The Government is examining the possibility of developing more than 400 remote working hubs to facilitate the shift in work practices brought about by Covid-19.
The shared facilities, specifically kitted out with desks and ICT services, could be used by workers wishing to work nearer their home area and avoid long commutes, Stjohn O’Connor, principal officer with the Department of Community and Rural Development, said.
A special interdepartmental group charged with overseeing the initiative “was looking at over 400 hubs”, he told a meeting of the Committee on Social Protection, Community and Rural Development and the Islands.
It was also examining the possibility of a common booking platform, which would allow users book a seat in any one of the locations via an app.
Mr O’Connor said the shift towards remote working could “contribute to a greater regional distribution of jobs” while supporting “a better quality of life for many people who previously might have spent long hours commuting”.
Currently there are several different varieties of hubs dotted around the country, from enterprise hubs and incubator units to co-working hubs and local research and development (R&D) centres.
The key was to make sure “we have the right hubs in the right places for the right purposes,” Mr O’Connor said.
In Budget 2021, €5 million was allocated for the development of remote hubs and Minister for Rural and Community Development Heather Humphreys has made the rollout of these centres a ministerial priority.
She is also understood to have spoken to Minister for Public Expenditure Michael McGrath about the possibility of civil servants using them to work remotely.
In some cases, the hubs would dovetail with Broadband Connection Points (BCPs) being rolled out under the Government's €3 billion National Broadband Plan (NBP).
As a stop-gap before the arrival of the new high-speed fibre network, National Broadband Ireland (NBI), the company behind the project, is rolling out a network of 300 BCPs where the public can get free high-speed internet access.
There have been 99 BCPs connected. The remaining 201 are due to be connected before the end of the first quarter next year.
Mr O’Connor said NBI was connecting 10-15 sites a week.
“Clearly, a seismic shift in how people think about work has occurred and, as many commentators have publicly indicated, there is unlikely to be a full return to the way things were,” he said.
The interdepartmental group would initially develop and map a national dataset of hub infrastructure, facilities and services throughout the country, he said.
“It will also work to identify current and capital funding and revenue generation arrangements across the network, identify any funding gaps and consider future investment requirements and opportunities,” he said.