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Is hybrid work bad for the climate?

Protocol Workplace

Welcome back to our Workplace newsletter. Today: How to make hybrid work less polluting, reckoning with the firing of a top leader at Twitter while he was on paternity leave and the impact the mass shooting in Buffalo might be having on your Black employees (and how to help them).

— Michelle Ma, reporter (email | twitter)

WFH for the planet

Everyone is wrestling with hybrid work right now: how it affects employee productivity, morale, retention; who wants it; who hates it; if it’s happening; if it’s dead; if it’s here to stay forever.

What’s undeniable is that right now more people are commuting to offices half the week and working from home the other half.

Still, we’ve yet to see consensus around the impact of our current state of working on the environment. My colleague Amber Burton took a stab at that question this time last year, but we were curious: How much have things changed in the interim? A lot, it seems.

Reporter Lisa Martine Jenkins and I spoke to experts in the workplace and climate space on the state of hybrid work and climate change. Turns out, it’s a mess right now.

  • Working from home is generally considered a net good for the environment, especially for car commuters.
    • One expert I interviewed did a study that found that if full-time employees in the U.S. were to work from home half the time, “the greenhouse gas reduction would be equivalent to taking the entire New York State workforce off the road.”
    • A Carbon Trust study from June 2021 found that remote working resulted in lower emissions in all six of the European countries it analyzed.
  • But here’s the dilemma: People are working from home more now, which in theory is a less polluting environment than a giant corporate headquarters, but the problem is, those giant corporate headquarters are still more or less running at full speed even when they’re empty half the week.
  • The other head-scratcher: Office emissions are relatively easy to calculate, but work-from-home emissions are much harder to deduce.

Here’s how to make your hybrid workplace climate-friendly:

  • First, come up with a concrete and coordinated hybrid work plan. One startup CEO I spoke to, Sandeep Ahuja of cove.tool, has her 75-person team spend two days of the week in the office together and three days working from home. They coordinate which two days those will be, which helps with both in-person collaboration as well as knowing which days the office can go dark, from HVAC to computer monitors.
  • Another idea: Reimburse employees for low-carbon commuting. Ahuja started doing this for any travel to the office that isn’t car-based (even biking!), and about 50% of employees utilize the benefit.
  • If you have a bigger workforce, consider investing in AI and technology that helps your workplace anticipate and respond to energy usage in the office. Some examples include motion-activated sensors and robots that clean at night based on whether or not a space has been used. A good tech-assisted system could cut energy usage by 15-20%.

Read the full story.

What not to do (but Twitter did)

Amid the neverending Elon Musk acquisition fiasco, the company fired two of its top execs, including head of Consumer Kayvon Beykpour, who was on paternity leave when it happened. I had previously written about the stigma against paternity leave in the tech industry, and it was clear to me that this would have ripple effects beyond Beykpour and even Twitter itself. I spoke to experts about the legal landmines and the chilling effect for workplace culture and working parents as a whole as well as how to do it well, if you’ve got to do it. (TL;DR: Just don’t.)

Read the full story.


100% of C-suite staff surveyed by Workplace by Meta said that frontline workers were a strategic priority for their business in 2022, but nearly two in three of them said that keeping their frontline staff, who bear the brunt of the stresses of the workplace most acutely, had only become a priority since the pandemic hit.

Learn more

Today's tips & tools

I’ve always been into personality quizzes, from Buzzfeed to Myers-Briggs. Turns out that productivity personality quizzes are fun, too. And they can help you find a better, more personalized way to work. I found Todoist’s productivity methods quiz helpful, as it asks you about your role at work and the biggest barriers you face in feeling productive.

— Lizzy Lawrence, reporter (email| twitter)

By the numbers

This week, Black employees are returning to work after a mass shooting in a Buffalo supermarket that killed 10 people and injured three more, almost all of them Black. This and other “mega-threats,” like the Atlanta spa shooting targeting Asian Americans and police killings of Black people, have potentially harmful effects on employees of color. A study in the Academy of Management Journal called, “Am I Next? The Spillover Effects of Mega-Threats on Avoidant Behaviors at Work,” found:

  • In the week following the murder of George Floyd, 41% of Black Americans reported chronic levels of anxiety and depression, up from 36%, an increase of 1.4 million people.
  • According to the researchers, mega-threats like this can lead employees to feel an “embodied threat,” or “a heightened awareness of the increased likelihood of personally experiencing harm because of one’s identity,” which ultimately limits their agency at work.
  • Researchers found that this leads to avoidant work behavior (or moving away from, rather than towards, activities, as well as purposeful inaction), higher work withdrawal and lower social engagement.
  • Managers can reduce the detrimental effects of mega-threats: This effect is reduced when there is a sense of psychological safety and employees have access to identity-based discussions at work.

More stories from us

Google is planning on using AI to make you look pretty on video.

Buffalo proves Twitch needs a racial equity audit. It’s probably not alone.

Congrats to Microsoft employees! They’re getting a raise.

Here’s how Big Tech is trying to do its part to make business travel better for the planet.


Businesses are starting to turn to workplace communication tools. Such tools enable frontline workers to feel more connected to the rest of their business, to raise concerns and to provide feedback on potential pain points or points of improvement. By bridging that divide, companies can unlock new savings and efficiencies, and build a business that can last for the long run.

Learn more

Thoughts, questions, tips? Send them to Have a great day, see you Thursday.

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