Introduction

The WDC in partnership with Whitaker Institute NUIG has just published initial findings of its survey Remote Working in Ireland During COVID-19, see here. These are the summary results from the national survey of 7,241 individuals across a wide range of industries and occupations over a one-week week period in April-May 2020. This is a very high response, well in excess of the number surveyed for the CSO Quarterly Labour Force Survey. The survey was led by Tomás Ó Síocháin and Deirdre Frost at WDC and Professor Alma McCarthy, Professor Alan Ahearne and Dr Katerina Bohle-Carbonell at NUI Galway.

The survey results show that 87% of respondents are now working remotely because of Covid-19. Over half of those surveyed (51%) had never worked remotely before the Covid-19 pandemic. Of those who had never worked remotely, 78% would like to work remotely for some or all of the time after the crisis is over.

Advantages to Remote Working

  • The top three advantages of working remotely were: no traffic and no commute (76%);
  • Reduced costs of going to work and commuting (55%);
  • Greater flexibility as to how to manage the working day (48%).

Over two thirds say their productivity is the same or higher working from home. 37% of respondents indicated that their productivity working remotely during COVID-19 is about the same as normal and 30% report that their productivity is higher than normal. 25% report that their productivity is lower than normal and 9% of respondents indicate that it is impossible to compare productivity as the demand for products/services/business has changed.

Close to half (48%) say it is easy or somewhat easy to work from home while 37% find that it is difficult or somewhat difficult to work from home.

Challenges to Remote Working

The top three challenges of working remotely included:

  • Not being able to switch off from work (37%);
  • Harder to communicate and collaborate with colleagues and co-workers (36%);
  • Poor physical workspace (28%).
  • Internet connectivity is a challenge to working remotely with close to 1/5 (19%) reporting this as an issue, which highlights the importance of the speedy rollout of the National Broadband Plan

The challenge of juggling childcare with work commitments was cited as a key issue in the open-ended comments received. The provision of better ergonomic equipment is one of the key changes suggested by employees to help with their well-being and productivity while working remotely.

Remote Working in the Future

The majority (83%) indicated that they would like to work remotely after the crisis is over. Of these:

  • 12% indicated they would like to work remotely on a daily basis
  • 42% indicated they would like to work remotely several times a week
  • 29% indicated they would like to work remotely several times a month
  • 16% indicated they do not want to continue working remotely.

Those with dependent children aged between 6 and 12 years are most likely to want to continue working remotely following Covid-19.

In a recent WDC blogpost, I noted regional patterns in working from home, pre Covid-19, see here. In this survey while a significant majority of workers across all regions want to continue some type of remote working (83%), even more workers in the West (85.7%) and Midlands (86.8%) want to continue the practice.

Just over half (51%) would like to work from their home, with the balance seeking a mix of home, a hub/work-sharing space and the office. The practice of remote work will be important in sustaining regional and rural communities as well as reducing congestion on key routes.

Of the 16% who do not want to continue any type of remote working, there is a higher share of women (17%) compared to 13% of men. There is also a higher share among those without dependent children, indicating that one of the benefits of remote working is that it helps those juggling work and family life.

Further Analysis of Survey Findings

The results presented in the initial report, publicly available here are just the summary findings. Must more extensive analysis is to be undertaken and this will help inform the future policy direction of remote work generally and how remote work can help as we emerge from the Covid-19 restrictions. The following themes will be explored.

  • Geographic analysis of the 19% who indicate internet connectivity as a challenge.
  • Geographic profile of other challenges, advantages and preferences for remote working post Covid-19.
  • Given the extent to which ‘no traffic and no commute’ was expressed as an advantage, analysis of the data on commute times/distances will be useful.
  • Further analysis of the profile of companies where respondents indicate their organisation or line manager would not support future remote working arrangements.
  • Preference to continue remote working by organisational size, age profile, gender, with dependent children or not.
  • Profile of those who do not want to continue remote working post covid-19.

In addition, the WDC would welcome any suggestions for further analysis.

Future Outlook for Remote Working

In a recent blogpost in relation to remote working, I asked What will be the New Normal? see here. I examined trends in the numbers working from home and how the numbers have changed with changing economic circumstances with an indication that there is a correlation between economic growth and employment levels.

One of the trends seems to be that with a tight labour market, and high employment levels, there are greater levels of working from home. More employees seek the opportunity of working from home especially given the longer journey times associated with full employment and congested transport networks. It is also argued that employers are more receptive to the practice, in part related to the need to retain skilled workers.

However, following the crisis, the unemployment rate is likely to be much higher than pre-crisis levels. How will this impact on the demand for remote working? The results from the WDC/NUIG survey indicate that the demand for continued remote work will continue.

Furthermore, in the short to medium term there will be physical/social distance requirements that will likely impact on the numbers who can return to their workplace. So, it is likely that for a transition period at least, there will be much higher levels of working from home than pre Covid-19.

In future blogposts the WDC will highlight findings from more detailed analyses of the WDC/NUIG survey.

Deirdre Frost

May 2020

The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of the WDC.