For the most part, we are living in a post-pandemic society, and – let’s face it – the workplace will never be the same again. We spent the better part of two-and-a-half-years in lockdown mode (and many vulnerable people are still living this way) and are all now used to the idea of working remotely where possible.
In January, the Government drafted the right to request remote working bill. It proposes the ability for workers to request the right to work from home or remotely, with employers required to take it seriously.
According to Gov.ie, the main objectives of this bill are to provide a legal framework around which “requesting, approving or refusing a request for remote work can be based” and provide legal clarity to employers. Obviously, for many people in certain industries – like hospitality and health care – these options aren’t going to be possible. But for those who might otherwise be commuting to the office five days a week, remote or hybrid working has created positive outcomes. The return to work has coincided with increasing costs of living. Food, rent and fuel have all gone up in price in recent months, making working from a home office more desirable for some.
Still, others might miss the camaraderie of a full, bustling office – this is not a one-size-fits-all approach.
Mary Connaughton, director of CIPD Ireland (Ireland’s professional body for human resources and people development), says implementing remote and flexible working is a challenge when building a balance between individual, team and business needs.
“Our research shows that the focus on culture, as well as onboarding, wellbeing and learning have to get specific attention to work well in a remote environment,” she says.
Mary adds that CIPD believes the Government’s approach to legislation on this will confuse the issue further.
“[The Government] has now produced a bill on the right to request remote working for all employees and [a newer] one on work-life balance, to provide flexible working for parents of children up to 12 and carers of relatives or cohabitants,” she says. “We believe a singular approach that gives the right to request flexible working – and adequately balances employee and employer needs – would be far more appropriate.”
Tom Kennedy (pictured) is a human resources (HR) consultant and a founding chair of CIPD Ireland. Based in Piltown, Co Kilkenny, he writes extensively on HR best practice and believes flexible working models are the future.
“It is an employees’ market post-pandemic, with many employees surprisingly resigning from secure jobs for the opportunity to move to perceived better jobs with improved work-life balance, flexible working hours and remote working benefits, less daily commuting, more affordable mortgage options – and where increased salary is no longer the driver for a job change decision,” he wrote in a recent essay.
Taking flexible working into account could mean allowing for time for school collections and drop-offs, extended midday breaks, more options for job sharing or the introduction of a four-day work week (with no wage reduction as long as output remains consistent). Tom feels the Government’s remote working bill does not go far enough.
“The consensus coming back to me (from discussions at the Joint Committee on Enterprise examining the Right to request Remote Working Bill) is that the bill was too quickly cobbled together by a small group of civil servants and Government advisers and is too heavily loaded in favour of employer interests.
“The current bill, in my view, focused too much on establishing a legal framework aimed at protecting employers and Government (by far the biggest employer of office workers and now likely applicants for long-term remote working).
“The safeguard built in of referring employee concerns and employer refusals to offer remote work to the Workplace Relations Commission [WRC] is simply not practical. Waiting lists to the WRC are already approaching 18 months without adding to their work list.”
In-person needed sometimes
Remote and flexible working has proven to be successful in many instances, but there are times where it pays to have employees in the office. Keith Bohanna has worked in the digital space since the mid-1990s and now works in finance – specifically, in risk anticipation and control.
He says, in his line of work, there are some things which simply can’t be done virtually.
“About 80% of the work can be done relatively efficiently remotely, [while] about 20% involves complex analysis and requires sitting down with people to thrash things out in a visual way,” he says.
“Because you’re working with complex processes, ideally with a whiteboard – not computers. I adore digital. But there’s nothing in digital that replicates the ability to scribble all over things and visualise across a large surface area.”
Like many Dublin residents, Keith was drawn to rural Ireland during the pandemic. His partner lives in Kinsale, Co Cork, and he had been living in Dublin and visiting Kinsale on weekends. When the pandemic hit, he says he “went down for the weekend and never came back”.
“[Moving to Cork] was going to happen at some point anyway,” he says, “but I formally moved a couple of months later. The bank has stayed absolutely hybrid, so both my team and my extended team work pretty much remotely, with some meet-ups in Dublin.”
With such a large portion of Irish employees having worked remotely for so long, it feels impossible to go back to the way things were.
Companies have downsized office space, in many situations, to allow for a more hybrid model for employees. Others have given their employees a choice: to work 100% remotely or come back to the office on a hybrid basis.
By omitting the daily commute, Keith has spent more time partaking in hobbies and activities.
“I’ve taken up kayaking and the advantages way outweigh the disadvantages – it’s all the classic things,” he says.
Thomas* has a full-time job working in IT for a large, North American company. Prior to the pandemic, he was allowed to work from home up to three days a week, but his managers were insistent he travel to the office (a 1.5 hour journey) at least two days per week. With small kids at home and being in a dairy farm partnership with his father, this wasn’t an ideal situation, but he made do. “Before COVID-19 hit, we wouldn’t have known any different,” he tells Irish Country Living. “It was just something drilled into you – if you have an office job, you need to go into the office.”
I understand why lots of farmers wouldn’t tell their bosses – they would probably think they were off farming while they’re meant to be doing their job
Like many farmers with outside jobs not related to agriculture, Thomas never told his managers about the farm – or that, while working from home, he often milked cows and did on-farm jobs on his breaks. He was feeling burnt out from two demanding full-time jobs (three, if you count being a parent). “A lot of managers in office scenarios could never understand what it’s like to farm unless they were farming, themselves,” he says. “I understand why lots of farmers wouldn’t tell their bosses – they would probably think they were off farming while they’re meant to be doing their job.”
Once the pandemic hit and everyone moved to 100% remote working, Thomas felt a peace he hadn’t experienced in a long time. “Suddenly, those two days of commuting were out of the picture and our managers started telling us to go outdoors and mind our mental health [during lockdown]. Balancing farmwork and work-work got a whole lot easier. My wife was working from home as well, which took a lot of the scheduling headaches away.”
Once society began to reopen, Thomas was given the option to work 100% remotely or come back to the office on a hybrid basis. He and many co-workers opted to work from home 100% of the time. He does miss face-to-face meetings with colleagues in the Irish office but with much of his work already virtual, with colleagues across the globe, working remotely makes sense to him.“I wouldn’t go back,” he says. “My life is a lot less complicated, but I am just as productive – both in my day job and on the farm.”
*Name changed to protect the identity of the interviewee
“The only disadvantage is that I’m a little bit further away from my kids. I see them every second weekend.”