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Opinion: Remote working could be a game changer for local towns in these uncertain times

John Evoy of Grow Remote says remote working should be central to plans to future-proof rural Ireland.

John Evoy

AS THE WORLD continues to lurch from one crisis to another; from the pandemic to the war in Ukraine, to the cost of living crisis, many experts are now predicting that we are entering into a recession.

With a recession comes inevitable job losses and we know from past experiences that it is often the regional areas of Ireland that will be hardest hit and the slowest to recover.

According to the Pobal Deprivation Index, small towns, which are defined as having a population of between 1,000 and 5,000 people, were the worst hit by the last recession and also benefited less from the recovery than the most urban, or even the most rural areas of Ireland. Given they took the hardest hit and the pace of recovery was slower, we cannot afford to let our towns decline any further.

Social benefits

We must take immediate action to realise the massive opportunity remote work presents for the development of towns and villages across rural and regional Ireland. The national debate on the cost of living and predicted recession must take into account how geographical location impacts people’s access to good quality job opportunities.

While the public discussion about remote work continues to centre around whether the office is better or the challenges of hybrid working, the potential social and economic impact of remote work for a large portion of our population seems to have slipped out of the conversation. The debate around remote work needs to centre firmly and unrelentingly on how we can grab the opportunity that these thousands of remote jobs present to our local communities. Yes, remote working can be challenging, and some companies are finding it difficult to make the transition, but the social and economic benefits far outweigh the challenges.

There is a clear argument that remote work can be an effective win-win solution in times of crisis, as was clearly evidenced during the pandemic. We now need to recognise that remote work has the potential to be a significant mitigating factor if the predictions of a recession, or an escalation of the energy crisis, are to materialise.

Opportunity for growth

We know that there are 80,000 remote jobs available to people in every community in Ireland. In the context of a cost of living crisis, unaffordable fuel prices, and potential job losses, we have a major piece of work to do to ensure that as many of these jobs land in the communities that need them most.

These jobs are not ring-fenced by companies just for Ireland. Some of them are open to applicants from all over the world, others from the EU and others from our time zone. Nonetheless, we can safely say that the old saying “there are no jobs around here” is simply not true anymore.

The problem is that these jobs are not advertised in the traditional manner – you won’t see them in your local or national newspapers or hear them advertised on local or regional radio stations. The good news is that everyone everywhere can help. Until now, local job creation was the remit of government agencies or a few determined community groups who came together and set up local enterprises centres or business incubation spaces. Now any individual can, as an active citizen, take simple actions to make these jobs visible and accessible in their local communities.

Active citizenship means citizens taking opportunities to become actively involved in defining and tackling the problems of their communities and improving their quality of life. There is no greater service that someone can do for their communities than to bring good quality job opportunities to their locality.

Creating visibility

We need to make these roles visible and accessible in every community in Ireland. We need everyone to get involved and begin to share the word about the opportunities that are out there for people in their communities. We know that for every three new jobs that arrive in a community, another two jobs are sustained locally. Shops, cafes and local businesses will thrive. You will be doing a great service for your community.

At Grow Remote we have a curated list of many of these jobs at our Jobs Portal. Anyone in any location in Ireland can spread the word about these jobs locally.

I have been involved in significant community initiatives during times of crisis in Ireland. During the last recession, I was involved in the Men’s Sheds movement as they helped to counteract some of the difficulties that thousands of unemployed men were facing at that time.

More recently Grow Remote has been helping to support employers and employees through a mandated period of working from home. Now there is another economic crisis on the horizon. One thing that I have learned is that there is strength to be found in coming together in our local communities, which will give us a better chance of getting through the challenges ahead. You can find the resources to “make remote work local” at GrowRemote.ie.

John Evoy is the General Manager at Grow Remote. Previously he founded the Irish Men’s Sheds Association and was a social impact investor for a number of years.

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John Evoy

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