State needs to address barriers to working from home, study says

Reform required to attract skilled employees, national competitiveness council says

The NCPC report referred to a number of international studies reporting improved productivity due to working-from-home policies.

The NCPC report referred to a number of international studies reporting improved productivity due to working-from-home policies.

 

New possibilities for skilled employees to work from anywhere, underlined by the Covid-19 pandemic, mean Ireland needs to address the key barriers to people working from home as part of a drive to improve competitiveness, according to a new report.

With employers now having the option to allow employees to work remotely, including from abroad, “it is therefore essential, now more than ever,that Ireland is an attractive place to live and do business,” the National Competitiveness and Productivity Council (NCPC) says.

The report says that fast internet connections across all regions – as targeted by the National Broadband Programme – are vital. The development of new regional working hubs can open up fresh opportunities for businesses while simultaneously promoting more balanced regional growth, the council says.

As well as progressive approaches to remote working and the supporting infrastructure, the report says that the pandemic underlines the need to address the wider competitiveness problems in areas such as the cost of finance, insurance and housing, legal costs and long commutes.

The NCPC, a government advisory body chaired by economist Dr Frances Ruane, says that remote working can help attract and retain talent, improve productivity and encourage employees to engage in more sustainable working, for example by avoiding long daily commutes and thus cutting transport emissions. It can also improve the quality of life for employees.

The Government is implementing a remote-working policy, including a code on practice on the right to disconnect and legislating to ensure employees have the right to request remote working arrangements.

The report says that the “enforced experiment” or working from home during the pandemic has led to an appetite to continue some form of remote working in the longer term.

This can bring cost savings to large firms via reductions in office space, it says, and cutting associated costs such as electricity, security and cleaning, freeing cash up to invest in other areas.

However, it said that SMEs may struggle with the additional cost of providing the necessary equipment and supports to staff. Employees s also had to have the required digital skills, it said, and “people managers may also need to be upskilled on how best to motivate new team”, how to bring in new employees and how to measure staff performance from a distance.

The report referred to a number of international studies reporting improved productivity due to working-from-home policies, but also some management concerns about the impact on innovation of now having teams interacting in the office environment.