Sage

The coronavirus pandemic has accelerated the shift to remote working, with businesses across Ireland forced to change their working processes over the past year.

But while businesses and employees had to adapt literally overnight, the outcome has been relatively positive and attitudes to remote working have changed.

It looks like working remotely is going to continue in some form, be it either on a full-time basis or with some employers taking a hybrid approach – comprising time in the workplace and time working from home.

The Irish government understands this and earlier this year, it published a National Remote Work Strategy. The objective? To “ensure that remote working is a permanent feature in the Irish workplace in a way that maximises economic, social and environmental benefits”.

Making Remote Work

In its strategy paper, Making Remote Work, the government says it intends to legislate for the right of an employee to request remote working. It also states that 20% of the public sector will work remotely.

For remote working to be a success, the right infrastructure has to be in place. This includes the likes of high-speed broadband for all regions in Ireland. The paper acknowledges this and it also proposes the need to invest in remote working hubs.

A code of practice on the right to disconnect – where employees are free to not participate in work activities during non-working hours and holidays – and a review of the current system of claiming expenses due to working from home are also referenced in the paper.

The strategy, which the government has said will be rolled out throughout 2021 and beyond, is built on three pillars:

  • Creating a conducive environment for the adoption of remote working.
  • Developing and leveraging a remote working infrastructure to support the adoption of working remotely.
  • Building a remote working framework that can maximise the benefits of working remotely.

The pillars are underpinned by a number of guiding principles – they focus on promoting remote working, showcasing best practice, and highlighting the need to develop skills for participating in and embracing working remotely.

The right to disconnect code of practice and details on how the National Broadband Plan is to be accelerated are among the first areas to be addressed. Later in the year, the right to request remote work will be tackled.

Employers should keep an eye on further developments throughout the year and what they will mean for their businesses.

Challenges for businesses

Despite the fast adoption of remote working, it doesn’t come without its challenges. While businesses have moved quickly, feedback has highlighted that it’s not all smooth sailing – something the government realises.

The Making Remote Work paper reflects that remote working “doesn’t easily support creativity, group dynamics, shared ownership and collegiality” and can in turn lead to an innovation deficit. A long-term impact on productivity could be an outcome for some businesses if these obstacles aren’t successfully tackled.

One way businesses might overcome these challenges could be to adopt a hybrid model, where employees are in the workplace for some of the week. That could address the challenges around group dynamics, where face-to-face meetings could occur and those watercooler moments that spark creativity could still flourish.

What businesses should do now

Businesses and employers need to start planning for how a more permanent form of remote working will become part of the infrastructure of their companies. There’s also a need to speak to employees and discuss their expectations of working remotely.

Devising and implementing a remote work policy is key here, as advised by the National Remote Work Strategy. Such a policy should set out how remote working works for your business, and what the expectation is of the employer. 

It must also provide clear criteria covering how employees can request to work remotely. In addition, it should establish a review or appeal process for employees whose requests to work remotely are turned down.

On its website, the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment has published details on remote work. It offers advice to employers on how they can navigate the adoption of remote working arrangements.

It includes a list of things that need to be contemplated and covers numerous issues that should figure in the planning and implementation of remote working, such as: 

  • Employment conditions
  • The organisation of working time and employment rights
  • Health and safety
  • Equality issues
  • Training
  • Data protection 
  • Cyber security.

Getting prepared for the future of remote working

It’s been a busy year as far as remote working goes. The need to get things moving quickly has shown it’s possible for businesses to function in this manner. But that’s not to say there haven’t been challenges.

As we look to the future of remote working, there are still issues that need to be ironed out so businesses can function effectively and be successful in the coming years. 

Planning for that now, while keeping abreast of the government’s rollout of its remote working strategy, will help businesses adapt and remain aware of any future implications.

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