Government agencies and statutory bodies need to work together to make remote working a permanent option for the benefit of rural communities Galway TD Ciaran Cannon said recently.
The Fine Gael TD said that the public service should lead the way on this initiative, to provide an example for private businesses to follow in its footsteps.
Speaking in the Dáil, Deputy Cannon asked Minister for Rural and Community Development Heather Humphreys what her department is doing to support and encourage remote working.
Huge numbers of people have taken up remote working this year as the COVID-19 pandemic has made it safer to keep offices less crowded.
This has been highlighted by many voices of having great potential for rural areas, which have experienced population decline as young people move to larger towns and cities, as that’s where the jobs are.
However the development of working from home or other remote options in rural areas has been tied to the development of certain infrastructure, such as adequate broadband options.
“We urgently need to sit down with bodies such as Enterprise Ireland, IDA Ireland and the WDC to set out a well-planned and well-thought-out strategy for the development of remote working as a permanent option for employees in Ireland,” Ciaran Cannon said.
“The benefits it can bring to rural communities and families are many. I am delighted to hear the Minister is showing leadership and taking the initiative on this.”
“I urge her to keep going to ensure that, rather than returning to what we described as the normal of the past, there is a new normal created in which remote working becomes a long-term viable option for thousands of workers across the country.”
Minister Humphreys that the Western Development Commissions and NUI Galway’s Whitaker Institute has been conducting ongoing research into remote working during the COVID-19 pandemic.
They found that, of 5,600 people asked, 94% were in favour of continuing to do so on an ongoing basis.
On top of that 23% of respondents said that they would consider moving somewhere else in Ireland if remote working would enable it, and 7% already done so.
“To support this shift, my Department is collaborating with the WDC to develop a national integrated network of remote working hubs supported by shared back office services,” Minister Humphreys said.
This nation network is meant to build on the work of the WDC is developing hubs along the Atlantic Economic Corridor, and a further €5 million has been allocated for investing in remote working facilities in 2021.
Deputy Cannon suggested that the government could help promote this by decentralising the public service.
“From talking to many public servants who are working remotely from their homes in an effective way in towns and villages across east Galway, I know that this is possible now.
“It would be helpful if the public service itself was seen to take a leadership role in the area of remote working, to lead the way, to find the mechanisms for doing it successfully and then to use those mechanisms as an exemplar for others to follow in its footsteps.”