Can faster broadband help save the world?

Ultrafast connectivity gives workers the ability to be just as productive at home as they are in the office and with younger workers now demanding more flexibility – and a more conscientious approach to the environment – the sooner it can be delivered, the better

The future of the environment is now a major issue. Every individual, community, business and industry is being urged to do more to reduce their carbon footprint and adopt a sustainable approach that promotes recycling, reuse and circular economies. The force and momentum of this trend can’t be ignored – by any government or by any decision maker – and it may finally be the straw that breaks the back of the home-working camel.

Ever since laptop computers and Internet connections became available to almost everyone, we’ve been told about the benefits of working at home and adopting a more virtual business structure. There is no question that people are working at home more. A recent report by the research organisation Gallup underlined the benefits of remote working, concluding that it not only improves outcomes and employee engagement, but also that it’s what talented – and younger – employees want.

Significant impact

It pointed out that remote working is on the rise and also noted that it can also have a significant impact on the environmental footprint of an organisation. With many more workers not having to travel to and from the workplace and the amount of office space that needs to be rented, heated and it also reduced, it’s easy to see why. This also cuts costs for businesses, so it’s a double-whammy.

These factors, and the added flexibility that home working offers, are important considerations in terms of attracting the best talent, and young talent in particular. Gallup found that 67 percent of people aged 18 to 29, and 49 percent of 30 to 49 year-olds see global warming as a serious threat. Millennials want jobs that align with their personal values. They also want more flexibility and having a home working policy also appeals on this count too.

Yet there is still quite a lot of resistance to home working in many quarters. Indeed, the Gallup report mentioned above was triggered by the mews that US government agencies are scaling-down their remote working programmes, as reported in the Washington Post, due to what they claim is a lack of data regarding the real effectiveness of remote workers. This would appear to be driven by a belief within the central administration that if people can’t be seen working, they can’t be trusted to be working.

Ultrafast action

Such entrenched views are partly what has held home working back. Gallup’s findings however, and other surveys have certainly reached the same conclusion, flies in the face of these convictions. Younger workers in particular – and Millennials are now starting to make up the majority of the workforce – insist on having this added flexibility. Add to this the desire to adopt policies that do more to protect the environment, and home working really starts to make sense

While the current rise of populist attitudes in the US and the UK may not be helping to advance the concept, the roll-out of ultrafast broadband certainly is. Indeed, home working and the benefits it delivers are cited as one of the definitive benefits that faster broadband connectivity can bring to people and to the economy.

A study commissioned by Openreach last year (2019) and conducted by the Centre for Economics & Business Research (CEBR) – Full fibre broadband: A platform for growth”, estimated that at least 400,000 more people could work from home, and that 300 million commuting trips could be saved each year, with three billion fewer kilometres travelled by car. This would deliver a huge reduction in the carbon footprint of UK organisations.

To achieve these numbers, we’d need a full fibre network. While total coverage of the UK is some distance off, the roll-out of ultrafast services is gathering pace, with two million premises already within reach, four million expected by March 2021 and 15 million by the middle of the decade.

Irresistible force

The benefit of faster broadband services is that they really do enable workers to function just as effectively at home as they could in the office. With cloud-based services and hosted voice now being widely-adopted for core applications, communications and collaboration, the extra speed and bandwidth can be put to very good use.

If the desire for more environmentally-friendly and flexible home working policies continues, it may prove to be an irresistible force – and one that accelerates the investment, roll-out and adoption of ultrafast broadband services in the UK.

That would be a very positive development for the economy and, if the research findings rather than the sceptics are to be believed, one that would also drive higher levels of job satisfaction and productivity, and help to protect the environment.

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