Fibre is key to the flexible future of work on this island

8 Apr 20191.26k Views

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Valentia and the Skellig islands off Kerry. Image: © ladistock/Stock.adobe.com

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Flexible and remote working will enable the future of work in Ireland, and that’s why we need the National Broadband Plan to happen, urges John Kennedy.

While talking to Scott Lien, co-founder of GrandPad – a US company that is creating 75 jobs in Ireland from a new headquarters in Gorey – he confirmed something that I had believed for a long time: that for a growing number of people, the future of work in Ireland will be flexible and remote.

GrandPad is a company that makes tablet computers for elderly people to participate in the digital revolution and keep in touch with loved ones. Most of its new jobs will be for people who live within roughly 100km of the new Wexford HQ.

These will be people who will mostly work from home or a nearby digital hub, and who can concentrate for a number of hours per day on helping elderly people to live independently from home and to stave off loneliness. All they need is broadband, professionalism and a fine dollop of enthusiasm.

‘Remote and work-from-home initiatives are the best way for Ireland to address the combined needs of breathing life into rural Ireland and enabling people to live where they want to live’
– JOHN RIORDAN

“Our employees love it, they love the mission and we have an extremely low turnover,” Lien told Siliconrepublic.com. “The average annual attrition in call centres in the US is between 40pc and 50pc. Our turnover is only 3pc because people are working from home and we pay them well and treat them well.”

Remote working is no longer unique or different

Man in blue suit jacket and shirt wearing glasses.

Scott Lien. Image: GrandPad

When the IDA announced the GrandPad jobs almost a fortnight ago, it described it as a plan to bring “unique jobs to Ireland”. Actually, these jobs will be anything but unique, because they hint at the future of work as we know it. And these jobs are already here.

For example, we already have companies such as Canadian e-commerce giant Shopify, which has its European headquarters in Galway but its more than 300 employees work remotely.

This is the future of work. Already there are a growing number of traditional Irish corporations, including banks, that are making it policy for employees to work at least one day a week from home or a regional hub or branch. Companies such as Vodafone have gotten rid of permanent desks; you get a laptop, a smartphone and a locker and you just bring your “whole self to work” and find a place to sit. Not a bad way to get to know people in different facets of work in your organisation, actually.

The logic from a Government economic policy perspective ought to be clear. More workers working from home enriches the local community. People are more present, more involved and part of the local social fabric but, economically, those extra loaves of bread or pints of milk bought in the local shop all add up, too.

Figures revealed in recent months by the Mid-East Regional Enterprise Plan showed that more than 28,000 people from Kildare, more than 21,000 people from Meath and more than 19,000 from Wicklow commute to Dublin every day. Jobs site Indeed revealed recently that the number of Irish people searching for jobs using the term ‘remote working’ surged 171pc in 2017.

Just last week, Sneem Digital Hub was added to the coterie of digital hubs that have sprouted up all across the land from Kells to Sligo, Kilrush, Gweedore and Skibbereen. Many more are on the way.

How 4 Cs and 1 F add up to an A+ for the future of work

Man in blue shirt sits with a laptop in front of Irish cottages.

Daniel Fahy, who works remotely for a US company from Galway. Image: Grow Remote

Last week I appealed for the Government to rip the Band-Aid on the cost and roll-out of the National Broadband Plan (NBP) to provide 150Mpbs fibre to 542,000 premises in rural Ireland and just get on with it.

It seems that the majority of Irish people are in agreement and want the NBP to proceed, but are concerned about the cost. A Red C survey of more than 1,000 adults on behalf of consumer price comparison site Bonkers.ie found that there is 66pc of support for the plan outside of Dublin.

On 16 April, the Grow Remote movement will hold its second conference in Tubbercurry, Co Sligo, featuring speakers from across Europe and North America to discuss opportunities that exist for remote working in Ireland and the benefits it can bring to employees.

Speakers will include: Lorcan Roche Kelly, who works remotely from his farm in Co Clare as an editor on Bloomberg Markets; Rachel Craig, an SEO consultant in Barcelona who has also worked remotely from the Inishowen peninsula in Co Donegal; and Ryan Mesches from Cork tech company Teamwork, who is building his own remote-working team.

“In less than four years, we have built a team of over 300 fully remote workers in Ireland, spread across all 26 counties,” explained John Riordan, director of support at Shopify, who will also be speaking at the Grow Remote conference. “Remote and work-from-home initiatives are the best way for Ireland to address the combined needs of breathing life into rural Ireland and enabling people to live where they want to live.”

Crucially, the future of work is about choice. The needs of companies are as diverse as the people they are fortunate enough to employ.

The shiny head office is still just as important as the choice of where and how people will want to work. It will always be a part of the identity of an organisation and for those who work for it. Some workers will opt to spend a few days per week or per month at head office while working remotely the rest of the time. But they need that choice.

Across Ireland, companies are rewriting the rules of work to get the best out of their people. The formula is down to four Cs: choice, culture, community and connectivity. And for this to all work smoothly, we need fibre.

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John Kennedy is an award-winning technology journalist who served as editor of Siliconrepublic.com for 17 years.

editorial@siliconrepublic.com