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Expert Taskforce Report - Remote Working: Opportunities, Challenges and Policy Implications (Dec 2020)

An expert group, building on the findings of the National Remote Work Surveys and stakeholder consultations, has called on the Government to introduce a range of measures to support continued remote working.

The Group made up of representatives from the NUI Galway Whitaker Institute, the Western Development Commission (WDC), and industry met with various companies, key employer and employee representative organisations and policy stakeholders throughout 2020 and has identified several recommendations for both organisations and government.

While the report was written during the COVID-19 pandemic, which has acted as a catalyst for identifying the opportunities and challenges of remote working, it is aimed at identifying policies and practices which will support remote working in a post pandemic environment. The report draws on remote working experiences from several companies who have well-established remote working practices before COVID-19.

The report includes case studies and survey findings from a number of both large and small organisations including Cisco, Ervia, MHP Solicitors, Togán Labs and Employflex. Sinéad Redmond, Chief Operating Officer of Togán Labs, a small tech company operating on a fully remote basis says “ We are scattered around the country, with the majority of our people living rurally, one of the great benefits of remote working cultures being the possibility of reinvigorating rural communities and opening up life outside the standard 6.30am commuter run to a city. I love remote working for what it’s given me back – so much more time in my day I used to lose to commuting and trying to do all the preparation work of being out of the house for the day.”

For organisations, the group recommends the key need for leadership in supporting remote working. This will mean visible leadership from senior leaders in supporting remote workers, particularly in a mix of onsite and remote to avoid an approach that disadvantages those working remotely in terms of career development and opportunity. Structured social interaction, training on how to work remotely and support for early-career workers is crucial.

For government, the group recommends various actions including awareness raising campaigns on health & safety guidance and working time legislation. Government should explore extending the right to request flexible working to all workers whose work can be completed remotely for some or all of time. Balanced regional development, greater labour market participation and reduced emissions are just some of the significant benefits that can be accrued from remote working and which Government should support. The expert group also believe there is a need to review the applicable tax relief (the current €3.20 daily eWorking Allowance) so that it takes accounts of the costs and savings of remote working for both the employee and the employer.

The report builds on and includes the findings of the two phases of the national remote working surveys during 2020.

The most recent data published in October 2020 found that, among those who can work remotely, 94% were in favour of working remotely on an on-going basis for some or all the time. The majority of those, 54%, said they would like to work remotely several times a week, 27% said five days a week and 13% said several times a month. Speaking about the national surveys and the remote working expert group’s report, Professor Alma McCarthy said “Our research indicates that the majority of employees who can work remotely have a clear preference to continue to do so for some or all of their working week. There are many policy and employer considerations in moving to more remote working, the expert group’s report aims to help organisations and Government in how best to plan for and manage remote working”.

Chair of the Group, WDC CEO Tomás Ó Síocháin said “The publication of this report is timely. Remote working offers significant benefits to the individual and to society. It can improve the work and personal lives of both rural and urban dwellers and offer new opportunities to both employers and employees. However, it is important to note that each organisation must make a conscious decision to support remote working. It requires senior leaders to embrace and lead it in each organisation. If they do, it can be transformative, sustainable, and to the benefit of all in the long run.”

In late 2019, prior to the outbreak of COVID-19, the Western Development Commission, building on ongoing work in this area over many years, met with the Whitaker Institute, NUI Galway to discuss remote working. The discussion was prompted by three trends: improving technology, the transition to a low carbon economy and an increase in the demand for, and incidence of, remote working. It was decided to establish a working group to look at remote working opportunities and challenges which led to setting up the WDC-NUI Galway Whitaker Institute Expert Group on Remote Working.

The members of the expert group, along with the Chair, Tomás Ó Síocháin, WDC CEO are Professor Alma McCarthy, Whitaker Institute, NUI Galway, Mark Gantly, Chair of the Regional Skills Forum West, Emma Kerins, Head of Policy and Public Affairs, Chambers Ireland, Brian O’Donoghue, Systems Engineer, Cisco and Deirdre Frost, Policy Analyst, WDC.