The pandemic has disrupted the world of work, rapidly accelerating changes that were already underway and transforming how and where we work. It has surprised us all, how far-reaching and quickly these changes happened when they had to and how adaptable many traditional office-based jobs were to an unexpected need to go remote.
I believe many of these changes will be long-lasting and the Government wants to equip workers and employers with the guidance, laws, and incentives to make remote and blended working a much bigger part of life after Covid-19.
The benefits are obvious – less commuting, fewer transport emissions, better quality of life for workers, more time with family and friends. New job opportunities will be created for people who want to live in rural Ireland, for people with disabilities, and for people with caring responsibilities. We will see this opportunity reflected in our smaller towns and villages as they benefit from new investment, footfall, and local spending.
As with any great opportunity, there are also challenges that need to be managed too. We don’t want to see our cities hollowed out. Dublin, Cork, Limerick, Waterford and Galway will be competing with Barcelona, Liverpool, Paris and Lisbon in the battle for talent. And talent can remote work from almost anywhere, so our cities need to be vibrant places where talent wants to live.
We also need to find a way of ensuring colleagues can properly connect with each other when not sharing the same office, while also ensuring that people feel they can disconnect when the workday is over. We don’t want to turn our homes into workplaces where we are always “on”.
Right to request
To manage these challenges and make the most of the opportunities, the Government published a National Remote Working Strategy earlier this year, with actions across all of these areas so that we can all move forward together to ensure that remote working becomes a permanent part of the workplace.
We have committed to introducing a new law giving the right to request remote work. We have put in place a new Code of Practice on the Right to Disconnect. We are reviewing the treatment of remote working for the purposes of tax and expenses in advance of the next budget. We will lead by example and mandate that home and remote work be the norm for 20 percent of public sector employment and we are doing all we can to accelerate the provision of high-speed broadband to all parts of Ireland as part of the National Broadband Plan.
As we continue to reopen society, many employers and employees will be making big decisions about their future working plans. It is important that employers plan for the changes that remote work will bring. Engagement will be needed between employers and employees for remote work to be adopted and implemented successfully. Now is the time for employers to consider what steps they need to undertake to get it right.
To assist with this, my department has developed a Guidance for Working Remotely webpage gov.ie/remote. This is a central access point for employers and employees on the State guidance, advice, and legislation relevant to remote work. It covers areas such as health and safety, employment conditions, data protection, equality, and training.
To help employers get to grips with these areas, my department has also developed an employer checklist. This checklist outlines the major considerations required for businesses when taking a long-term approach to remote work. I strongly urge employers to use this checklist as they make their plans for the future.
It is rare to have lived through a major global event, such as a pandemic, that comes and fundamentally alters so many things. While we will never forget the lives lost and the thousands of sacrifices made by the Irish people over the past number of months, we must not lose this opportunity to look afresh at traditional ways of doing things and make changes for the better. I believe how and where we work is ripe for a permanent change for the better.