The future: will it work, even remotely?



The relentless treadmill that is the ever-evolving world of newspapers, by its nature, commands a lot of team work, as do indeed a lot of trades and industries. With 50 years in this game under my belt and the free travel pass well worn into the fabric of my wallet, I have worked freelance and remotely since 2012, having worked down the years in the offices of most national newspapers.

Do I miss being surrounded by fellow travellers, where I can bounce an idea or a headline off a colleague by shouting at her across the newsroom floor, instead of now emailing or picking up the phone and waiting, laboriously, for a less-than-spontaneous reply? Not really. I am quite happy working away quietly on my own.

In the past, as an Irish worker you had no legal right to ask for remote working but this changed under the Work Life Balance and Miscellaneous Provisions Act 2023. Employers must ensure the safety, health and welfare at work of all their employees. Your employer has the same duty of care for your health and safety when you are working from home (remote working). Employees also have responsibilities when they are working from home.

All employees – obviously not if you’re a surgeon or a bus driver – now have a legal right to request remote working if certain conditions are met.

Ireland has adapted to remote working at a greater pace than anywhere in Europe with three times as many people working from home last year compared to 2019, new analysis suggests. BNP Paribas Real Estate Ireland says analysis of Eurostat data shows Ireland coming out on top when it comes to remote working, along with Malta, the Netherlands, Germany and France.

In 2019, just 7% of Ireland’s workforce said they “usually” worked from home. But this had risen to 25% in 2023, the highest increase of any country, in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Ireland’s adaptability throughout the pandemic has been remarkable in many ways, not least the ease with which businesses and employees alike adjusted their working models,” director of research John McCartney says.

Elsewhere, more than half of workers would skip a pay rise if it meant they got a job that offered remote, hybrid or other flexible working arrangements.

A new survey by recruitment company Morgan McKinley shows that workers doing hybrid work prefer two days in the office. Only 8% are happy to be office-bound five days a week, with 92% having a strong preference to continue hybrid or remote working.

However, it’s a bone of contention, with 56% of companies globally and 42% in Ireland continually urging their staff to return to the office more regularly.

That said, the same survey shows that professionals with a hybrid working arrangement are the “happiest” with their relationship with work.

Once upon a time, building a productive, healthy workplace used to be straightforward. You’d stock the office, make sure there were enough meeting rooms, maybe include some comfortable furniture and a fridge full of snacks. While you might occasionally have some remote workers, they weren’t anything you had to plan around.

However, times have changed. Remote work has become the new normal after the pandemic – and there will be more, imminent pandemics. And, despite those recent pushes to attract employees back into the office, many companies, by Irish law, must now choose between either remote or hybrid workplaces.

Two things come to mind. First, there will never be a society of full remote working, given the surgeon and bus driver scenario and a myriad other important jobs which demand being in situ. Second, for those 25 per cent or so who do work remotely, what does it mean for the future of commercial property and its accompanying financial implications? (City leases are already dramatically down).

Over lunch the other day, a friend, who heads up a successful financial planning firm, has his answer.

“The vacant office space could, if civil servants got their act together, be used as a solution to our housing crisis and, by the time that becomes a realty, jobs like surgeon and transport driver will have in the main been replaced by robotics and AI,” he says as he tucks into his crab.

We agree such a scenario would not be in our lifetime but perhaps in the time of our grandchildren.

It’ll be a world of us and them. The worker and the ‘non-worker’.

And the robots, of course…

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