young woman in a virtual meeting

A permanent shift to working from home could give workers an extra hour per day, while cutting an estimated 8.6 megatonnes (Mt) of carbon emissions annually, suggested a new study from Statistics Canada on Thursday.

The research, which examines the possible effects of widespread remote working once the Covid-19 pandemic recedes, found that cutting down on commutes could produce a meaningful reduction in greenhouse gas emissions — representing about 11% of households’ transportation-driven emissions.

According to the study, 36% of workers could conceivably be doing their jobs from home most of the time.

Fully shifting to remote work would save 55 minutes per day in commuting time, on average, the study said, while also reducing commuting distance by an estimated 35.1 billion kilometres per year.

“These gains are the largest for workers in large urban cities with high population densities and long commute times, as well as for those living in cities that neighbour large metropolitan areas for which intercity commuting is common,” the report said.

These time and distance savings would, in turn, generate a significant reduction in transportation emissions (an estimated 8.6 Mt annually), while also slashing demand for public transit.

“A transition to full telework capacity could reduce the total number of commutes made in a given year by workers who were previously using public transit by roughly one half (52%), which would reduce demand for public transit,” StatsCan said.

The study noteed that these estimates are subject to considerable uncertainty and don’t account for possible behavioural changes, such as increased driving in response to reduced traffic congestion, or previous transit users turning to driving.

The study also assumed that “telework capacity is fully utilized” — in other words, that all possible remote workers will shift to working from home most of the time.

Additionally the study noted that there would be broader social and economic effects to widespread remote working — representing a potential silver lining to an otherwise highly-damaging event.

“The economic costs of the pandemic to this point have been significant and pervasive, both in Canada and other countries. However, the rapid labour market adjustment to telework offers some potential longer-term benefits,” StatsCan said.

“For example, telework might — at least for some families — promote better work-life balance and increase job satisfaction, which could in turn reduce employee turnover and boost labour productivity for some firms,” said the report.

Moreover, StatsCan added, “from urban planning and environmental perspectives, more widespread adoption of telework would result in less commuter traffic and greenhouse gas emissions.”