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Trends point to a flexible working future

Not only is remote working here to stay but many employers will offer a range of flexible conditions

Since emerging from the Great Recession we’ve had Brexit, a pandemic, and now Russia’s war in Ukraine, all roundly unexpected. But if predicting the future is a mug’s game, identifying the trends likely to inform it is somewhat easier. For workers wondering what the world of work will likely look like, certain trends are clear.

Go remote

Firstly, remote working is here to stay. While the results of the third annual National Remote Working Survey are due later this month, last year’s report, commissioned by NUIG and the Western Development Commission, found 95 per cent of respondents were in favour of remote working.

A more up to date snapshot from a Central Statistics Office Pulse Survey, taken in November, shows that the ability to work remotely is increasingly likely to drive future job moves.

Almost two-thirds of those in employment whose job could be done remotely but who had not worked remotely at any point since the pandemic began said they would definitely or probably work remotely if the opportunity to do so became available.

Three in 10 of those in employment whose jobs could not be done remotely with their current employer, would definitely or probably be attracted to a new job that could. In a tight labour market, where the battle for talent is real, the onus is now on employers to provide remote working opportunities in a very real way. But it also opens up new talent pools for employers. Almost six in 10 people not in employment would consider taking a new job if it could be done remotely, the survey found.

With “right to request remote working” legislation making its way through the Oireachtas, with the reasons employers can refuse it likely to be reduced as it does, the move to remote working looks even more inexorable.

Get flex

It’s not just remote. As scarce talent flexes its muscles, employers are likely to offer all kinds of flexible working conditions. According to a survey from recruitment firm Employflex, what more than a quarter of workers actually is to be able to do school drop offs and collections.

The survey found that most people would favour hybrid working (29 per cent), reduced or part time hours (25 per cent) or remote working (23 per cent). But some 42 per cent said they would not feel confident asking their employer for flexible work, the main barrier to doing so being the perception of employer lack of trust (43 per cent). Instead, 93 per cent said they would simply change jobs if they were offered more flexibility in a new role.

“Flexibility is key to retaining good staff. People shouldn’t be forced out of the workplace because they need flexibility in their working day. Employers must be more open to talking about flexible and remote work and following two years of it we can see that it can work,” says Employflex founder Karen O’Reilly.

Hub up

But how we work won’t be a binary choice between office or home. A third way – the remote-working hub – looks set to take off. While co-working spaces have been a feature of cities for years, they have only relatively recently begun proliferating in rural towns and villages too.

With the launch of the Government’s ConnectedHubs.ie initiative, their use has now moved mainstream. Those using the platform can book low-cost hot desks, office space or meeting rooms at one of more than 230 such hubs around the country via a mobile phone app – with no contracts or commitments. In time more than 400 such remote working hubs will be part of the initiative.

For employers they provide top-notch office facilities which enable them to be fully compliant with their duty of care in terms of health and safety. For employees they provide an opportunity to meet others, network and, in the best managed spaces, engage in a range of programmes from business development training to wellness activities.

They also provide a low-cost option for start-ups, helping to drive innovation and enterprise into the regions, and because people working in hubs pop out for lunch, shop nearby or head out together after work, they bring economic benefits for the wider community too. They also provide opportunities for those who want, to buy or rent affordable accommodation outside of our main cities.

Sandra O'Connell

Sandra O'Connell

Sandra O'Connell is a contributor to The Irish Times

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