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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.

View and download the full report HERE

View and download the executive summary HERE

Remote Working during COVID-19: Ireland’s National Survey

Phase II of the Remote Working Survey – October 2020

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Second Phase of National Remote Working Employee Survey Shows 94% In Favour of Working Remotely for Some or All of the Time

Survey led by NUI Galway and the Western Development Commission shows that 23% of respondents would consider relocating, while 7% have already moved.

Researchers from the Whitaker Institute at NUI Galway and the Western Development Commission have published summary data from the second phase of the national remote working survey. The remote working study findings inform employers about employee experiences of remote working. The survey focused on those employees who are currently working fully remotely or a mix of onsite and remote.  The survey gathered responses from more than 5,600 employees six months after lockdown.

Led by Professor Alma McCarthy and Dr Katerina Bohle-Carbonell at NUI Galway, and Tomás Ó Síocháin and Deirdre Frost at Western Development Commission, the survey found that, among those who can work remotely, 94% were in favour of working remotely on an on-going basis for some or all of 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.

Those who would like to work remotely five days a week (27%) is more than double those who shared that view in the first national survey conducted by the NUI Galway and the Western Development Commission team in April when it was 12% in the immediate aftermath of the lockdown.

The overwhelming majority (94%) is a significant increase from the 83% who wanted to work remotely in the April survey. Conversely, only 6% indicated in the second phase that they did not wish to work remotely to any extent – a drop from 16% who gave that response in April. The number of respondents working fully remotely fell from 87% in April to 68% in the first week of October as there was more of a mix of onsite and remote in the latest survey.

23% of respondents said they would consider relocating within Ireland based on their experience of remote working since COVID-19. A further 7% said they had already moved and the West (Galway, Mayo, Roscommon), the South-west (Cork and Kerry) and the Mid-West (Clare, Limerick, Tipperary) were the top regions respondents have relocated to. 16% said they may consider moving, while just over half (54%) said they would not consider relocating.

Loneliness and isolation, staying motivated and difficulties with the physical workspace were identified as the main challenges to working remotely. These challenges had changed since April, when not being able to switch off from work, collaborating and communicating with colleagues and poor physical workspace were the main challenges identified.

There was no change to the top three benefits of working remotely; identified as no traffic and no commute, greater flexibility in how to manage the working day and reduced costs of going to work and commuting. Interestingly, in the context of work/life balance, 36% of respondents said that they did not respond to emails outside of working hours. Of all respondents, one in four (26%) respond because they choose to, while another 26% respond because of workload.

It is important to note that the survey asks about remote work, which includes both working from home and working from another location, for example a hub.

Speaking about the second national survey, Professor Alma McCarthy, Professor of Public Sector Management, J.E. Cairnes School of Business and Economics, NUI Galway, said: “The second NUI Galway/Western Development Commission national remote working survey has, once again, gained huge interest with over 5,600 responses. There is a resounding demand from employees to continue to work remotely post-crisis. The remote working experience presents a game-changer for how many organisations will manage their workforce into the future.  For those who can work remotely, they seem to have settled into it quite effectively six months on from lockdown.”

Tomás Ó Síocháin, CEO of the Western Development Commission, said: “The information collected in these surveys will help to ensure that the correct measures are in place to support those working remotely. Identifying the opportunities and challenges will mean that remote working infrastructure such as broadband and remote working hubs, for example, will allow both individuals and communities to minimise the challenges and to make the most of this fundamental shift in the way we work.”

The research team has expedited the analysis of initial summary findings of the second national remote working survey which are available on both NUI Galway’s Whitaker Institute and the Western Development Commission websites.  Further publications will be made available. The report and key statistics from the first national survey in April are also available on these websites.

Media and Press

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Phase I of the Remote Working Survey – April 2020

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Background and Rationale

The COVID-19 crisis catapulted hundreds of thousands of employees and their employers into a work pattern and routine vastly different to their normal daily work experience.  This radical change happened suddenly and for the vast majority the change effectively occurred overnight.

While some employees had experience of remote working, many found themselves operating remote working without any time to plan, negotiate, organise and set-up remote working in conjunction with their employer and manager.

Researchers from the Whitaker Institute and the Western Development Commission (WDC) undertook a national survey to gather data on employees’ experiences of remote working during COVID-19.

Survey Objectives

The survey gathered empirical evidence and data to address the following questions:

  1. How are employees adjusting to remote working, what is going well and what changes would employees suggest?
  2. How is remote working impacting employee productivity?
  3. What are employees remote working preferences post-COVID-19?
  4. What lessons can be learned about remote working that could be retained/sustained post-COVID-19?

Survey Methodology and Response

The national survey was conducted between 27th April and 5th May 2020 using the online Qualtrics survey platform.  The survey was designed by the research team at NUI Galway and the Western Development Commission.  The survey included a mix of quantitative questions, Likert-scale questions, and open-ended free-text qualitative questions.

A total of 7,241 usable responses were received by 5th May 2020 from a wide range of industries and sectors across Ireland.  A number of responses were removed from the database as they were completed by respondents outside of the island of Ireland or were incomplete.  The report is available above.

Research team

This project is being led by Prof Alma McCarthy, Prof Alan Ahearne and Dr Katerina Bohle-Carbonell at NUI Galway and Tomás Ó Síocháin and Deirdre Frost at WDC.

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Project Partners

For more information

If you would like more information about this project please contact Prof Alma McCarthy