A Special Report is content that is edited and produced by the Special Reports unit within The Irish Times Content Studio. It is supported by advertisers who may contribute to the report, but who do not have editorial control.

Leo Varadkar: Time for businesses to embrace blended working

The past year has shown us the effectiveness of technology in facilitating work

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar

 

The pandemic has transformed the world of work forever. Millions of people across the globe went from working in an office to working from home, overnight. This shift would have taken decades to implement had it been planned. Instead it took a matter of days.

A great place to work is one that fully embraces this shift and adopts the best of what we have learned over the past year, allowing workers more flexibility and choice. People want to get back to the office but they don’t want to spend as much time in the office as they did pre-pandemic.

As the competition for talent around the world intensifies, workers will increasingly seek out family-friendly workplaces. Those that offer employees “blended working” as an option, facilitating a mix of remote and in-office working will have a wider talent pool to choose from.

The past year has shown us the effectiveness of technology in facilitating much of the work we previously thought had to be carried out in person, in an office. In a year of very limited travel, we’ve learned how to get work done and maintain relationships with international teams, without in-person contact.

Blended and remote working offers many benefits to both society and the individual. Less commuting, more time for family and friends, fewer greenhouse gas emissions from transport and cleaner air.

A shift away from office-based working will open up new job opportunities for people who want to live in rural Ireland, people with disabilities and people with caring responsibilities. We will see our smaller towns and villages thrive, with new investment, greater footfall and spend expected.

There are some risks which need to be managed as well, of course. We don’t want to see our cities hollowed out. Dublin, Cork and Galway will be competing with Barcelona, Paris and Lisbon in the battle for talent. And talent can remote work from almost anywhere so our cities need to be vibrant, liveable places. We want a more even spread of jobs across Ireland, we don’t want to lose them to abroad.

We also don’t want to turn our homes into workplaces where we are always “on”. We need to find a way of ensuring people can properly connect with their colleagues when not sharing the same office together, while also ensuring that people feel like they can properly disconnect when the workday is over.

The Government has published a new National Remote Work Strategy. Among the main actions we will take are: leading by example by mandating that home and remote working should be the norm for 20 per cent of public sector employment; modernising the treatment of remote working for the purposes of tax and expenditure in the next Budget; mapping and investing in a network of remote working hubs across Ireland; legislating for the right to request remote working; developing a code of practice for the right to disconnect and doing what we can to accelerate the provision of high-speed broadband to all parts of Ireland.

As well as putting in place the necessary legislation and infrastructure for remote and blended working, the Government has also introduced a number of family friendly policies, to help staff achieve a better work/life balance. For example, new parents can now avail of paid parental leave in the early years of their child’s life as well as paid maternity and paternity leave in the first few months.

When this pandemic is over, many of us will return to the office, but things will never be the same again. A great place to work will be one that facilitates remote and blended working, when and where possible. One that actively listens to what their people need to do their best work. The best employers will recognise this shift and fully embrace it.

Congratulations to all workplaces, big, small and medium, all across Ireland, who continue to commit to building a great culture for their people.