The Government's research paper on Remote Work in Ireland is a deliverable of Future Jobs Ireland 2019, which places a focus on fostering participation in the labour force through flexible working solutions.
Such solutions are increasingly a priority from a range of perspectives, from sustainability and positive environmental impacts, to increasing participation amongst women, older people and people with disabilities.
In a time characterised by increased digitalisation, remote work is increasingly viewed as an intervention with the potential to widen the talent pool across Ireland, stimulate regional growth, lessen accommodation pressures in cities and support the transition to a greener economy.
This potential has been highlighted in the Government’s nine Regional Enterprise Plans for 2019-2020 and the Climate Action Plan.
Flexible working solutions, such as remote work, are becoming a priority from a range of perspectives, from sustainability and positive environmental impacts, to increasing participation amongst women, older people and people with disabilities. This is reflected in the current Government approach as evidenced in Future Jobs Ireland and the Climate Action Plan. Due to increased digitalisation and the rising accessibility of new technology, flexible working options such as remote work are a visible feature of the Irish workforce and, increasingly, an expectation from employees.
However, this was not always the case. In February 1996, the Irish Times published an article entitled Death of the Office? This article detailed a landscape of empty offices across the US due to a surge in telework, a practice defined as “moving work to workers, instead of the other way round”.
This was enabled by a new generation of computers with the potential to function as a “negative miracle” for the property market, as consumers and businesses favour cyberspace over high streets and offices. Focusing on the potential impacts of telework on property markets in cities across Ireland, the article seems to land on a conclusion of ‘not yet’. While gaining popularity internationally and showing great potential to transform the way we work at that time, telework hadn’t taken off in Ireland, and it was doubtful it would need to. Commuting times weren’t long enough to necessitate it.
It only took a few years for the narrative around telework and commuting to shift. In November 1998 the Independent published Big Growth in Home-Working to Save City from Gridlock. This article framed the practice as a “simple but as yet under-exploited way of working” with the potential to bring information “to and from workers’ homes on the information highway”, removing the need for commutes.
Just over a year later, the Irish Times published Teleworking Now Beginning to Make its Impact written by Dr Gerard McMahon, DIT. This article marks a distinct tonal shift from Death of the Office? stating that telework is “here to stay”. Far from a negative miracle, telework not only had the potential to improve productivity and contribute to economic growth, but could “help produce better and more rewarding work for many”.
This last article was written in 2000, when telework was gaining traction in the public consciousness, marked by the European Framework Agreement signed in 2002 which committed EU member states to implement measures to solidify and promote the rights of teleworkers. Technology was becoming accessible and sophisticated enough that knowledgebased workers could now conceivably carry out their work outside the traditional office setting. “The trick”, as McMahon wrote, “lies in how to get the traditionalists to move from here to there.”
Over a decade later, there are 2,317,000 people in employment in Q3 2019. The national unemployment rate stands at just at 4.8%, as of October 2019. With the current labour force participation rate at 62.1% and remaining relatively constant over recent years while employment has grown, policy focus has turned to sustaining a highly skilled workforce and an inclusive, responsive labour market. With disruptive technologies rapidly transforming the world of work and potentially increasing the proportion of knowledge-based roles in Ireland, flexible options such as remote work is not just a viable option but, for many, an expectation.
Moreover, with our cities becoming increasingly crowded leading to scarce and expensive accommodation and increased commutes, remote work is an intervention with the potential to widen the talent pool within Ireland, stimulate regional growth, lessen accommodation pressures in cities and support the transition to a greener economy.
This potential was recognised and highlighted in of Future Jobs Ireland, which calls for a research paper on the prevalence of remote work in Ireland, the types of remote work people are engaging in, and the attitudes towards remote work in Ireland. This includes the key influencing factors for employees and employers in engaging in remote work. This is a key deliverable under the Fourth Pillar of Future Jobs Ireland, which focuses on increasing labour market participation.
This report seeks to achieve this goal through a combination of quantitative and qualitative research. In addition to the factors listed above, this report will also look at the definition of remote work, its history in policy, international practices, and the current initiatives underway to promote its adoption.
The full Government's Remote Work In Ireland report can be found HERE.
The IITD is currently conducting its own research (in association with Trainers' Learning Skillnet) into remote working and managing remote employees. This research is being conducted by Vitae Consulting and is scheduled to be published early in 2020.