Opening statement to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Enterprise, Trade and Employment

Discussion on the Right to Request Remote Working Bill 2022

Grow Remote and Glofox were delighted to address the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Enterprise, Trade and Employment this morning on the Right to Request Remote Working Bill 2022.

Read the full transcript of the session here.

Watch the session in full here.

Joanne Mangan, Employer Lead
Finn Hegarty, CPO Glofox

Here is our opening statement to the Committee:

“On behalf of Grow Remote I would like to sincerely thank the members of the Committee for the opportunity to come before you today. 

Joining me remotely is Mr Finn Hegarty, CPO and Co-Founder of Glofox, a Irish remote company. 

To begin, I would like to highlight the work done to date by the government in relation to building a sustainable remote working ecosystem in Ireland, in particular by An Tanaiste Leo Varadkar and Minister Heather Humphries in relation to the roll out of both the National Remote Working strategy and Our Rural Future, the National Rural Development Policy. I would also like to give a particular thanks to Senator Emer Currie who has been a tireless advocate for remote working in Ireland and who has played a key role in Grow Remote being here with you today.  

Grow Remote is a social enterprise on a mission to unlock the power of remote working to enable everyone to work, live and participate locally, all over Ireland. We do this by providing training for managers, employees and jobseekers, and practical support to businesses to enable them to take advantage of its many business benefits. We also enable communities of remote workers to power social connections locally. In this space we have begun an ambitious project to map every remote worker in Ireland and beyond, to build a “living census” of the remote working population. 

In broad terms we welcome the Bill, but before I address specific issues in the draft scheme, it is important to highlight that, ultimately, the success or failure of remote working in Ireland does not lie within legislation alone. 

What’s needed is a systemic change at all levels to support companies to make the transition to remote-first working. Over-focus on specific legislation risks missing the point of what remote working can achieve for businesses, people, families and communities from Malin Head to Mizen Head. 

We need to act now to build a robust remote working ecosystem or risk losing the momentum we have gained over the past 2 years. Legislation allowing individual workers to request a right to work remotely, while welcome, simply will not equip Irish businesses to compete at the highest level nationally and globally. 

The evidence shows that businesses benefit from remote working, and a vast proportion of the Irish workforce wants the opportunity to work remotely. There are 80,000 remote jobs available in Ireland today and this is growing at a rate of 5-7% monthly. 

Employees have options and those options are only growing. Companies are currently operating in a highly competitive hiring landscape and employers in Ireland who do not adopt remote working models run the risk of losing out to those who do. 

However, in asking companies to make the transition to remote working, we are expecting them to undertake a significant, costly, and time-consuming transformation project. We must take bold steps to de-risk this change for employers.

Therefore, the Government’s focus must be on catalysing real action and ring-fencing the investment needed to support businesses and drive major cultural change in the Irish workplace. 

In that space, we have three asks: 

  • Firstly, we call for funding supports for Irish businesses who want to transition to remote working models which should be designed to empower companies to hire without location in Ireland. This should include a Local Enterprise Office fund to support small to medium companies at a local level. 
  • Secondly, ensuring Irish businesses are remote-ready and equipped for the future will require an awareness and communications campaign at the level of Brexit Ready, so we urge the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment to fund and develop that. 
  • Finally, we believe it is imperative that the Government should lead by example and prioritise embedding remote working across the public sector. 

If we fail to put the right supports in place, we will face three significant risks:

  • Irish employers who are unable to offer remote working run the risk of losing talented employees to those who do. 
  • Without a thriving, robust ecosystem for remote employment in Ireland we will struggle to compete internationally with other countries who are moving quickly in this space. 
  • Most importantly we risk losing the current window of opportunity to drive significant social and economic change on the island of Ireland by making decent employment available to everyone, regardless of where they live. 

Moving to the draft legislation, it is important to call out that the conversation – and the legal frameworks – must move away from “one-off deals” for individual people. There must be an active move towards remote-first culture, where the roles are remote, not the people. 

With that said, Grow Remote strongly welcomes the draft bill on the right to request remote work as a step in the right direction. However, the bill in its current form and the public debate around the topic of remote working is far too heavily stacked towards providing reasons why employers should NOT enable their staff to work remotely. 

We are here today to argue that the debate needs to move away from the reasons to say no, and move towards identifying solutions. We’re taking bad practice and allowing it to hold us back – for each of the reasons listed in the legislation as a way to say no, innovative, global and fast-growing companies have figured out a solution and are coming for our talent. This is why we’re so grateful to have one of those leaders, GloFox, here today. 

Bringing companies like Glofox into the debate means we can all learn how they are addressing the challenges and building successful remote-first companies. The committee will really benefit from hearing first-hand how organisations are finding solutions to the challenges that are often raised. Challenges such as how to successfully onboard new staff, how to manage health and safety requirements, how to collaborate, communicate and foster a sense of shared culture and belonging. 

Glofox and many other companies that Grow Remote works with have put measures in place to meet these challenges and have built successful businesses with a highly engaged and satisfied workforce in a remote-first setting. There is a lot we can learn from Glofox and others and they are willing to share what they have learned to support others on the journey. 

Despite the progress made in the past two years, there are still many misconceptions about remote work and we need to address these if we are to truly realise its potential. Many of these misconceptions are embedded within the draft legislation, misconceptions which will restrict and limit the potential of remote work as a driver of social change. 

Head 6 of the bill states that an employee shall be entitled to submit a request for remote work when they have completed at least 26 weeks of continuous service with the employer. 

We question the need for this eligibility criteria and we urge the committee to recommend the removal of this requirement from the draft Bill. 

By imposing a six month eligibility criteria the legislation is restricting one of the key benefits of remote work – the removal of location as a barrier to employment. When a new hire has to be in the office for the first 6 months of their tenure with a company, they will have no option but to live within commuting distance of the office. 

This requirement serves to reinforce a common misconception about remote working – that it is not possible to effectively onboard and ramp up a new hire remotely. Remote-first companies such as Glofox have proven that it is entirely possible to effectively onboard a new hire remotely and for new employees to feel engaged and connected from day 1 without any need to default to the office setting. 

Head 12 of the draft bill covers the reasons why an employer can decline a request for remote working, with 13 business grounds for refusal listed. 

We recognise that there can be valid business reasons for an employer to say no to a request for remote working such as connectivity issues or an inadequate work from home space. However a number of the current list of reasons for refusal in the bill are too subjective and open to interpretation. Some of these reasons only serve to feed into damaging misconceptions about remote work. For example, one reason for refusal is when an employer ‘cannot reorganise work among existing staff’, which implies that the person working remotely will not be working at full capacity and will need their work to be reorganised among other staff to allow for this. There is strong evidence that remote working enables employees to be more productive, not less, yet this reason gives weight to the myth that people who work remotely are not working as hard as those working in an office. 

We urge the committee to recommend changes to this head so that the spirit and letter of the Bill would shift entirely towards supporting companies to say YES to remote working. 

Head 13 states that the right to appeal is limited only to procedural grounds. 

We encourage the committee to allow for appeals to the WRC to be based on the substantive decision of the employer, not merely on procedural grounds. We strongly urge the committee to strengthen the legislation so that employers must have a firm rationale for refusal that is based on objective and measurable reasons. We can then be in a position to provide employers with the right support and guidance to help them to overcome these challenges. 

There has been a shift in remote work where we are missing out on tax income because employment is landing in other countries. We need to support Irish companies to hire without location within Ireland to mitigate this severe and rapidly increasing risk. This is your opportunity to create a legacy where location is no longer a factor in the opportunities available to our people across the country.”