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The latest report by UUEPC, ‘Remote Working on the Island of Ireland – A cross-border comparison’ builds on the Centre’s recently published research which looked at trends in remote working in Northern Ireland and uses data from a range of sources to extend comparisons across the island of Ireland; looking specifically at what might be behind trend differences while offering some insights into how remote working might continue to develop as part of future working life across the island.

UUEPC’s analysis shows that despite a return to the office, the uptake of remote working in Ireland remains high at 34%. Northern Ireland in comparison has the lowest uptake (at 17%) of remote working across all regions of Ireland, with post-pandemic remote working uptake currently sitting lower than Ireland’s pre-pandemic levels of remote working (20%).

Ulster University (UU) economists suggest that the sectoral structure of the economy, commuting patterns, levels of self-employment, qualification levels and government policy are among the significant factors influencing the disparity in remote working trends across Ireland. However, other non-tangible factors such as employee behaviour, job quality and arguably most influential, management practices, also play a role in shaping the uptake and success of remote working across the island of Ireland.

Recruitment patterns mirroring the changes in the workforce:

The report shows that the high demand for remote and hybrid working in Ireland is reflected in an increasing number of organisations offering these working patterns. On average in 2019, 1-3% of online job adverts offered remote/hybrid working across both Ireland and Northern Ireland. However, by January 2023, a significant divergence can be seen with Ireland having a much higher proportion of jobs offering hybrid/remote working,16% compared to only 6% in Northern Ireland.

Recruitment trends mirror sectoral findings – occupations with vacancies offering remote/hybrid are closely correlated with sectors that have a higher propensity for remote work including: software development, IT operations and insurance roles.

Commuting patterns

The research found that in Ireland there was direct correlation between the people who commuted over an hour each day and the number of people who would like to continue remote working (93%). Many surveyed employees stated that reduced commuting times were a key benefit of remote working, with employees reporting a sense of “getting time back”.

However, when it comes to cross border commuting, travel time may play a bigger factor for cross border commuters from Northern Ireland who would typically travel further than Southern cross border commuters. UU economists suggested that by reducing once lengthy commuting times, remote/ hybrid working has made cross border commuting more practical and viable for employees especially if they only have to do it 1-3 times a week. UU economists predict that these factors coupled with the benefit of higher wages and wider opportunities in Ireland has the potential to increase cross border working across a range of occupations. If a resolution is reached on policies such as double taxation, this potential could be quite significant.

Employee findings

The report found that across both Ireland and Northern Ireland generally there was a high levels of satisfaction among remote and hybrid workers. Improved work life balance was a key benefit employees associated with remote working with 91% of respondents from Ireland.

Downside of remote working

Employees in Ireland (23%) and Northern Ireland (16.5%) reported finding it more difficult to switch off when working remotely. In Ireland women (27%) tended to struggle more than men (20%) whereas no difference was reported in Northern Ireland. This has been recognised and supported by the government in Ireland through the “Right to Disconnect” code of practice introduced in 2021.

Impacts on the wider economy

Increased remote working has prompted lengthy debates over the productive (productivity, innovation or management of staff) and consumption (consumer spending, property prices and investment) impacts on the wider economy. While in the UK spending in travel, tourism and hospitality sector is yet to return to pre-pandemic levels. In Ireland, in contrast, the same sectors affected by Government restrictions as UK have recovered to and surpassed pre-pandemic levels, even in places with higher levels of remote working. The longer-term impacts on job productivity and commercial property values will need both careful management and monitoring in a period when change is likely to continue.

Economist Ana Desmond of Ulster University Economic Policy Centre said “It is clear the landscape of remote working in Ireland is very different to that in Northern Ireland. From our analysis we can see that a number of factors have shaped remote working practices across the island of Ireland since the beginning of the pandemic, some more tangible and quantifiable than others.

“Looking to the future, there are a number of factors which will influence and impact the remote working landscape including long term productivity & innovation, nurturing and training of young people entering the workforce, commuting, housing & behavioural patterns and the effect of remote and hybrid working on our highstreets and city centres.

“Taken together, these factors will determine whether remote working is here to stay in Ireland and Northern Ireland as a ‘new normal’ in working lives, or whether it will be looked back on as a passing social phenomenon associated with the Covid-19 pandemic.”

Read the full Economic Policy Centre report on Remote Working on the Island of Ireland