National Remote Work Strategy
18th January 2021
Last Friday (15th January), the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment Leo Varadkar TD, published Ireland’s first National Remote Work Strategy to make remote working a permanent option for life after the pandemic.
The term remote work refers to the broad concept of an arrangement where work is fully or partly carried out at an alternative worksite other than the default place of work. Many phrases are used to refer to remote work including: telework, e-Work, mobile work, smart working, telecommuting, flexible working, hub-work, locationless work, co-working, home office, virtual office and platform work. These concepts are all related and share a degree of overlap with remote working being the broadest concept encompassing all of these terms.
The Strategy sets out plans to strengthen the rights and responsibilities of employers and employees, to provide the infrastructure to work remotely, and sets out clear guidance on how people can be empowered to work remotely from the office.
Some of the headline actions on foot of the announcement include:
•legislate to provide employees the right to request remote working
•introduce a legally admissible code of practice on the right to disconnect from work – covering phone calls, emails and switch-off time
•invest in remote work hubs, ensuring they are in locations that suit commuters and are close to childcare facilities
•explore the acceleration of the National Broadband Plan
•review the treatment of remote working for the purposes of tax and expenditure in the next Budget
•lead by example by mandating that home and remote working should be the norm for 20% of public sector employees
According to the Tánaiste Leo Varadkar TD: “Working from home has become the norm for many in 2020.
We want remote, blended and flexible working arrangements to play a much bigger part of life after COVID-19. 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. 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 it 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.”
The aforementioned actions will be completed over the course of 2021. An Implementation Group will be formed to monitor the progress of the actions with meetings being held every four months.
Remote Work & Gender Balance in the Workplace
A section in the Plan covers the topic of Remote Work and Gender Balance in the Workplace. There is plenty of research which highlights the fact that women tend to take on more ‘unpaid’ responsibilities as compared to men. As a result, women are underrepresented in the workplace; are less represented at senior level and are often overstretched when it comes to juggling their many responsibilities. According to the latest OECD figures available for Ireland, men spend two hours a day on ‘unpaid work’ whereas women spend five hours a day in ‘unpaid work’. When you look at ‘time spent in paid work’, men spend almost six hours in ‘paid work’ whereas women spend just over 3 hours in ‘paid work’. Of course when you add both paid and unpaid work together, the ‘time spent in total work’ is closer to 8 hours for both genders.
Quoting from the Plan, it states: “Remote working, as part of a broader flexible working policy, presents an opportunity to address some of the barriers to the full participation of women in the workforce”. So too, “a lack of flexible working opportunities is often cited as one of the reasons behind the scarcity of women in senior jobs” and policy on remote working can support this by ensuring that remote working does not limit career development.
Therefore, remote working, as an element of wider flexible working, presents significant opportunities in creating a more equal workforce.
Reacting to the Government’s National Remote Work Strategy, the Chief Executive of the Institute of Directors in Ireland, Maura Quinn, said that “striking a balance between the requirements and practicalities of both employers and employees” will be key to the detail and eventual success of the proposed legislation on remote working.
“The ways and means of working within organisations have undergone a quiet revolution over the past eleven months. Remote working and the increased use of digital technology have reconfigured the way we work, where we work, and how we work. In turn, it is impacting business models and people’s work-life balance. Equally, our recent research revealed that the primary concern of business leaders with regard to remote working is the isolation of staff, and the threat of teams working in silos or a lack of cohesion between teams.
In terms of this proposed new legislation on remote working, striking a balance will be key to satisfying the requirements and practicalities of both employers and employees. That will be no easy task.”
Marian Ryan, Consumer Tax Manager at Taxback.com also commented on the Strategy which she viewed as a fluid one: “The National Remote Workforce Strategy is to be welcomed as an indication of a progressive society, which cares about the welfare of employers and employees alike.
But migrating to greater numbers of a remote workforce will be a process, and a fluid one at that, and all stakeholders will have to be flexible in their response to the challenges and opportunities it presents over time.”
Marian went on to say: “One such challenge, and subsequent opportunity, would be for the Government to take a keener look at the reliefs and allowances in place for those who do work from home long-term. Currently, remote workers are entitled to the eWorker tax relief which is only worth between €30 – €100 approximately per year to the average worker. However, while there are many benefits to working from home, a potential downside can be the additional cost to the employee, who really shouldn’t be penalised financially just because of their place of work.”
Many of us will agree that an important element of any Remote Working Strategy has to be to protect an employee’s mental health. The proposed Code of Practice on the right to disconnect is welcomed. On this the Tánaiste said: “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.”
You can download the Strategy here>>