Climate benefits as covid-19 causes remote working ‘inflection point’

Schroders’ Simon Webber said adoption of remote working during covid-19 lockdown will last beyond containment of the virus


Natalie Kenway

The use of remote working tools have been widely available for a number of years and and although the industry has been moving towards offering more flexible working, the coronavirus has propelled that movement, potentially leading to major benefits for the climate, according to Schroders’ Simon Webber.

The lead portfolio manager within the global equities team said the changes in working practices – which have been adopted in a “dramatic fashion” as a result of the government measures to slow the spread of covid-19, including cancelling all but non-essential travel and encouraging citizens to stay in their homes, could be an inflection point for remote working.

“Even 10-15 years ago it was clear that the tools to facilitate meetings and conferences virtually were becoming available,” Webber said.

“In theory, they should dramatically increase productivity – just think of all the unproductive time and cost associated with airports, planes, hotels and taxis. Yet their use has not taken off as much as expected and business travel has been a major growth industry for the aviation and high end hotel business.

“The behavioural changes that the coronavirus is forcing on people in such dramatic fashion are likely to lead to a re-evaluation of the necessity of many face-to-face meetings. Many businesses have moved to remote working, and business meetings and conferences are being switched to virtual ones.”

Businesses have cancelled events and travel plans but rather than abandon these plans completely, they have moved online with video conferences and webinars, which will have a positive environmental impact.

Webber added: “For many services businesses, business travel-related emissions are the largest source of their carbon footprint. But more and more companies are committing to manage down their own footprint in line with the Paris agreement to limit greenhouse gas emissions. If the airline industry is unable to find an alternative propulsion technology to jet engines, the only way for businesses to reduce travel-related emissions is to travel less.”

He also added that while a return to the office will be welcomed as it means the coronavirus will have been contained, there will lasting behavioural changes.

“It is quite possible that 2020 will mark the inflection point where the corporate sector realises that it can do more with less travel. In that respect, getting used to virtual meetings and the immense productivity gains it can bring will be a positive side-effect of the crisis response,” he said.

Unfortunately, he added, this does mean the aviation and travel industry will suffer financially, but “we simply can’t fly all over the place all the time and expect to solve the climate problem”.

He pointed to investment opportunities in companies offering remote working software, video conferencing technology, and better employee personal technology.

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