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Tuesday 26 September 2023 Dublin: 13°C
Opinion Why aren't we investing in Ireland's remote working infrastructure?
Head of Grow Remote, John Riordan says Ireland is lagging behind other countries in facilitating a potentially lucrative growth in remote working.

LAST UPDATE | May 29th 2023, 9:00 AM

ACCORDING TO RECENT research carried out by Grow Remote, only 11.5% of jobs advertised on LinkedIn during the month of May were remote jobs. Compare this with countries like Latvia, Estonia and Slovenia, where 70% of all jobs on LinkedIn at the same period were advertised as remote.

This shows that thousands of jobs are still locked within urban areas in Ireland, rather than being made available to people wherever they live in the country. It also represents a risk for us in terms of attracting inward investment and the best talent.

Outside of Ireland, there are over 100,000 remote jobs available across the EMEA region. Imagine the impact if we could land even a percentage of those jobs here in Ireland.

Remote working is comparable to the opportunity that Ireland’s embrace of globalisation presented in the 1990s. For the enterprise sector, it unlocks access to a wider pool of talent no longer limited by location. Even established remote work naysayers like Elon Musk are starting to see the economic benefits of downsizing their office spaces to save money when times get tough.

Ireland is uniquely positioned to capitalise on these opportunities. As the European base for some of the world’s largest tech companies – the ‘Silicon Valley of Europe’ – the Irish workforce is well road-tested on distributed working practices. And Ireland has a strong national policy on remote work and recently joined countries like the Netherlands in granting employees a legal right to request remote work.

But we risk losing talent and opportunities to countries who are being more proactive in the race to be the best.

Dual-pronged strategy required

A key challenge of remote working is that it requires a new overall strategy that effectively blends two distinct things: an employer-centric focus and a remote worker-centric focus.

Attracting leading employers – major tech companies for the most part – to base themselves in Ireland is its own important strategic focus. A low corporate tax rate, access to the EU from an English-speaking country, a skilled workforce, and cosmopolitan cities within which to place offices are key draws here.

If those are “lifestyle” benefits for corporations, then we need to consider that remote workers also look for a distinct set of lifestyle benefits. These include lower cost of living, high quality of life, sound remote work infrastructure, connection with remote workers and the local community.

A blended strategy is important because the global remote work community overlaps but also transcends Ireland-based employers. Ireland needs to become a place that is excellent for remote workers, no matter who their employer is. This creates a virtuous cycle by establishing a larger pool of talent that can benefit and retain existing employers as well as attract new employers.

Get taxes and incentives right

The current system of low corporation tax and high personal tax is a challenge that must be solved in a remote work world. The latter acts as a barrier to new remote workers choosing Ireland while creating risks of employees leaving as they get more choice over where to base themselves.

Clever taxation measures – such as a scheme of tax or other compensating incentives are needed. These incentives should be aligned with locating outside of the largest and most expensive cities, and thereby stimulate the rural economy. This sort of incentive pairs well with the lower cost of living and quality of life benefits of more rural locations.

A smart incentive program is more than just a financial factor. Look at the example of Tulsa, Oklahoma’s $10,000 remote work incentive program. The city recognised that it could already offer cost of living and lifestyle benefits that would be attractive to remote workers.

The incentive raised marketing visibility far more effective than paying for advertising campaigns, signalled that Tulsa was serious about building a community of remote workers, and created a compelling reason to act now. The result is that over 2,300 remote workers have moved there.

Remote work infrastructure is table stakes

Three aspects of infrastructure are critical to establishing Ireland as an international leader in remote working. Fortunately, we are making good strides, but accelerating these initiatives is critical. Firstly, doubling down on broadband access for rural areas is critical. National Broadband Ireland aims to reach 96% of the country. This can’t progress fast enough.

The second is coworking spaces. Connected Hubs currently offers 400 of these across Ireland. But they need to be of such a high standard that large enterprises view them as better than working from home or the office, like the RDI Hub in Killorglin.

Finally, national training programmes such as those offered by Local Enterprise Offices are needed to help companies transition to remote work.

These must be accessible for all types of businesses and they need to be highly practical. CEOs at remote companies have told us that Ireland does not have a remote ready workforce so industry-led training programmes for employees are crucial.

Ireland must be prepared to seriously compete with other countries that are so hungry for remote workers that they will pay them to move there. We cannot rest on our laurels when our competitors in Europe are winning the war to be the best country to work remotely.

Failing to recognise this as an inflexion point where real change can be driven will harm our economy, our businesses, and our communities. Getting remote work right may be one of the most important challenges ahead of us in the next decade.

It’s time to have a national conversation.

John Riordan is the Chairman of Grow Remote, who are running Ireland’s national remote work conference in June.


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