One real risk of remote work, and how to prevent it

The best way to ensure our local communities reap the social and economic benefits of remote work is to build a thriving ecosystem for remote workers here.

“Be careful what you wish for – if a job can be done in Dublin or Dungarvan, it can be done in New Delhi.”

Warnings like this often come up in conversations about remote working, both in person and online. 

Is this a real risk? Yes. 

Can we solve for it? Yes. 

Do the social and economic benefits of remote working outweigh this risk? Also yes. 

Risk assessment 

It’s important to note at the outset that while the risk is a real one, we haven’t seen evidence that the increasing availability of remote work has led to a flow of jobs to countries where labour costs are lower.

In fact, earlier this year, the number of people employed in Ireland topped 2.5 million for the first time ever – a great sign of health for the Irish labour market.

In practical terms, most companies who hire without location tend to hire within a tax jurisdiction or a timezone. While brilliant companies like Boundless help solve cross-border and multi-jurisdictional hiring complexities, the tax and administrative burden around employing compliantly abroad is a (major) barrier to outsourcing abroad on a large scale. 

The fact is, it’s not as easy as just “let’s move the jobs to New Delhi”. Companies need to have set up an entity in India, or undertake an enormous compliance burden. 

Remember when everyone thought call centres would die out in Ireland and be moved abroad? It didn’t happen – and now we have a thriving business process outsourcing (BPO) sector here in Ireland. In fact, according to Enterprise Ireland, more than 60,000 people are employed here by BPO companies. 

With all that being said, we can’t entirely eliminate the risk of remote jobs going to candidates in other countries. What we need to do is adapt and become competitive to mitigate the risk. 

What’s the solution? 

The best way of doing that – the best way of making sure that our local communities reap the social and economic benefits of remote work – is to build a thriving ecosystem for remote workers here.

How do we do that? 

To begin with, it’s important to highlight the work already done to date to build a sustainable remote working ecosystem. 

As we highlighted to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Enterprise, Trade and Employment earlier this year, both An Tanaiste Leo Varadkar and Minister Heather Humphreys have, through the National Remote Working Strategy and the National Rural Development Policy, demonstrated their commitment to remote work as a key pillar of the future of work in Ireland. 

The IDA in its 2021-2024 strategy document also highlights it’s belief in how remote working can widen the available talent pool for Irish businesses, reduce capacity pressure in cities, promote better work-life balance and support the green transition. 

In practical terms, then, we need to: 

  • Ensure any gaps in the infrastructure needed to facilitate widespread remote working are addressed, 
  • Mount a major communications and awareness campaign aimed at empowering and supporting businesses to transition to remote working, and
  • Invest in training and upskilling to create a robust and remote-ready workforce (see Grow Remote’s training options here). 

If we can do this, we (Ireland, Inc.) will be well positioned to compete for remote jobs with the best of the rest, such as Portugal, who are fast movers in this space and recently introduced a remote working visa

Not only will building a thriving remote working ecosystem mitigate the risk of remote jobs leaving Ireland, but it’ll also level the playing field for employees so that it is not just the white-collar, well-paid employees who have access to remote work. 

If we are to become the best country in the world in which to work remotely or to be a remote employer, equality of opportunity and access to a wide variety of remote roles, including at entry level, is really important. We’ll go deeper into that topic in the coming weeks. 

Risks v benefits 

It’s also true that hyper-focussing on the potential risks of remote working, at the cost of taking a solutions-oriented approach, creates a far bigger risk: that we will lose out on the current opportunity to radically change how we live and work in Ireland. 

It is almost 55 years since then-Minister for Education Donogh O’Malley announced plans to make secondary education free to all children in Ireland.

This policy had a transformative social, economic and cultural effect in Ireland. At the time, only 36% of 16 year-olds were still in school; today, Ireland has one of the highest rates of second-level completion in the EU. Remote work could be the next big social agent of change, with the potential to be equally as transformative. 

Building a thriving remote working ecosystem and proactively attracting remote jobs into Ireland – making Ireland the best country in the world in which to be a remote worker and a remote employer – is the way to ensure that it is our local communities across Ireland that receive the benefits of remote working. 

Further reading: we’ve previously set out some of the benefits of remote working in terms of achieving climate targets and address income inequality between urban and rural Ireland.

In April 2023, we’re going to bring global leaders in business, government and the future of work together in Ireland for a first-of-its-kind conference on the social impact of remote working.

If you’d like to submit an early idea for a talk, please fill out this form and we’ll be back to you in the coming weeks with more details.