Rates of remote working in Northern Ireland trail far behind those in the Republic, with factors like commuting times around Dublin, the prevalence of tech sector employment and government policies among the key factors driving the difference, according to research published by the University of Ulster’s Economic Policy Centre.
Remote Working on the Island of Ireland – A Cross-Border Comparison finds the percentage of people working remotely in the North was half that in the South, at 17 per cent, in the early part of this year. The rate in the South overall was 34 per cent while in Dublin it was higher again, at 42 per cent – a figure the authors found put it slightly ahead of London.
One of the report’s authors, Dr Eoin Magennis, said while there were some obvious contributory factors like the absence of commute times in Belfast of the sort experienced in the Greater Dublin Area and the lower numbers of tech sector jobs, the scale of the difference still came as a surprise.
“I don’t think either of those factors fully explain the differences,” he said. “Level of self-employment would play a part too with fewer self-employed people here working in the sorts of areas in which higher numbers of people tend to work remotely but I think there’s something else, possibly management attitudes – although among the firms we spoke to, we didn’t detect any great desire to force people back into the office.”
The gap between the two jurisdictions is likely to be maintained, he believes, with data collected on recruitment advertising suggesting 16 per cent of vacancies posted in the Republic offered an element of remote working, compared with just 6 per cent in the North.
“Then, you have the right to request remote working coming there [in the South],” he said, “although I don’t think there will even be a need to request it in many cases. For a lot of graduates, I think, it will increasingly become an expectation.”
While the report, which was co-authored by Ana Desmond, finds a huge increase in the levels of remote working on both sides of the Border when compared with the pre-pandemic period, it does suggest the more recent shift to hybrid working, with a portion of days required to be worked on-site, has been a factor in restricting the potential growth in cross border employment.
“Even with hybrid, there is less commuting so there is potential for it to have an impact but there are also tax issues which are only slowly being looked at,” said Dr Magennis.