Video Calls: The Carbon and Mental Health Costs of Working Remotely

As many businesses have transitioned to working remotely, it has reduced the number of travels made to places of work. As a result of journeys not being made, CO2 emissions have been eliminated in these cases. 

What is the Carbon Cost of Working Remotely? 

Working remotely often requires the use of a laptop, researching on websites, using emails, and video conference calls, as well as other applications relevant to the role they are undertaking. In order to complete this, energy is being consumed to light and heat each individual home, to charge and power laptops to have sufficient energy to use the relevant applications. This in turn results in carbon emissions being released. 

When carbon emissions of each home are considered, there may be an argument to combine that energy use into a single building, such as an office.

Using cloud-based tools has many environmental benefits, it should be remembered that these tools rely on data centres which themselves consume a large amount of power to operate equipment and run cooling systems.  Backup generators are usually maintained, and these require large amounts of diesel, which has to be tested and replenished.  

Some scientists have begun to look at the links between technology and carbon emissions even further, by researching whether the use of the video function on a conference call could increase your carbon emissions, in comparison to not using the video function. 

With this in mind, and considering the number of video conference calls you may now make as part of your role in comparison to working on site, it would be interesting to understand the environmental impacts of working from home, and using functions such as video conferencing. 

However, working remotely has not only had environmental impacts, but also impacts on our family life, and mental health. 

How Does Working Remotely Affect Mental Health? 

Many more people are working from home since the COVID pandemic.  As with any change, there are benefits and detriments to mental health and wellbeing. 

The first thing to consider when working from home is where in the building you will set up your space.  Working from a bedroom or sofa is not good for physical or mental wellbeing, so a suitable location within the home needs to be found.  This can be difficult if you live with other people and your household is busy, or you live in a small space like a flat. However, it is worth finding an area where you can set up a desk and chair, even if it is a folding one that can be put away at the end of the working day.  It is important to separate your work-space from your places of relaxation because it makes it easier to switch off after work.  Remember to check out DSE regulations for work-places to ensure you have the best possible set-up within the space you have.

Work routine is also important, ensuring you have set times when you work, and outside of these times contact from colleagues should be discouraged and other work related issues are put to one side. You can make sure people within your organisation know your working hours, and if these are flexible ensure it is clear when you are working throughout the working week and when you aren’t. This allows you to structure your time so that you have a life outside of your work.

A survey conducted by the Royal Society for Public Health, www.rsph.org.uk found that 67% of the people they asked felt less connected to colleagues.  Many people like to feel they belong to and are part of the organisation that employs them.  If there isn’t enough contact between colleagues within the organisation people can feel isolated. This can be helped by regular online meetings between teams of workers within a department or between departments across the organisation.  Weekly, fortnightly, or monthly gatherings in an office or other suitable location can also help lessen the isolation and allow colleagues to reconnect with each other in the physical world.

Access to mental health support can be very helpful for those struggling with working from home, and many organisations are able to arrange this.  There are free resources on the NHS UK website (www.nhs.uk every mind matters)  that can help with mental health improvement.