The outbreak of Covid-19 has had a profound impact on all of our working environments. In a matter of weeks, the operations of many private sector companies – whose activities were traditionally concentrated within urban areas – have been forced to suddenly shift to remote working, with companies utilising technology and adopting work practises in a manner and scale never seen before.
With remote working very much becoming part of normal working patterns in certain sectors, it is clear that such changes have the potential to open up an array of economic and environmental opportunities for all of our regions. By supporting remote working, policy makers could help provide a wider range of options for workers and open opportunities for business solutions. This includes allowing some workers to live and work in geographical areas of their own choice, reducing business costs associated with commercial properties, staff retention and wellbeing benefits, access to a greater pool of applicants and talent, increasing productivity, reducing traffic congestion, enhancing quality of life and family time and reducing the level of greenhouse gas emissions from car usage.
From a strategic perspective, the ability of policy makers to utilise the potential benefits of remote working will also be a key factor in ensuring the vision and objectives of each of the Irish Regional Assembly’s Regional Spatial and Economic Strategy (RSES) can be implemented, allowing for effective economic development to be achieved across Ireland.
In this regard, the development of urban centres of scale continues to be a crucial component in addressing regional imbalances and remote working has the potential to enhance the growth prospects of our Metropolitan Areas, Designated Regional Growth Centres and Key Towns, as defined by each Assembly’s RSES. Furthermore, remote working has the potential to provide greater employment flexibility to all private sector workers whose jobs are considered to be remote workable, which could enhance the quality of life offering of each of our regions; a key objective of each Assembly’s RSES. In the long term, the degree to which regions can capitalise on these potential benefits will depend on a variety of factors – including but not limited to – the availability of co-working hubs with high quality facilities and the provision of high speed broadband within such hubs.
Considering the potential use of co-working hubs in stimulating an inclusive economic recovery in our regions, the need to quantify the potential benefits of remote working across all of our regions has never been more important.
What the analysis demonstrates
The Regional Co-Working Analysis found that 387,000 private sector workers are capable of operating remotely in Ireland; with just over 186,000 likely to be based in Dublin as of Q2 2020. That is more than one in four private sector workers in Ireland who would be capable of working remotely. The development of co-working hubs with high-speed broadband has, therefore, the potential to open up an array of economic and environmental opportunities and stimulate inclusive recovery in Irelands’ regions.
The comprehensive Regional Co-working Analysis provides critical data that will assist in developing the potential of remote working in our regions, a pattern which has become the norm since the Covid-19 outbreak began.
Of the 387,000 or 27.4% of private sector workers capable of operating remotely in the analysis carried out earlier this year:
- 5 per cent or 253,600 were based in the Eastern & Midland region
- 6 per cent or 91,300 were based in the Southern region
- 9 per cent or 42,100 were based in the Northern & Western region
Cathaoirleach of the Northern and Western Regional Assembly, Cllr David Maxwell, noted that: “The growth of jobs identified as suitable for working remotely, working from home and or working from local hubs will assist in reducing the need for workers to traverse long commutes and open up an endless list of opportunities for towns and villages.”
Some 8 areas for policy development are outlined in the Analysis and include the need for detailed consultation with private firms in sectors that are capable of operating remotely, seeking their views on factors that need to be addressed to allow employees to work remotely from co-working hubs on a permanent basis. It also suggests a nationwide survey be carried out on the current capacity of co-working hubs – both privately and publicly owned – in consultation with the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Enterprise Ireland, the Regional Assemblies of Ireland and the Local Enterprise Offices.
The Regional co-working Analysis proposes a nationwide survey that identifies the ideal work location of private sector workers whose jobs are considered to be remote workable, while simultaneously identifying the up-to-date habits of commuters who have remote workable jobs.
The joint analysis suggests exploring the possibility of providing employers with a tax credit for every employee that is allowed to operate outside of its own head office in Ireland, as a means of encouraging private firms to let employees work in geographical locations of their own choice.
The analysis also urges policymakers to enhance the level of funding provided to the Regional Enterprise Development Fund and explore a range of match funding opportunities to deliver more co-working hubs within or close to Designated Regional Growth Centres and Key Towns as defined by each Assembly’s Regional Spatial and Economic Strategy and prominent rural communities. Resources from the European Regional Development Fund for such works should also be considered.
The Analysis also recommends safeguarding funding for the National Broadband Plan to allow for the delivery of up to three hundred “Broadband Connection Points” across Ireland, providing remote working opportunities in rural communities.
In this context, the three Regional Assemblies of Ireland play a key role in advocating for policies and preparing research that will support regional development across Ireland. This involves providing advice and support to other appropriate public bodies of the regional implications of their policies and plans, with specific focus on planning and economic development. Under our remit, and in advance of the proposed “National Economic Recovery Plan” the three Regional Assemblies of Ireland are fully committed to utilising the potential benefits of remote working so all of our regions can experience an inclusive economic recovery.