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Wednesday 4 October 2023 Dublin: 11°C
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Opinion After three years we still don't understand what remote work really is
Tracy Keogh of Grow Remote says we’re losing opportunities by not embracing remote working.

IN THE PAST few weeks remote work has been blamed for everything from the collapse of SVB to the poor performance of engineers at Meta. Depending on where you look, remote work is either going to kill company culture and put an end to city centres – or it is the panacea for every social issue from gender inequality to carbon emissions.

The reality is that remote work cannot close down a bank, any more than it can solve climate change. We need to stop the surface-level conversations and realise that the problem is not remote work, the problem is a fundamental misunderstanding of what real remote work is.

A new road

When we set up Grow Remote in 2018 we had a vision that remote work could be the most effective and efficient way to bring good quality jobs to rural and regional Ireland. Back then EU Remote Jobs estimated that there were 80,000 remote jobs open across Europe – an incredible number of opportunities for people in Ireland. But very few people here knew these jobs existed.

Three years on and the world has changed. But despite remote work entering the mainstream, in public and private the narrative is still littered with misconceptions that are holding us back. Right now we can’t even agree on what ‘remote work’ really means.

There is a complete disconnect between employer and employee expectations of what it means to work remotely.

Every day at Grow Remote we talk to people who think that remote work means people never meet in person, or that you should be able to work from a beach in Bali without restrictions.

Many CEOs have told me that remote work has become a huge headache and they don’t see a clear business case that would help justify the risks. A senior company director told me recently that ‘Ireland is a great place to work remotely, but it’s not a great place to hire remotely’. Ireland could be a leader in remote work but instead, we are seeing job opportunities going abroad because companies cannot access the talent here.

Access to opportunities

Members of our community tell us that they see remote workers coming into their areas to live, but they don’t see locals having the same access to these opportunities. Instead there is an influx of remote workers with higher salaries who are driving up local house prices.

We are at a tipping point. Remote work is here to stay but we need to stop scapegoating remote work for every problem we are facing. We need to educate everyone about what real remote work is.

Real remote work is location-agnostic employment, which means people from all corners of Ireland with the right experience and qualifications can apply.

Real remote work means being able to live where you choose and still have access to good quality jobs. Real remote work means location is no longer a barrier to opportunity. Imagine the impact for people in this country if all jobs that could be done remotely were available as real remote jobs.

But employers need support, including training and financial assistance, to help them make this difficult transition. People in rural and regional communities also need to have the right skills and knowledge to find remote jobs so that everyone in our towns and villages can thrive.

We need to connect government policy with support for business, training for workers and resources in the community for the community.

In 2018 we knew how powerful remote work could be but we could never have imagined that a global pandemic would catapult us into the future. Change that normally would take a generation happened in weeks.

No wonder there are challenges now that things are back to ‘normal’. But this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reimagine how opportunity is spread across this country that we cannot afford to miss.

Tracy Keogh is the co-founder of Grow Remote, a social enterprise on a mission to make remote work local. Grow Remote is running Ireland’s first national conference on remote work in June 2023.


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