After the recent reports that Big Tech firms were planning to cut remote workers’ wages, we ask whether Irish remote workers should worry.
Recent media coverage about certain US Big Tech companies cynically exploiting their remote working employees for financial gain by threatening wage cuts is not something Irish workers need to be too concerned about.
I spoke to two people in the know about the development of remote working in Ireland and why, if managed correctly, the practice could continue to benefit people – long after it became a pandemic necessity last year.
According to Mary Connaughton, who is director of HR firm CIPD, which conducted research into working practices in Ireland in recent times, we are going to see a lot of “change and uncertainty” over the next few months.
Connaughton is by no means the first expert who has said something similar about the future of work in Ireland.
CIPD’s annual survey, HR Practices in Ireland, revealed that 71pc of respondents had rolled out remote working in the past year and 77pc planned to adopt a blended model for the future. It is a matter of when and not if.
But, Connaughton warns: “the things that suffered with remote working were team working collaboration, wellbeing, support and innovation.”
“What we’re saying to employers is these are the things that they need to be bringing people together for, and being conscious that they need to allow time to rebuild those social connections in the workplace,” she says.
This has to be done in a “very planned and organised way” because of the Covid-19 restrictions, which are still in place until near the end of October.
She mentions she has seen a lot of dedicated desk-booking apps for businesses to let their employees choose when they want to use office spaces in their buildings. And, Connaughton, says, there are a lot of organisations who have gone completely remote, having sold their office spaces to save on overheads. This is a particularly popular option with digital-first companies founded in the last year or so when remote working was a legal necessity.
Among existing and older, more established companies, Connaughton says: “We’re not hearing of a lot of decisions to reduce office space, but it is certainly something that’s there for the future to be considered, and to see what cost savings may need to be made.”
Should workers be worried about their employers using them as leverage to cut costs, then? I ask Connaughton what she thinks of the media reports in the US about Google and Facebook and other Big Tech firms cutting wages of their remote working staff on the basis that they wouldn’t need to pay big city salaries anymore. Could this happen here?
The news is good, albeit tentatively so; Connaughton replies that she doesn’t envisage something similar happening here due to the “kickback” many companies received when they tested these plans on their disgruntled workers. She adds that CIPD certainly wouldn’t advocate for these practices and that organisations should treat the next few months as a “trial period”.
But, mostly, Connaughton is basing her answer on the fact Ireland doesn’t do different pay rates based on a worker’s location, unlike other countries.
“If you have to live in London for your job, you get a London allowance,” she says, citing our neighbours as an example. “So, some countries have very clear pay rates related to where you have to live to be close to your workplace. And there’s different rates right across the UK in terms of standard, benchmarking pay rates, and we don’t have that in Ireland. We don’t believe pay should be related to where you live.
“What we’re finding is, in general, employers are not looking to reduce pay in Ireland in relation to remote working. Good practice would have the pay rate for a job related to the work that needs to be done, the skills of the person and the output. They’re not changing depending on whether you’re working remotely, in the office or hybrid,” she adds
“We’re not expecting to see pay rates in Ireland change.”
Wider societal benefits
The Government’s National Remote Work Strategy made remote working a concrete option for future entrepreneurs in Ireland. The plan, which was unveiled in January, centred around the right to disconnect, the provision of better internet under the National Broadband Plan and more remote working hubs.
Stephen Carolan, who presided over the establishment of Ireland’s first national hubs network, has seen first-hand the difference the project has made to hundreds of businesses and entrepreneurs nationwide.
Since it went live at the end of May, the network’s Connected Hubs website has served as a resource for entrepreneurs and start-ups to avail of the various hubs’ services which include free broadband, workspaces, networking and mentorship opportunities.
Carolan and his team have worked with bodies such as the Western Development Commission (WDC) on the National Hubs Network, which is part of the Government’s ambition to promote remote working in rural Ireland.
At the time of publication, there are 150 co-working hubs available across the country according to the Connected Hubs website, a more than two-fold increase on the 66 it started out with when it launched earlier this year. All have been upgraded to offer broadband connectivity and meeting space facilities for entrepreneurs to manage their business operations exactly as they would in a traditional office.
Since the centres were upgraded, Carolan estimates that the number of businesses now using them is in the “high hundreds” if not the thousands.
Given the project’s success, Carolan obviously believes remote working is a good thing for people working in Ireland. “From my perspective, I think a mix of HQ home and hub would be a nice mix,” he says, adding that he’s not sure if 100pc remote working is suitable for everyone – something other experts have agreed with recently.
Not only is remote working a positive thing for businesses, Carolan believes it can have knock-on effects on local communities, particularly rural ones. The reduction in commuting times to city centres means “people have more time to spend with their families or volunteer in their local community and also spend money in the local community,” he says.
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