Greater levels of remote working could help revitalise rural Ireland but pose challenges to cities, a major new Government report has suggested. It could also lead to the country losing jobs as staff chose to work abroad, it says.
In a foreword to a new strategy on remote working, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar predicts that after the pandemic the world of work will never be the same. While some will return to the office full-time most will become "blended workers", operating from a mix of the traditional workplace and home or new hubs, he said.
Mr Varadkar said these changes will be “for the better” with less commuting, more family and leisure time and fewer transport emissions. It would also bring new opportunities for people who want to live in rural Ireland, people with disabilities and people with caring responsibilities, he said. “Small towns and villages will see new investment, greater footfall and spend.”
However Mr Varadkar warned that the change would also bring risks. “We do not want to turn our homes into workplaces where we are always on. We want to spread jobs more evenly across the country, but we do not want to lose them to abroad. We want to retain the creativity and innovation that flourishes from people meeting each other and do not want people to become isolated,” he said.
The report says mass emergency home working as a result of Covid-19 restrictions had presented significant challenges, including inadequate remote working infrastructure, unsuitable home working environments and, at times, the non-availability of early learning childcare and schooling.
However the report says 94 per cent of people surveyed for research in October would like to work remotely after the crisis. It notes the substantial impact of remote working with the potential to fundamentally change the nature of where, how, when and why people work.
The report notes there are also challenges with increased remote working. For employees, this includes potential negative effects on mental health with feelings of isolation and stress as well as difficulty switching off and keeping regular hours. Challenges for employers include supporting creativity, group dynamics, shared ownership and collegiality, the report says.
It notes also the potential negative impact of remote working on national employment levels, citing challenges in attracting and retaining talent in Ireland, and notes challenges for cities as people work from other locations. It also says reduced visibility of remote workers could impact gender equality in the workplace.
The new remote working strategy should be built around three pillars, the report suggests: creating a conducive environment, developing infrastructure, and putting in place a policy and guidance framework.
It says during the pandemic it was clear employees face difficulties in switching off and in order to protect employees from overwork the Government has asked the Workplace Relations Commission to draw up a code of practice in this area. While all employees can request the right to work remotely, there is no legal framework for this, it notes. Thus it recommends legislation for such requests and to provide clarity for employers on best practice.
The Department of Finance would review tax arrangements for remote working beyond the €3.20 a day that can be paid by employers at present, it says. It also recommends an acceleration of the National Broadband Plan.