Commute-cautious Brits want to keep working from home, despite calls to return to the office

  • Research from O2 shows 45% of people think lockdown will change their company’s approach to flexible working long-term.
  • Aside from income, flexible working currently ranks as the most important workplace benefit employees consider when taking a new role.
  • The change in work and commuting habits could result in a decrease of 14.3 megatonnes of the UK’s annual greenhouse gas emissions, more than the total emissions for Northern Ireland, if those able to work from home did so two days a week.

Flexible, remote working means many office workers are unlikely to heed calls for a return to the office, with new research from O2 revealing that almost half (45%) of Brits believe lockdown will change their company’s approach to flexible working long-term.

Commuting tops the reasons why people like working flexibly – with a third of employees (30%) wanting to reduce the cost of their commute by working from home, 23% choosing to work flexibly as they find travelling to the office a waste of time and 17% working flexibly because they find commuting stressful, all of which could spell the end of the daily commute.

Research from O2 Business, in partnership with ICM, YouGov and Cenex, has shown that the ability to work flexibly is seen as ever more important to employees as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, accelerating existing trends for flexible working and placing greater demands on business to change.

Aside from income, flexible working currently ranks as the most important workplace benefit employees consider when looking for a new role – on average it was ranked twice as important as pension, holiday and bonuses.

Cutting the commute has environmental benefits

There are also considerable benefits to the environment as a result of any changes in commuting habits, as it could accelerate plans to cut transport emissions and curb air pollution as workers cut down on commuting.

O2’s research showed that if UK workers (who can work remotely) choose to work from home twice a week, the UK would see an annual 14.3 megatonne CO2e decrease in greenhouse gas emissions from travel – more than the total emissions for Northern Ireland*.

This chimes with the priorities of employees as nearly half (46%) of UK workers are concerned about the environmental impact of their travel to and from work – which increases to over 50% amongst Gen Y and Gen Z workers.

Katy Liddell, Director of Business Sales & Service at O2, said: “For all the obvious negatives, the ongoing restrictions on ‘normal’ life confirm that with the right technology in place, flexible working works and employees are right to prioritise it. In the 2020s, there is simply no need to be in the office every day of the week.

“It has become increasingly clear that many businesses can operate without the need for often unnecessary travel, with a significant positive impact on the environment possible with a comparatively small change. Connectivity should be at the heart of our economy as we rebuild from the pandemic – keeping businesses connected and helping to reduce our negative impact on the environment.”

Andie Stephens, Associate Director at Carbon Trust, said: “As this latest research shows there is an increasing appetite to adopt new ways of working including more opportunities for flexible working which have the potential to help many companies lower their carbon impact. Re-imagining working patterns and behaviour in the coming months and years provides a real opportunity to accelerate decarbonisation and promote green growth. The Carbon Trust has worked with O2 for over 10 years on its carbon reduction strategy and looks forward to continuing our work together to help deliver a net zero future.”

Not only are UK workers conscious about the environmental impact of business travel and commuting, the research reveals that over three quarters (77%) think it is very important that a business is environmentally conscious when they are considering a new role. This figure rises to 82% of the Gen Z workforce, demonstrating how UK businesses which prioritise and care for the environment are more likely to attract the next generation of talent.

O2 is aiming to be the first major UK network to become net zero carbon by 2025, giving UK consumers and businesses a mobile network where calls, texts and data are powered by cleaner, greener energy.

You can read O2’s full the Flexible Future of Work report here:

The Flexible Future of Work

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 *Northern Ireland and London Borough of Bromley data is from 2017.

 Methodology – Carbon Savings

ICM provided Cenex with the results of an online travel survey conducted on 2,000 UK workers across different generations, sectors and organisation types.

Cenex then used the mileage statistics from this survey and applied the ‘UK Government Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Conversion Factors for Company Reporting’ to calculate the Tank-to-Wheel (TTW) and Well-to-Wheel (WTW) emissions.

The total annual mileages per employee for both commuting and domestic business trips were provided by the surveys and used in our calculations. For the emissions calculations, the split between travel modes is however required. This split was obtained in a combination of ways sourcing data from the 2018 National Travel Survey (NTS):

  • Commuting: The surveys specified which methods of commuting respondents normally used (% of trips), but it did not specify the typical mileages in each mode. The mileage/trip per commuting travel mode from the NTS was therefore applied to come up with a % mileage per commuting travel mode.
  • Domestic business trips: The % of mileage per business travel mode (domestic only) from the NTS was applied to the total business annual mileage from the ICM survey.

Methodology – Financial Savings

ICM Unlimited completed a survey of 2,019 working adults, aged 16+, covering all UK nations and regions, between 20th-27th March 2020 (just as the UK moved into lockdown).

This was complemented by:

  • Six in-depth employee case studies with people who have started to work more from home or non-office based, aged 30-50. 10th-17th March 2020.
  • Six diaries from GenZ (18-23 years of age) 9th-14th April 2020.
  • Expert interview commentary from specialists in environmental transport, regional economics and the modern workplace.
  • Emission calculations conducted by Cenex, the UK’s leading non-profit research and technical organisation in low emission transport.

A separate survey was commissioned with YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 4509 adults, of whom 2394 were workers. Fieldwork was undertaken between 22nd-26th April 2020. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB adults.

About Cenex

Cenex, established as the UK’s first Centre of Excellence for Low Carbon and Fuel Cell technologies in 2005, focuses on low emission transport & associated energy infrastructure and operates as an independent, not-for-profit research technology organisation (RTO) and consultancy.

Our independent experts find the right solutions that reduce pollution, increase efficiency and lower costs, and offer informed commentary on the latest policies, technologies and innovations.

 W: www.cenex.co.uk | Twitter: @CenexLCFC | LinkedIn: Cenex

Contact

Declan Shepherd | PR Officer

E: declan.shepherd@cenex.co.uk | T: +44 (0)1509 642 491 | M: 07789 226 711