Patrick Gallen, Partner, People and Change Consulting, Grant Thornton Ireland

Patrick Gallen
Patrick Gallen

One of the big topics for business leaders at the moment is how to embrace remote working post the pandemic, whilst at the same time maintaining their competitiveness and productivity. I was therefore delighted to see a publication from the National Competitiveness and Productivity Council (NCPC) in the Republic of Ireland on this very topic, within the past couple of weeks. Many of the points raised are equally applicable to Northern Ireland as well.

The COVID-19 pandemic has rapidly accelerated a shift to increased remote working. This NCPC document examines the remote working experience in Ireland to date and focuses on the impact of remote working on enterprises, and how a new type of blended working environment is likely to develop with implications for Ireland’s future competitiveness and productivity.

The publication examines three areas, namely: the benefits and costs of remote working to enterprises; the productivity implications of remote work, and the need to ensure that all of Ireland’s regions remain competitive and attractive places in which to live and do business, as new possibilities emerge for people to work in locations away from the traditional workplace.

There is strong evidence as outlined in the document that organisations could benefit from remote working arrangements by gaining access to a broader pool of talent, increasing retention and improving cost-effectiveness while engaging in more sustainable ways of working.

A move away from large-scale headquarters in expensive city centre locations not only provides cost savings for firms in terms of office rents, but also potentially reduces related costs like electricity, lighting, heating, cleaning and catering. Albeit, some organisations may struggle with the additional cost of equipping second workstations at home.

In the Republic of Ireland, the “Remote Working during COVID-19 National Survey” published in October 2020, reported that 78% of respondent employees agreed/strongly agreed that it is easy to work effectively when working remotely, and 57% of respondents agreed/strongly agreed that remote work enables them to accomplish their tasks more quickly. In total, 62% of respondents agreed/strongly agreed that working remotely increased their self-reported productivity.

More recently a March 2021 CIPD (Ireland) survey found that nearly three-quarters of HR Managers said productivity either increased or remained steady once remote working became the norm.

The global nature of the COVID-19 pandemic has necessitated adjustments in the working environment of almost every country around the world. New possibilities are now emerging to work from anywhere, providing organisations with an opportunity to access a greater talent pool and providing employees with broader options in terms of where they choose to work and live.

It is therefore essential, now more than ever, that Ireland (North and South) is an attractive place in which to live and do business.

Although both economies would be judged as performing well and competitive, in certain sectors, market and institutional efficiencies may mean that businesses and employees face relatively higher borrowing, insurance, and legal costs (in the Republic of Ireland), as well as difficulties accessing housing, childcare, and sustainable commuting times across the country.

Many of these issues are not new, and the NCPC has drawn attention to them at a time when many organisations are struggling with these very challenges. It is becoming increasingly clear that ignoring long standing burdens on competitiveness cannot continue, and the global disruption brought about by COVID-19 provides an opportunity to refocus and take the steps to tackle these long-standing issues so that the whole country, including all the regions (North and South) are attractive destinations for investors and highly-skilled workers.