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Tánaiste's department says remote working for its civil servants will be 'permanent feature' in future

The Department of Business is set to spend up to €60,000 on a project to get the most out of its staff while home working.

Image: Shutterstock/KornT

THE DEPARTMENT OF Business has said that remote working for its staff will likely become a “permanent feature” of how it operates into the future. 

Prior to the pandemic, 70% of its staff had no previous experience in working from home and the department is now planning to spend up to €60,000 on a programme that will aim to get the most out of its staff while many of them are still working remotely. 

It has put a contract out to tender for a programme that will help to develop “practical tools and methods which can be used by teams and in one-on-one scenarios to work together effectively in the virtual work world”. 

“This project will take into account the current fully remote working environment as well as the likely post-Covid-19 blended working environment – where team members work from the physical office and remotely in varying degrees,” the department said. 

In large swathes of the public and private sector, a sudden, rapid move to working from home came with the arrival of the pandemic to Ireland. 

When the schools were first closed in March, people were told to work from home if possible and this advice is in place again during the current Level 5 lockdown. Many industries have remained working at home throughout the period. 

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has said the government wants remote working and home working to become part “of the new normal” and “if done right, the benefits are huge”. 

From a public health point of view, the government is also very keen on having as many people working from home as is possible. 

Taoiseach Micheál Martin said earlier this month: “It is time to go back to remote working. We know it works. It is possible, and it would have a very significant impact in reducing transmission rates in our view.”

Having some kind of system that includes remote working also appears to have wide support, with surveys conducted by Fórsa, the Association of Higher Civil and Public Servants, and the Department of Business suggesting a degree of backing among workers for the measure.

In its tender document, the department said that the majority of its staff have been at home since March and that is likely to continue.

“A survey of department staff in July 2020 revealed that 70% of our people had no previous experience of working remotely,” it said.

Some of the challenges staff identified when working remotely included difficulties with communication and connection with colleagues, social isolation and work-life balance. 

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“Despite the unexpected rapid switch to widespread remote working, the department has continued to deliver upon its objectives throughout lockdown. We want to ensure that this is sustainable.

Uncertainty remains around the schedule for a full return of staff to offices. However, it is clear that remote working, in some format, will be a permanent feature of how DBEI operates and supports its workforce in the future.

It wants to develop a programme to support its workers at home, across themes of maintaining connectedness across teams, facilitating collaboration and supporting employee wellbeing.

It said: “The Department anticipates that the successful tenderer will put forward for consideration the adoption of specific technological solutions, which align with the Department’s existing technical architecture.

“The primary objective of the project, however, is to identify and promote human behaviours that support effective remote working for teams. Interventions and recommendations will align with this objective.”

The deadline for response to this tender is 19 November, and it is anticipated the project will run for a minimum of 12 weeks. 

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Sean Murray

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