Tracy Keogh is the co-founder of Grow Remote, a non-profit community development group. Grow Remote aims to increase permanent employment opportunities mainly in rural and regional areas by connecting remote working professionals with companies looking to hire for remote roles. Here, she explains how remote working can sustain and revive local communities.
Across the EU, 5.2 per cent of the labour force on average work from home (in the Netherlands, it's as high as 14 per cent). Ireland is above average with 6.5 per cent, with over 216,000 people working remotely – that's more than are employed in the hospitality industry.
Ironically, it's not a new trend: the Irish Government introduced a code of practice on e-working, as it was called then – way back in April 2000.
So, what’s driving all of the momentum we’re seeing now? One crucial difference is, today there are tools like Zoom, Slack and Microsoft Teams that enable more effective collaboration between remote workers. More importantly still from an Irish perspective, high-capacity broadband now reaches just about every community in Ireland.
Connected communities survive and thrive
Connectivity is a game changer. We only have to see the difference it has made on Arranmore Island to see this effect in action. Demand for places at the Modam digital workspace surged after it was connected to high-speed broadband.
Since we founded Grow Remote as a voluntary non-profit group in 2018, our aim has been to help rural communities to sustain and survive. We advocate for connecting employers, employees and communities so that workers can live, work and grow their careers in any location of their choosing and thereby, sustaining local communities while unlocking access to skills across the country.
Remote working is not the end goal; it’s the lever to give people the power to drive economic development locally. The widely accepted definition of community development is that you provide people with tools and resources to make a change in their own environment – and that’s what remote work does.
Arranmore's goal was to rejuvenate the island community. Attracting remote workers to the area to live and work all year round was one way to revive and support the island community. Grow Remote became involved with Arranmore just as the Modam coworking space was being completed, because we saw the opportunity to make remote job opportunities visible and accessible to people either living there already, and to attract others to think about locating there, and setting down roots.
Already, four people have moved to the island because Modam is available as a facility to help them work remotely.
The Arranmore model, but nationwide
What Arranmore is doing on a local level is exactly what Grow Remote is working towards right across the country. That involves getting messages out to the community by making remote work as visible and accessible as possible. Websites like remotecircle.com are really effective because you can type in where you happen to be located, or alternatively where you would like to be based, and it shows all of the remote jobs available (283 in Arranmore, at the time of writing).
The roles available right now vary from support engineers, technical writers and recruiters to developers, consulting engineers and product designers. This shows there’s huge variety in the work that can now be done remotely.
At Grow Remote, we know of many companies that are building entirely using a distributed model. For them, there is no single 'office' for people to commute to; everyone's remote. For other companies, a satellite office model might work better, to allow them to recruit talented people who live far away from the main office. Better still, there are digital hubs and co-working spaces opening up all over Ireland, from Antrim to Wexford and Sligo to Louth.
Clear culture, closer connections
In our experience remote working results in stronger work cultures. That’s because when companies develop a remote working policy, all of the things they take for granted in an office, like the accidental conversations that happen organically by the water cooler, now have to be scheduled and designed for. Some of the companies we work with have found that it improves communication and eliminates office politics.
But getting this message across is still a work in progress. This might explain why remote working has only recently started to become popular. There’s no denying that it’s a very different way of working.
In fact, whenever Grow Remote has met employers to advocate for flexible and remote working policies, we found that their reactions are very different to employees’. You can sell the idea to employees by talking about quality of life, increased productivity, environmental sustainability and hassle-free commutes.
We are reaching a tipping point where the mindset among managers about remote work will change, when they see measurable benefits in terms of business continuity and productivity levels. We’re not there yet, but we’re getting there. In a little over 16 months, Grow Remote has become active in 133 local communities and four countries, with engaging more than 10,000 people. Through the efforts of our volunteers, we have trained people hundreds in the skill of remote work through meetups and education awareness events.
Already, we’ve seen first-hand the positive impact to people’s lives when remote work is made available to them; like one of our members who had been working in Dublin, but found a job with an Irish start-up that enabled him to move back to Cork and buy a house, or a photographer from Roscommon who now works remotely for an e-commerce company and has progressed up the career ladder, or a single mum who is able to combine minding her three young children with working for an online store.
After securing €500,000 of funding in January, Grow Remote will start the transition from a grassroots movement into an organisation that’s delivering for all of our key stakeholders. While still remaining neutral, and a ‘dot-joiner’, this funding will allow us to continue our mission of engaging with the Government, with companies to make a business case for going remote, and for supporting local communities in making sure remote work is visible and accessible.