Joseph Lewis
July 2023

Online/onsite/office: the future of environmental work

Two people in suits looking at charts

The IES policy team spoke with young professionals and IES student ambassadors to hear their lived experiences of work as early career professionals in the environmental sector, as well as their expectations and hopes for the future. This article tells the story of those experiences.

This article is part of our Future of ES23 horizon scanning & foresight project on the future of the environmental sciences. Find out more about the project and how you can get involved

Integrated work-life missions: what is the future of work-life balance?

Over consecutive decades, the consciousness of the general public to environmental issues has significantly changed, bringing with it a generation of young workers who have a strong motivation to engage in environmental work. 

While the increased interest in environmental issues has been a boon for the rise of environmental careers, it has also presented a challenge for many of the traditional environmental roles which focus on the mitigation of environmental harm. Even as that challenge is addressed through an increasing push for environmental gain across projects, it raises a fundamental question about the future of work: how can we consistently motivate a generation that cares more than ever about the ethical value of the work it does?

Online, onsite, or office-based: is increased remote working inevitable?

Many effects of the COVID-19 pandemic remain, and the most prolific may well be the increase in hybrid and remote working practices. Especially as we seek to limit unnecessary travel to meet corporate and international sustainability objectives, the desire to fully utilise remote working practices has been widely-adopted across the sector.

At the same time, the prospect of increased remote working comes with many challenges that future workers will need to overcome. Naturally, in the environment sector, there are many aspects of work which cannot be completed remotely; onsite work is likely to continue as usual for many environmental professionals, other than in rare cases where remote sensing or digital technologies allow alternative options to exist. As such, many environmental practitioners will not be facing a dichotomy between remote working and office-based work, they will face the trichotomy of online, onsite, and office.

Human science in an increasingly digital world: the role of AI

AI and machine learning have become inescapable topics in the media and in some instances these new technological developments have already made their way into everyday routines. However, for the majority of the environmental profession, artificial intelligence is not yet a mainstay of day-to-day working practices.

Until the market uncovers the cutting-edge innovations which will transform AI from a niche but useful tool into a fundamental aspect of modern life, we won’t know exactly how working practices will be shaped by it. Even the internet, which has an omnipresent role in the modern world, was not as fundamentally prolific as it is now, until the advent of affordable personal computers and smart phones.

What next?

As we consider the future of the environmental sciences, we cannot lose sight of the environmental workforce and the scientists who will play a crucial role in shaping the role of environmental science and its interactions with the social and natural worlds. 

The IES will continue to take a leading role in shaping the profession and working to create a knowledgeable, skilled, diverse, and trusted workforce. At the end of 2023, we will publish a Vision Statement to help guide the environment sector into the next 50 years of working towards transformative change.

If you want to support the work of the IES to shape the future of the environmental sciences, you can join as an affiliate, or if you’re a professional in the environmental sector working with science, consider becoming a member of the IES.