Government Report into Remote and Flexible Working

Posted in : Supplementary Articles ROI on 25 November 2020
Niall Eyre
Issues covered: Remote working; Flexible working

The revolution within the workplace – i.e. the new world of work has arrived in Ireland, where we are based. The number of employees engaged within remote/flexible working has grown exponentially during the Covid-19 crisis and estimates place the number of employees working to this model now, at just under 800,000. This has increased from 200,000 employees (pre Covid) therefore the increase in this work approach is clear.

Furthermore, studies indicate that 80% or more Irish employees are interested in pursuing some element of remote/flexible working, post Covid 19, so the seismic shift to work design will be consolidated into the future.

Currently the government is undertaking a detailed and comprehensive consultation process to review all aspects regarding remote/flexible working i.e. regulations, guidance, and employment laws. Many issues must be considered e.g. insurance, expenses, health & safety, equality, right to disconnect. Employer and employee representatives are engaged with government to outline their stakeholder requirements and concerns. Shortly, government will report findings and the general sense is that government will be ambitious and progressive with the approach.

The reference points for government are expanding as this type of analysis is ongoing within other jurisdictions e.g. Spain, Germany, France. Ireland needs to have progressive, fair, and user-friendly regulations that promote remote/flexible working and enable businesses to exploit the many advantages of these work design models.      

Internationally, the movement to provide increased protection and rights to remote/flexible working employees is gathering pace. Recent developments in Germany are interesting. Traditionally conservative to remote/flexible work, regulations in Germany are being drafted to provide employees with the “legal right for remote work” to be requested by all employees. Germany wants to give citizens the legal right to work from home and Organisations must adapt.

This approach has implications for businesses, specifically internationally structured organisations that work across multiple time zones and international locations. In this context some organisations are adopting new and progressive polices in this area. The impetus for change is partly due to the increased focus on well-being and mental health issues within the workplace. Covid-19 has significantly heightened the need for employers to be proactive, assist employees and advocate a sensible and sustainable work/life balance approach.

The challenge for businesses is to reach the point where there is balance between the needs and requirements of employees, whilst considering impact on business performance. If all employee requests are agreed to, this will challenge the viability of some businesses. This is particularly relevant to the small and medium size businesses (SME sector) who struggle with the resources, IT systems and processes required to be compliant within the new world of work.

As businesses transition out of Covid 19 to a more normalized environment there will be pressures on cashflow, customer service, business marketing and sales etc. which will require employee groups to work in a specific manner. If, during this time, there is an overhaul of the organisaional work design model, with large cohorts of employees transitioning to a new work model, the impact on efficiency and organisational performance could be significant.  

Of particular focus is the “right to disconnect”. This topic has been in focus for some years, in line with the growth of digitalization of work processes and communications. In many countries the discussion has shifted from general feedback from employees to a formal, organized and trade union supported policy, that is driven by employee representatives. This moves the discussion to a more legalized and potentially confrontational format which can become complicated and divisive.  

The Irish Labour Party has proposed new legislation to boost protection for employees who are doing some or all work from home, including the “right to disconnect” from out-of-hours communication. This proposal has gained considerable cross community support as many families have been impacted by the reality of 1 or 2 parental figures working from home. For the debate to reach the political environment is significant and demonstrates the level of support for “the right to disconnect”.  

To move forward in a progressive and positive manner organisations should not wait until this issue becomes overly regulated with multiple employment law directives. Effective organistional work design models require high levels of engagement, enablement, and empowerment. Best practice in this area is to commence engagement with employees (as soon as possible) and design the communications and interaction based on a partnership approach. This will enable practical and tailored solutions that support the evolvement of organizational culture to incorporate new ways of working and new work design models.

The business case for remote/flexible working is proven. Business leaders are on a journey of acceptance to the new reality and the HR profession is supporting organisations transition to a new working world. The future of work is here so we should, collectively, lead from the front and design the workforce and workplace for the future. We should start now.


This article is correct at 25/11/2020

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Niall Eyre

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