Blog

15 July 2020

Lockdown's positive impact on the environment and employee health, and what your business can do to continue this post-pandemic

Businesses changing the way they work after lockdown could unlock employee health and environmental benefits. New research conducted during the COVID-19 pandemic strongly suggests that the way we work directly impacts how the planet works, with businesses temporarily filtering out of the city directly attributing to better health and a boost to the environment. Would we see the same benefits if larger businesses began moving away from their city centre head office permanently?

The environment

City centres are bustling with people: everyone going about their business, lines of traffic and beeping horns, professionals rushing to get to work or their next meeting on time. It’s a flourishing place - until you consider the environmental impacts of all the hubbub, like congestion, smog and pollution.

BeatheLife, an organisation dedicated to implementing air pollution solutions globally, has tested the cities across the globe on their air pollution. Their scale dictates a ‘safe’ level of PM 2.5 (pollution concentration per cubic metre of air), as per the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) Global Platform on Air Quality and Health scale. 

In the UK, Birmingham, Newcastle and Cardiff each sit within what is considered safe, and thankfully, we have some cities that sit below the safe level, including Belfast and Edinburgh. However, some of our larger cities are considerably exceeding a safe level of air pollution, including London (10% over) and Manchester (30% over). 

City life is a major contributor for this, considering the levels of fossil fuel consumption taking place on an hourly basis. However, there has been a genuine positive environmental impact taking place in our cities since most professionals were forced to work from home as of March 2020 to see out the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

While in the midst of a global health crisis, professionals avoided travel and flocking to the cities to work. Astonishingly, according to a study by The Centre of Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA) the level of nitrogen dioxide air pollution in the UK has been reduced by 36% in just 30 days of monitoring during the lockdown - largely down to less coal and oil fossil fuel consumption. 

Employee health

The WHO states that air pollution is the largest single environmental health risk, estimated to kill 1 in 9 people globally, due to heart disease, stroke, respiratory disease and cancer. Working in majorly polluted locations is a notable health risk, and while fighting a global pandemic and staying away from workplaces to avoid catching coronavirus, it is ironic that professionals have also been shielded from this other, more silent killer.

CREA’s research found that 11,000 air pollution-related deaths have been avoided across Europe in just 30 days of monitoring the environment during the pandemic, with the UK named as one of the largest benefactors. 

Other health-based improvements include 1.3 million fewer days of work absence, 6,000 fewer new cases of asthma in children, 1,900 avoided emergency room visits due to asthma attacks and 600 fewer preterm births.

The problem post-lockdown

When it comes to the workplace and the environment it sits within, the physical health of employees is often not factored in, but it is clear from the findings of CREA’s assessment that it should be. For the majority of businesses, permanently working from home is not a viable option, and professionals cannot avoid going back to the office forever. 

So how can businesses arm their employees against the lasting negative health effects of city centre pollution? And is there a way to protect employees while also continuing to help the environment post-COVID?

The solution

If you have not considered altering your office model and moving away from the city centre head office into more regional workspace, now might just be the time to do so. When writing for Property Week, Gareth Evans, CEO at BizSpace, deduced that “the big opportunity will be rethinking the way we work. Many companies that wouldn’t previously have introduced flexible or remote working now understand that businesses can run effectively without everyone being together in a central hub every day.”

On top of the discussed fundamental health benefits that taking employees away from cities will provide, there are a range of professional benefits that regional workspace can provide to keep workers and businesses buzzing.

Workforce benefits

Providing office space close to where employees live means they will spend less time travelling, allowing them to be better prepared when it comes to starting work. They are also likely to be in an elevated mood thanks to the reduction of mundane commuting and the stress of sitting in traffic or on busy trains. 

Working closer to home improves work-life balance in turn. Consider this: if some employees spend around two hours per day on their commute to and from the city, that is ten hours per week that they can spend on other things if they work close to home. More time can be spent with families, catching up on sleep, doing exercise or even practicing for that big pitch the business has coming up. 

Employees will also have the opportunity to support their local economy more often, putting their lunch and coffee break money into local businesses instead of the usual city-centre conglomerates. Now is the time for UK businesses to pull together to work towards economic recovery, and local independents are crying out for the boost.

Environmental benefits

With your employees not being required to travel such long distances, there will be great benefit for the environment. Less emissions being produced from car fumes – stuck in traffic and stationary or spluttering along the motorways in a rush to be on time – means less use of fossil fuels attributed to your business’ footprint.

Less emissions caused by your team and overall brand means more room for the environment to breathe. Before London’s Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) incentive was introduced, pollution was much higher at every hour of the day in the nation’s capital. Implementing ULEZ saw this pollution drop significantly, and then post-COVID these results dropped even lower. 

 
[Figure 1: the findings from the UK Government’s Air Quality Expert Group assessment in April 2020.]

 

These findings show that removing people from cities truly drops the level of air pollution and has a direct positive impact on the environment. That means that the mass adoption of working locally could result in a drop in pollution that matches the power of lockdown, proving even more effective than the success of ULEZ.

Business benefits

Ultimately, multiple regional spaces are cheaper than paying all of the rent, overheads and rates on one larger, centralised head office in the city. Moving into regional workspaces means you can downsize – or even completely omit – the city centre office as your employees will be dispersed. 

Happier workers means a happier workforce, and in turn generates a better working culture. Not only could that land you a top spot on Glassdoor’s Best Places to Work list, it also reflects on the business as a whole thanks to word of mouth from employees, increases in their productivity and performance, and happier clients and customers in turn. 

While remote working has undoubtedly helped the environment and reduced deaths relating to air pollution during lockdown, the chances of companies choosing to go completely remote when we return to normal are very slim. What businesses can do instead is look to regional workspace models and begin working to solve this problem for their employees and our planet.

With 105 BizSpace regional business centres nationwide, flexible terms and dedicated on-site management, you can find your team a new strategic regional office today.

Author

Jen Latimer