This morning the Malta Business Bureau (MBB) published findings from its study into the economic and environmental effects of working from home by businesses in Malta. This study was presented by the MBB and economist Dr Marie Briguglio in an online event hosted by the Malta Council for Economic and Social Development (MCESD), also addressed by Minister Carmelo Abela, Minister Aaron Farrugia and MCESD Chairperson James Pearsall.
The objective of this study was to examine the economic and environmental implications of working from home, including online, remote and flexible measures, so as to identify measures that businesses could efficiently introduce into their daily operations.
Introducing the study, MBB President Simon De Cesare remarked, “some salient points already stand out to me. The need to train employees and equip them with the necessary skills to work efficiently and safely from home; the need to facilitate socialisation and team building through online means; and the opportunity to rethink or re-purpose office space will all be driving factors which will allow working from home to succeed in the long term.”
Over 330 in-depth replies were gathered from surveys targeting employers and employees. Increased work satisfaction, productivity and employee well-being all emerged as significant benefits across both employers and employees. On the other hand, the greatest challenge is to maintain employee cohesion and team spirit as physical meetings and workplace interactions naturally decrease.
On the environmental front, there seems to be significant scope to reduce private vehicle travel, as well as energy and paper use at the office. Nonetheless, the overall effect on the environment is more nuanced due to the uncertainty of environmental practices at home and the persistent high number of car trips even when working from home.
The findings show that working from home should not be an all-or-nothing solution. Mr De Cesare adds, “this is not simply about abandoning the workplace to stay at home. Early research into the topic had already identified a strong environmental and business case of employing the appropriate mix between being at the workplace and working from home. Employers could therefore evaluate this further according to operational requirements in the medium to long term.”
On his part, MBB CEO Joe Tanti stated, “As an EU-business advisory, the MBB always aims to be at the forefront of EU developments affecting businesses. We not only aim to lobby and influence policy in Brussels, but also work to facilitate the implementation of this EU vision on the ground, working directly with our businesses through such initiatives. The topic we are discussing today is in line with the EU’s focus on digitalisation and safeguarding the environment in the current Multi-Annual Financial Framework.”
He added, “the opportunity to create locality-based public or private work hubs could greatly address many barriers identified in the study, such as missing infrastructure at home and the reduced social interaction, while increasing the feasibility of walking or cycling to work. With the gradual lifting of Covid restrictions, future remote working solutions beyond the home could widen the options of places to conduct work. The further upgrading of IT and communication systems would naturally help facilitate this.” This is especially relevant given over a quarter of participants do not have a private place to work at home.
The MBB stressed that whatever measures are adopted to help facilitate working from home or remote working, these do not present any additional expenses for businesses.
This research was commissioned against the backdrop of the Covid-19 pandemic, which introduced a new reality for businesses having to promptly ask employees to work from home where possible. This unfortunate situation brought to the fore several potential opportunities for businesses, employees and the environment. Going forward, the gradual easing of restrictions would then allow this research area to be expanded into other areas such as remote working more generally.
The MBB thanked Dr Marie Briguglio and her team for conducting the research and analysis, and acknowledged the technical and financial support provided by the Ministry within the Office of the Prime Minister, the Ministry for the Environment, Climate Change and Planning, and the MCESD.