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16/10/2021

Blended remote working is the new normal

The last year has changed many things about our lives due to Covid-19. We can't socialise as normal or travel abroad as we might like. The kitchen table is now the gourmet restaurant we can't visit, the classroom and in many cases, the office.

As the months wore on, people upgraded spare bedrooms, bought equipment and even added new wood cabins to their gardens to adjust to the home working situation. It has been a learning curve for many but there is a sense a new normal will emerge from the most abnormal of years.

It has prompted a new plan from Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise Leo Varadkar. The Making Remote Work - National Work Strategy was launched after the turn of the year just as the country was plunged into more restrictions and more solemn calls were made to work from home where possible.

The plan seeks to mandate that home and remote work will be the norm for 20 percent of public sector employment, tax breaks will be on offer for home working in future budgets, remote working hubs will be more prevalent and people will have the right to request home working.

The plan brings to the surface two very important issues that could scupper it; the work-life balance and rural broadband. As it stands, many people are being forced to travel into offices because they cannot get an adequate internet connection at home. Some are being told they could wait years before being connected under the National Broadband plan.

Minister Varadkar's plan says the government will accelerate the provision of high-speed broadband to all parts of Ireland, but the process can still be broken down into years in terms of a rollout, rather than weeks or months.

“That puts the remote working option beyond many people in the short-term, especially those in rural Ireland.

With the home office or work laptop in the next room for many working at home, the plan will develop a code of practice for the right to disconnect. This is aimed at ensuring we aren't seen as 'always on and available' to employers. This proximity in the general work-life balance is perhaps the most pressing issue for workers.

Nevertheless, with 80% of respondents to Améarach Research last year saying they would prefer to work at least a portion of their working week at home, it's accepted that this scenario will extend far beyond the Covid landscape.

Add to that the benefits of no commute and fewer emissions harming the environment.

Leo Varadkar said: "This shift might have taken decades if it had been planned. Instead, it took days. I believe that when the pandemic is over, many of us will return to the office, but things will never be the same again.

"While some people will work full-time from the office or from home, most of us will be blended workers, working sometimes from the office and other times from home, a hub or on the go.

"On balance, these will be changes for the better."

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