The Government’s strategy to roll out remote working in post-pandemic Ireland includes plans for a right to disconnect and investment in infrastructure.
Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment Leo Varadkar, TD, has published Ireland’s first National Remote Work Strategy – a plan to make remote working a permanent option in post-pandemic Ireland.
In a statement, Varadkar looked ahead to when Ireland is beyond its present Covid-19 struggles, “not so we can go back to the old normal but rather so we can have a new and better normal incorporating all that we have learned from living our lives and doing business in a very different way”.
“The requirement to work from home where possible, for reasons of public health, has demonstrated how viable home, remote and blended working can be,” he added. “Post-pandemic, I want remote working to be part of a whole new world of work and this new Government strategy sets out how we will enable it.”
The National Remote Work Strategy was developed under guidance from many Government departments and State agencies. Underpinning the strategy are the findings of the 2019 Remote Work in Ireland report, the results of a public consultation, and new research carried out in 2020.
A set of headline actions outlined in the plan are set for completion this year. As well as setting out plans to strengthen the rights and responsibilities of employers and employees, the strategy includes the commitment to provide the necessary infrastructure for remote working across the country. This includes a possible acceleration of the National Broadband Plan.
What to expect
The first actions of the Government’s plan include legislation to enshrine the right for employees to request remote working options.
As predicted by William Fry associate Darran Brennan last year, the Government also plans to introduce a legally admissible code of practice on the right to disconnect from work. This will cover phone calls, emails and switch-off time, according to the Government statement.
As workers who received Covid-19 wage subsidies last year are due to receive a tax bill from Revenue this week, the Government has committed to review the treatment of remote working for the purposes of tax and expenditure in the next Budget.
The Government itself will lead by example by mandating that home and remote working should be the norm for one-fifth of public sector employees. With more than 300,000 public servants employed across a broad range of organisations, this will amount to tens of thousands of people.
The Government’s plan also intends to further invest in remote working hubs, ensuring that sites are accessible by commuters and located close to childcare facilities.
Demand for these hubs is likely to increase along with a growth in remote workers. Kinsale Digital Hub, for example, is already heavily booked for 2021. Located in Kinsale town centre, Co Cork, the hub has set out plans for further technology upgrades this year, such as enhanced video-conferencing facilities. This facility intends to reopen in spring with measures in place for social distancing.
‘We want to put in place the structures which ensure we take advantage of the benefits of remote working and protect against the downsides’
– LEO VARADKAR, TD
A newly formed implementation group will meet every four months to monitor the progress of the Government’s planned actions.
“We’ve seen that there can be huge benefits – more flexibility, less commuting, more time for family and friends. It’s better for the transport emissions and for quality of life, but it has to be done right,” Varadkar said.
“Employment rights need to be updated, we need to give guidance and, in many cases, we need to provide actual physical working space. It also requires a cultural shift in favour of facilitating [remote working] as an option. This plan shows how we will bring all those parts together. I think it will make a real difference to people’s working lives.
“Many people will want to continue on to do at least some remote working after the pandemic, and it’s really important that we protect the rights and entitlements of those workers so that they can still ‘switch off’ from work. That is why we have included the right to disconnect piece. We want to put in place the structures which ensure we take advantage of the benefits of remote working and protect against the downsides.”