being. Since employees are also staying home more often during the week, carbon emissions by state employees are much lower compared to the previous in-person working model.
At the agency level, office space reductions are resulting in a lower carbon footprint in addition to lower space costs. The state has also taken advantage of the shift to a hybrid model by using it as an opportunity to digitize the majority of its remaining paper files, innovate, and put new processes in place to stop paper creation. This change not only helps the environment – it helps the organizations function better and provide better constituent service along the way.
The orthodoxy-overturning shift to a hybrid working model for this state has allowed them to better their workforce experience, decrease their negative impact on the climate, and provide better mission services to their constituents. By fostering a spirit of flexibility and iteration, hybrid work has created a permanent culture shift that will allow the state to continue to adapt to changing work trends and accelerate its ability to operate sustainably.
Government is at a turning point, as changing federal and state regulations and laws are increasingly requiring public organizations at every level – from small local town governments to executive-level agencies – to reimagine how work can be performed sustainably. With unprecedented funding available towards transitioning to a green economy and reaching markers towards achieving carbon neutrality, taking action to address climate through investing in the FoW can not only potentially benefit the workforce, but also is an economic incentive. From federal agencies embedding FoW and climate as central to their mission, to state governments accelerating hybrid plans to simultaneously lower their carbon footprint – the ability to integrate climate-informed workforce planning can adapt to serve diverse populations and organizations. Decisionmakers can respond to changes in the workforce and changes to our planet through collaboration, positioning their people and the planet for increased productivity and prosperity.