The future of hybrid working in Ireland: flexible, inclusive, empowering
Re-opening offices, from enthusiasm to apprehension
The anticipated re-opening of offices in Ireland in the coming months will mark a significant milestone in the country’s emergence from the pandemic. Understandably, the prospect of a full or partial return to the physical workplace generates a range of responses, from enthusiasm to apprehension.
Remote is clearly working in the round, notwithstanding the challenges that have arisen. The most recent national survey on remote working in Ireland (Whitaker Institute, NUI Galway) has shown the vast majority (95%) of respondents would like to continue to work remotely for some or all of the time after the pandemic.
We know employees want flexibility and choice above all. The transition to hybrid working is an opportunity to reframe how we work and collaborate; a moment to reflect on what practices to keep and integrate into our working lives post-pandemic.
The main advantages are well known: more flexibility, easier work life and increased productivity – while the wider potential economic and social benefits are wide ranging: greater labour market participation, reduced commuting, congestion and emissions, and more balanced regional and rural development.
Naturally there is some trepidation too. When returning to work onsite, people worry about the readjustment to office life (70% concerned/somewhat concerned), ways to maintain social distancing protocols (68% concerned/somewhat concerned), and commuting (68% concerned/somewhat concerned). Unlocking the full potential of hybrid working for Ireland will also depend on our ability to acknowledge and address these .
The need for a supportive public policy environment
The Programme for Government contains strong commitments to support remote working, recognising the range of benefits for individuals, families and the contribution of remote working to achieving important public policy objectives.
There has been positive momentum as Government launched Making Remote Work, Ireland’s National Remote Working Strategy in January, with a clear focus on creating a conducive environment for remote work, developing and leveraging remote work infrastructure, and building a remote work policy and guidance framework.
The commitment to mandate public sector employers, colleges, and other public bodies to move to 20% home and remote working in 2021 is another significant move by Government which will see the public sector leading by example.
Progress on the Code on the Right to Disconnect is encouraging, sending an important signal that technology’s role is support and empower, not to dictate. Healthy boundaries are necessary to support a balanced, healthy life, maintain wellbeing and boost productivity.
The outcome of the recent public consultation on the Right to Request Remote Working, and the subsequent legislation to be progressed by Government, should also provide clarity for employers and workers alike on the parameters for remote working, when it can be supported, when it might not be appropriate, and what employers need to do to make it work.
Cisco is proud to be at the forefront of the hybrid working revolution. Our technology enables remote collaboration for organisations across the globe and has played an important role throughout the pandemic, supporting organisations across the private and public sectors, healthcare and education. Remote and hybrid working is central to how we operate as a company, having been largely hybrid before the pandemic. When the pandemic struck, we pivoted to supporting other organisations across the globe. Our Webex platform has been at the heart of this and our development team in Galway has been central to supporting organisations with this technology.
Hybrid working is here to stay and it’s clear that the model will be widely adopted – 78% of organisations are planning to work a this way (Whitaker Institute, NUI Galway). Moving beyond COVID-19, making hybrid work in the medium-long term will mean addressing challenges identified during the pandemic.
These challenges can be overcome. Key to the success of hybrid working will be delivering an integrated, seamless experience for team members, regardless of whether they are working onsite or remotely. Individual teams may need to restructure their week to facilitate collaboration and external engagement. For organisations, the report of the Expert Group on Remote Working made clear recommendations in which it advised organisations to proactively address their organisational culture to facilitate remote working, drive a mind-set shift in terms of how performance is evaluated, move to task-based management, adapt performance and productivity management practices, raise awareness of health and safety guidance, and introduce protocols on best practice on communication in remote workplaces.
Security and other technology-related risks will remain a challenge, particularly with personal devices. Securing remote access at scale has been a challenge for organisations during the pandemic. To illustrate, data from Cisco’s Duo Security highlights key trends in 2020 including a 60.1% swell in daily authentications from outside of physical offices, and the average number of daily authentications to cloud apps increasing by 40%.
The success of a remote and hybrid working future is dependent on a continued supportive policy environment. Cisco welcomes progress to date and looks forward to the expected plans in Budget 2022 announced by Tánaiste Leo Varadkar in January to improve the tax treatment and expenses regime around home and remote working.
Cisco is conscious of the importance of empowering employees in this evolving environment. Webex allows employees to monitor themselves, provides them with feedback on how they’re using the technology and enables their productivity. The right to disconnect will be central to the reframing of future work. Employees should enjoy flexibility in working hours and boundaries outside of this, including guidance on physical home office definitions on ergonomics and safety.
As restrictions in Ireland ease, Cisco expects the emergence of a very different workplace and working model to the one we left behind, one which should be seamlessly supported by best-in-class hybrid collaborative technologies.