Having the opportunity to work remotely has greatly improved Co Clare resident Richie Dodd’s quality of life.
The project manager with Duggan Brothers building contractors has swapped regular three-hour, 270km drives from Lahinch to Dublin for 10-minute strolls to Ennistymon Digital Hub.
Previously, Dodd would leave Lahinch shortly after 4.30am on a Monday to arrive to work at 7.30am. He would leave the capital on a Friday at 5pm and often not get back to his family until 9pm.
“Instead of being exhausted on the day you are driving to Dublin, I can [now] be at my desk at 8am, fresh, and get a huge amount of work done,” he says. “Internet access and phone reception is as good as on any site I would be working on.”
Dodd does not anticipate doing so as his managers feel having him on the road is not productive
Dodd moved from London to Dublin in 2015 and remained there until late summer 2018, when he and his wife, Rebecca Kelleher, decided to move back to Furglan near Lahinch. Initially he was working five days a week on the Luas Green Line Extension, commuting up on Mondays and returning on Fridays.
Even before the Covid-19 pandemic changed the way many people do their jobs, Dodd saw remote working become a more consistent part of his life from early 2019, with travel to Dublin then reducing to once every two months a year later.
He loves working in the €1.4 million Ennistymon Digital Hub. “When you are at your desk, you are working on your time and there is no grey area compared to working from home.”
With pandemic restrictions mostly gone for now at least, many have returned or expect to return to the office, but Dodd does not anticipate doing so as his managers feel having him on the road is not productive.
“Previously, the company would have been eager to have me on site or to show my face every week or so,” he says. “But now the sense is they don’t want me on the road at all. Everything I can do on site, I have access here from Clare, so there is no benefit for me to be on the road.”
Ennistymon Digital Hub is being extended to provide four additional private office spaces and facilities such as a bike shelter, shower and a podcast and broadcast area. The purpose-built hub has full audiovisual facilities for small-scale conferences, training, meetings and events.
Urban McMahon, head of information systems with Clare County Council, says there has been very strong demand for the council’s nine remote-working hubs.
This ties in with the experience of Ennis-based auctioneer David Costelloe, who has seen a growing trend of people with Clare connections relocating to Lahinch and other coastal areas in Clare.
He says “there has been an acceptance by large companies particularly on the east coast” about people’s desire to work remotely.
“People have saved money during lockdowns and are getting an east coast wage but are living in a west coast location,” he says.
The increased demand, he says, has seen house prices in the Lahinch/Liscannor area go up by an average of 40 per cent since the pandemic began, compared with the 10-15 per cent rise seen in Ennis.
"People working in bars and restaurants are effectively competing with people who have very well-paid jobs for houses"
Some 40km south in Kilkee, Cllr Cillian Murphy says the influx of remote workers with well-paid jobs to rural communities in west Clare is welcome, but not without consequence.
He said there is a reduced number of homes available to locals seeking a permanent place to live.
“Covid-19 has rocket-fuelled remote-working but all other policy areas haven’t had a chance to catch up with this phenomenon,” he says.
“People working in bars and restaurants are effectively competing with people who have very well-paid jobs for houses. We are effectively displacing lower socio-economic permanent residents.”
Quality of life
One of those who has relocted to Kilkee is freelance children's writer and illustrator Emma Hogan.
Since moving about three years ago with her partner, Andrew Hersey, a freelance planing consultant, Hogan has worked on Tinpo, produced by LA-based Cloudco for CBeebies; Clangers, produced by London-based Coolabi for CBeebies; and Nelly and Nora, a series she developed and designed with Dublin studio Geronimo Productions for Netflix.
She has been able to outline her lockdown stories of beach and cliff walks, picnics and rock pooling to colleagues living in different countries on regular Zoom calls.
“Remote working provides great quality of life. It allows us to work less because we are saving so much money by living in Kilkee and having more time to go outside and enjoy wonderful adventures with our children in an amazing landscape with time and space that we felt we couldn’t get in Dublin,” she says.
"After collecting my son from the preschool, we can watch the dolphins swimming around the bay. We have never been happier"
"I am living on a cliff overlooking the Atlantic Ocean in the west of Ireland, but I have broadband that is better than what is in cities."
She says digital hubs offer great benefits to remote workers.
“I can go to the Kilkee hub if I want to work without any noise at home and I have also made new friends there,” she says. “After collecting my son from the preschool, we can watch the dolphins swimming around the bay.
“I also get stories for my writing from having adventures with my children in the wild west. We felt we couldn’t match this in Dublin and have the same joy in our lives. We have never been happier.”