The demand by a growing number of companies to require workers to spend more time in the office is causing tensions, and some resentment, among employees, according to Irish Times readers when asked for their views on the current state of remote working.
Responses to a callout to readers last week were generally very positive about the experience of working from home, but a shift in employer attitudes and increasing requirements around attendance at the office were recurring themes.
Census 2022 data published this week by the Central Statistics Office showed that almost 750,000 people – about a third of all workers in the State – worked from home for at least some part of their week.
Remote working was found to be more common in certain sectors; four out of five professionals working in business, media and public services availed of home working.
In a significant number of responses, Irish Times readers said they were weighing up, or actually in the process of, resigning their jobs in order to continue working remotely.
In a number of cases, people told of issues around having moved away from the city in which they had previously been based or of having resolved to in the event that remote working became the long-term norm.
Now, they suggest, there is frustration over instructions to come back to the workplace, often issued without, it is felt, meaningful engagement or reasonable assessment of the pros or cons for either party involved.
None of those The Irish Times subsequently contacted about the views they had expressed wanted to be identified, mainly due to concerns regarding the reactions of their employers.
Siobhán, a researcher working in media, moved out of Dublin before Covid-19 struck and commuted for a time. When the pandemic arrived, she embraced the opportunity to base herself at home and felt it worked really well for all concerned.
“The reality is,” she says, “I could have been working remotely for years before Covid arrived.” Since then, she said, “I have been able to work remotely very successfully, for over three years, without any complaint whatsoever from my employer.
“However, they are now cracking down on remote working, and the only reason that has been given to me is that ‘it wasn’t working’. No evidence has been provided to prove that.”
Siobhán says she has resigned, with a view to getting work locally or with an employer that will allow her to continue working away from the office.
Peter, from Dublin, who works for a multinational company, has not yet gone as far down the road in terms of relocating, but says his desire to live outside of the city in the long term suddenly started to seem more realistic when remote working became the norm during the pandemic.
Like the majority of respondents, he was happy to be spared the daily commute and enjoyed the better work/life balance he felt he had while working remotely. His employer, however, is now keen to have people back on site for more than two days a week, with the possibility that the base requirement will grow.
Peter sees the prospect of permanent relocation to the sort of rural setting he would like to live in receding. “I really like the company, I’d have considered myself a lifer there,” he says, “but remote working was a dream come true during Covid and it has been an emotional challenge to mentally deal with the regression that this feels like.
“I have had to modify my life plan which involved utilising remote working to live elsewhere while still working in Dublin. It feels like we failed somewhere, letting this get rolled back, but like everything else we are resigned to putting up with it to keep the lights on.”
Colleagues, he says, have left because of the shift in policy and he is no longer so sure that he will stay with the company himself over the longer term.
Other respondents told similar stories, with the failure to provide objective justification for a return to old working ways a particular bone of contention. Even where permission to continue working remotely was granted due to a move having been forced on an employee by family circumstances, there was frustration over a clear sense having been conveyed that the person’s prospects of career progression would be severely impacted.
Niamh, still almost entirely working from home in Limerick, provided a hugely detailed list of pros and cons, mainly pros, with key elements including more sleep and less commuting; more time with family; less with those particular colleagues she did not really want to be around in the first place; and more productivity.
She raised issues that were repeated by many others, such as the financial impact of not having to buy lunch, pay for petrol or maintain a wardrobe of work clothes; but high on her list, as it was for so many, was the actual time taken up by the commute, an hour each way per day in her case, and the stress of it.
“Ten hours a week I can be doing other things with… and road rage at a roundabout, who would miss that?” she asks with a laugh.
The enthusiasm for working remotely was not universal, however. One respondent described it as a “failed” experiment while a manager said her team worked more effectively and productively when they were together. She believed there would be long-term positives for the staff as a result of socialising with colleagues again.
The theme was taken up by Carmel in Dublin, a manager at a multinational who expressed concern over the impact working alone was having on single and younger people.
“I know a lot of people are passionately in favour of it and I can appreciate the time it gives back to those with children and long commutes,” she says, “but different people benefit from different things and as a single person I found it very lonely, very isolating.
“I feel for young people starting their careers and missing out on the coaching from more senior colleagues or opportunities to meet their bosses that working in an office provides. I’d hate to be their age starting my career, I’d have left the industry long ago.
“Remote working does seem to be the future for a lot of companies, but I expect it will take a toll on a lot of people.”