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Opinion: Government plans for remote working are welcome, but companies must embrace the changes

Grow Remote’s Tracy Keogh welcomes the Government plans to legislate for more remote working but says companies must move from ‘remote-friendly’ to ‘remote-first’ for it to work.

Tracy Keogh

AT THE MOMENT, there are 650 remote job vacancies, at the very least, here in Ireland.

That’s excluding the IDA’s recent announcement of 100 remote jobs. So why don’t more skilled job seekers in the regions and rural Ireland know about them?

Or to quote a community member of ours: “Every Gitlab job available in Dublin is available in Donegal, I just can’t understand why someone isn’t standing with a giant sign in every town in Donegal shouting this daily.”

This is exactly why we created Grow Remote. We’re a group of community people who started a WhatsApp group in 2018 when we were curious about remote work and how that could help our communities.

As a social enterprise group, we felt aggrieved that no one told us about remote jobs in brilliant companies – companies where remote was a way of working and not a perk.

Slow changes

For years we as community developers have been demanding remote work, but what we really meant was remote from Dublin, and local to us. Remote working from anywhere, as location-agnostic is still new. 

So if we have been asking for it for so long and it’s here, why do we not have a town crier? The problem is that there is no-one who would pay a sign holder, a town crier, or anyone else to promote the vacancies. 

Because when it comes to remote work, companies don’t need to advertise locally. All of the traditional channels like careers days, local recruiters, or posters in the local shops are redundant.

We need to step in to build awareness. We need the equivalent of the campaigns and programmes we ran when we were building awareness around the internet in Ireland, something akin to Brexit Ready, but for remote. 

Today’s announcement

The new government strategy on remote working is a welcome development. After two consultations it has summarised the viewpoints of the many stakeholders. 

It is not, however, a magic bullet. Nor could it be. It is a foundation over which we need to solve for two additional challenges – increasing the supply of location-agnostic employment and stimulating demand from all corners of the country. 

In increasing the supply of sustainable remote working opportunities we need a shift from remote-friendly to remote-first cultures in Irish organisations.

This is the only way that we can make our hybrid working model of future work for both people and profit. 

For years, large Irish employers have done remote on an ad hoc basis. We have over 70 communities of remote workers at Grow Remote and we meet these people regularly.

They have given up on any career prospects, but are happy to settle to live where they love. This is no longer good enough -  not for a company’s bottom line and not for the people who should have equal access to employment opportunities.

If your remote teams can’t progress, they won’t stay. And that removes any benefit you could see in remote work aiding talent retention targets. If processes are not designed to be remote-first, only those in the office will be able to perform their job to its maximum potential, so forget about productivity gains. 

Founder of Automattic, the company behind WordPress, Mat Mullenweg devised the 5 levels of remote. The top tier is ‘remote nirvana’. He describes this as working more effectively than could have ever happened with 100% in the office. And it is so possible.

Having worked with over 30 companies on the transition to remote – we’ve seen first hand how companies can progress up the levels. 

Pushing for a cultural shift

We need to create new distribution channels for this form of employment. We need to stimulate demand from all corners of the country. 

Remote has always seemed like an elusive thing that someone should really do something about, sometime. Not only do we need a cultural shift in companies, but we need it in our communities.

When it comes to remote work, our communities are still waiting for a large Irish household name to go remote before it becomes a real possibility they can embrace. 

If they get more curious about remote work, they may search online, where some WFH community groups consist mostly of scams and pyramid schemes. There is a big gap between our communities and the jobs that can enable them to thrive.

Have you ever heard of Shopify launching in Roscommon – a €1.5 billion company with 5,000 staff? Why is it that although one of the largest eCommerce sites in the world employs talent all across Roscommon, and beyond, we still don’t really associate the two? 

There is still a common local perception that ‘there are no jobs here.’ Is it about seeing a ribbon cut in the local media? Automattic and Gitlab, two of the world’s largest remote companies already employ people all over Ireland, yet there’s no fanfare about this. 

This was because when they advertised the jobs, they did so without specifying a location. It just so happened that the best talent was based in West Cork, Westport, Cavan, Leitrim and everywhere in between. 

Where do we go from here?

We can talk about the right to disconnect, but if you’re not working in a culture where there is an effort made to include remote workers, you’ll be working longer just to stay visible.

We can legislate for the right to request remote work, but in one company we worked with, 74% of people managers wanted people in the office, and 90% of workers wanted to be out of it. If the culture isn’t there, you can forget it. 

Now is the time to build upon the work of the Western Development Commission (WDC), The National Association of Community Enterprise Centres (NACEC), and the government. We need to turn to large Irish companies and get some real leadership in transitioning to remote in a way that works for people, profit, and planet.

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Remote.com has dozens of well-paying jobs open now, and that’s just one company, and plenty are non-tech and go from admin to legal and sales. Why haven’t we heard more about that in our social or mainstream media?

Remote work is already here, it’s just not evenly distributed. Covid-19, as difficult as it has been, has proven to all that remote working is possible, overnight. For remote working to become more streamlined, we need new methods of distribution. 

We’re still talking about remote work in Ireland as though it’s something someone should really do sometime, but it’s here right now, so how do we do a better job of raising awareness about it?

The announcement today is a very encouraging step to a remote ecosystem. The upside is that as a country we still have an opportunity for first-mover advantage – to do something that hits home more than the mover campaigns that generate so much fanfare. In a new world where these jobs can be anywhere, we can land them locally.

Tracy Keogh is co-founder of Grow Remote.

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