Employers were coming around to staff working from home before Covid

Cantillon: the spike in remote working caused by the pandemic has accelerated a pre-existing trend

More than 700,000 people were working from home at the end of March this year. Photograph: iStock

More than 700,000 people were working from home at the end of March this year. Photograph: iStock

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While there’s been little doubt that it was the Covid-19 pandemic which forced people out of their offices and into their homes, data on the subject has been scant.

Yet figures mined from the Central Statistics Office labour force survey by Ibec chief economic Gerard Brady show that more than 700,000 people were working from home at the end of March this year.

High as that may seem it only represents about a 187,000-person increase from the first quarter of 2019 compared to the first quarter of this year.

Since 2017, the trend toward remote working has been growing at a remarkable pace, with more than 500,000 workers at the start of this year saying they worked “usually” or “sometimes” at home.

The fact that most of us were forced to work remotely earlier this year has led many to suggest that the day of the office is over.

But, based on this data, that appears overstated. More and more staff were taking the opportunity to work remotely since 2017, while at the same time the Republic was adding workers quicker than any other country in Europe.

It is fair to say, then, that while there were more staff working remotely, the addition of more workers meant more office space was required.

The figures appear to tell us that employers were becoming more accepting of remote working long before the Covid-19 crisis. Yet at the same time bigger and better office space was being built and used to entice talent.

Brady posits that while there may be slightly less office space per worker, the economy will continue to grow its labour force.

Cantillon suggests that it shouldn’t be assumed that those workers will want to work remotely on a full-time basis, or even that employers would be open to that idea.

So while it remains unclear how things will ultimately end, the trend suggests that employers had been coming around to the idea of their staff occasionally working from home before the pandemic anyway.

The spike caused by the crisis has accelerated a pre-existing trend. But that’s not to say the office has become a thing of the past.

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