Tim Luft is helping businesses embrace greener working practices. Patrice John talks to him about the project.
Tim Luft is a man with a mission – to help businesses embrace the concept of home-working.
As project director for the Smarter Working West Midlands scheme, backed by Coventry University and Advantage West Midlands, he wants companies to recognise the advantages it can bring.
Companies can see improved efficiency levels and save money on office space, while employees can enjoy a better life-work balance.
Plus, say supporters, the environment benefits because of reduced carbon dioxide emissions.
The biggest carbon dioxide savings aligned to home working are gained through reduced transport and smaller premises, says Tim. And for that reason he believes companies should be embracing it.
“This project is all about supporting companies who want to adopt smarter working for their staff as a means of reducing carbon dioxide emissions,” he says.
“We estimate that the average commuter coming into Birmingham can produce up to one tonne of carbon dioxide emissions per year and so if a large company got all their employees to work from home for even one day a week, the savings are huge.
“They would also benefit from having a reduced amount of building space, as there would be less people in the building at any given time.
“But it doesn’t stop here. There are different ways to work smarter, including staggering the journey times of staff and helping staff to track their carbon dioxide emissions through a CO2 calculator.
“We will also advise companies and support them with the health and safety, IT and contract issues that might arise if they begin to adopt smarter working for employees.
“Our role is to help them move to a formalised agreement for home working with employees, if they choose to.”
But the head of the Birmingham Environmental Partnership, Keith Budden, says the issues remain complex.
“Home working can provide you with low-carbon alternatives but it really does depend on where you live, how you’d normally travel to work, and what time of year it is,” he says.
“For example if you lived in Handsworth and chose to cycle to work that might be more low-carbon than choosing to work from home during winter
and putting the heating on in your whole house. Under these circumstances home working might not provide much carbon savings at all, and so it is not always a guaranteed way to cut carbon emissions.
“It can be quite a complicated science as, even by using the Government’s Carbon Calculator, all kinds of assumptions are turned on their heads – so I recently found that four people travelling in a small car have better carbon savings than one person using the train!
“I believe that when companies are considering home working they must take into account that it can be better for the environment but it must be looked at in a balanced way.
“Companies must consider the cost of home working and think about who is going to eventually pick up the total cost – especially if employees are paying for heating and electricity at their own homes.
“A lot of it boils down to being prepared to do things in a very different way.
“Even introducing video conference calling and providing access to remote working hubs can all help to change the structure of the business.”
BT reports that almost 14,000 employees have switched to home working, which has saved the telecoms company £69 million per year and improved productivity by 30 per cent.
But West Midlands regional manager Ian Binks says the level of carbon savings made from working from home is still debatable.
“The case for home working being proven as a low carbon way of working is still very debatable,” he says.
“And people are still trying to figure out if it’s better to have a number of people working in their own homes, 50 people working together in one office, or a mix of people working at various locations in ‘hubs’ around a city.
“I have wrestled with this question many times myself but because everybody’s circumstances are different, it’s difficult to draw concrete comparisons.
“If you take home working as a basic principle, I would say its main contribution to the environment is that it can cut down the amount of travelling people do, as it takes cars off roads, and we know that less cars could potentially mean better carbon dioxide savings.”
Mr Binks says BT invested in home working when the technology allowed them to create the kind of environments that workers could tap into successfully.
“We began looking at this back when ISDN lines were in operation,” he says.
“And we thought we would experiment with what it could do and how it might work.
“As technology has progressed, we progressed and we now know that you can do more and more with home working to allow people to access networks at home or even in Starbucks.
“We consulted with staff to find out if they wanted to do it and then helped them get the right kinds of technology to complete their work.
“There are a mix of staff who use this type of arrangement, including call centre staff who work from home and engineers who use ‘remote’ working, but it’s open to our employees.
“We have found it to be very positive and the mix of home, agile and flexible working procedures mean we’ve reduced absenteeism, increased productivity and reduced the cost to the business.”
“Our biggest saving has been through premises and buildings and that has been of great benefit to the business.”
Mr Binks recommends that if businesses want to introduce home working, they should work in a progressive way with staff.
He says: “When looking at the costs involved in working like this, we found that the benefits accrued to the company far outweighed the costs of setting up home working.
“If companies try to implement home and agile working with their staff, it must be done voluntarily.
“We also found that doing it organically and over time, were the best ways to introduce it.
“Doing things like that mean there are savings to be made, and we estimate that agile working has saved us 12 million litres of fuel and 54,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide.
“We have asked the staff and we believe that those who work from home have a better work-life balance.
“It is difficult to see why companies would not implement it.”