Up until recent times, the nine-to-five working day at the office had become so prevalent that it was one of the clichés of popular culture. Yet it may not be the dominant work pattern for much longer, as flexible working practices make further inroads into Irish business. One of the most significant changes has been the advent of teleworking. Often known as ‘e-working’ or ‘telecommuting’ the practice involves employees working from home on a full- or part-time basis. The advent of internet access and affordable PCs has almost definitely been a key factor in the growth of teleworking.
The number of teleworkers in Ireland is slowly increasing as awareness of the concept grows. Teleworkers now even have their own professional association, Telework Ireland (www.telework.ie). With issues such as enormous traffic problems and high overheads for businesses, the practice may well begin to appear attractive to a larger number of workers and employers.
One person who took the plunge into teleworking is Méabh Ní Chatháin, communications manager with Esat BT. Relocation was the reason for the switch. “I got married and moved to Wexford. Obviously, I didn’t want to give up my job, so I enquired about teleworking,” she says. “I knew that the BT group had a teleworking initiative in place and here in Ireland Esat BT was running a pilot project. I approached the company with the idea and it was quite happy to go with it.”
Ní Chatháin now operates three days a week from her Wexford home. “I use a room originally designed as a study. I already had a laptop and the company provided me with a printer and ISDN line,” she explains.
One of the most important parts of the equation, she feels, is that of telecommunications. “I think if a company is going to have teleworkers, the minimum it should provide is ISDN. I used dial-up for a while at the beginning and it just wasn’t practical for someone working a full day,” she continues.
Ní Chatháin is looking forward to when broadband arrives in Wexford. “We don’t have DSL [digital subscriber line] just yet, but it’s expected to be available shortly. I’ll definitely be getting it once it comes on stream,” she adds. The nature of her job often means that quick response times are essential and an always-on internet connection ensures that email queries will be turned around quickly.
Two days a week are spent at Esat BT’s Dublin office. Like many advocates of teleworking, Ní Chatháin feels that it is important to spend a portion of the week in the office. Not only is it necessary for scheduling meetings and the like, she feels it’s important to spend time with one’s colleagues and build on interpersonal relations. “I think if someone worked at home all of the time a danger would be there of the person becoming isolated and cut off from the day-to-day activity in the company,” she adds.
The journey to Dublin is no picnic and Ní Chatháin is unhappy that there is no commuter train link to Wexford. “If there was even a train as far as Gorey, it would be a big improvement. I’d be happy to drive that far and get the train the rest of the way,” she says. On the days she travels to Dublin, Ní Chatháin has to leave the house at six in the morning in order to make it to the city between the hours of eight and nine.
While the trip to Dublin may be time consuming, Ní Chatháin believes that teleworking has been hugely beneficial. “You have to have a certain focus of mind on the job. Having said that, working from home has a lot of advantages. A big open-plan office can often have many distractions, which aren’t there at home. I find I can be much more productive in a home office environment,” she says.
Ní Chatháin has been teleworking for just over a year and feels the change of regime has been hugely beneficial. “It’s a very good compromise. It allows me to balance my career and my lifestyle without losing out on either,” she says.
By Dick O’Brien