The three systemic changes that happened during Covid

The Grow Remote movement was founded in 2018 by a group of people who wanted to take action to halt the decline of rural communities. We wanted to change the system so that people no longer had to leave their local communities to access decent employment opportunities. 

A survey by Vodafone at the time revealed that the majority of SME employees wanted remote, flexible or smart working options. But, back in 2018, only a tiny minority of SME owners ( 9%) embraced the idea of remote working. 

This was despite the fact that SME owners reported that attracting and retaining staff was a serious issue facing the sector. 

Grow Remote takes a first principles approach to community development – if we can get decent employment into our communities, that will kick start local economies. A robust and well-structured remote working ecosystem can allow people to live, work and participate in their local communities like never before. Remote working, when implemented well, is good for people, for profit and for planet. 

In 2018, we amplified the voices of employees asking for change but – noticing that employers were not moving – we changed approach to focussing on and highlighting the already fully remote companies and the 300 remote jobs advertised remotely per month at the time. 80,000 remote jobs are now advertised without location at any one time.  

Conscious of what employers told us – that Ireland didn’t have a remote ready workforce at the time – we asked employees to embrace the challenge of transitioning to remote work, and provided them with tips and guidance from those who were already doing remote really well. The IDA and SOLAS, through the ETB network, now run nationwide, free training programmes. 

We received a lot of support and quickly built an amazing community of remote workers, but real, systemic change was slow to happen. What we saw instead was plenty of marketing speak about remote work, but little in the way of actual delivery of remote working models – mostly limited to a series of one-off flexible working deals between companies and valued employees who had amassed significant negotiating power. 

Remote working was seen as a space for freelancers and solo entrepreneurs. 

Then, the pandemic hit and two things happened. One, people began to associate remote work with emergency WFH that they did not enjoy. Secondly, three major shifts occurred which have opened the doors to permanent change in how remote working is viewed and implemented:  

  1. LinkedIn and Indeed now allow jobs to be advertised remotely. Up until very recently, companies were forced to note a location on a job specification. This meant they did not get access to a bigger talent pool, and people outside of urban places never knew of the opportunity. 
  1. Remote work shifted from freelance and contract work to decent employment – thanks to innovations like Remote.com and Boundless. 
  1. Household name companies, including those outside the tech sphere, began to hire remotely. Companies like Meta (Facebook), Twitter, Hubspot and Liberty Insurance began to hire without location as a matter of policy. 

Having collectively navigated the past two years, we now know that there are solutions to any challenges remote working can present. We know that employees can do great work regardless of where they’re physically located, and we know that almost all employees want the option to work remotely – and are willing to make major changes in order to do so

We also now have more examples of remote companies thriving and changing the world – and winning the current talent war. One remote company, Loom, recently reported that they received more than 3,000 applications for one role in a matter of days. Loom is a company with an estimated €35 million in annual turnover and 200 employees – proof, were it required, of how productive remote work can be. 

The pre-pandemic one-off deals that gave remote work a bad name have been replaced by glittering case studies of brilliant remote companies, who – in this next wave of systemic change – are adopting a remote-first culture to underpin a sustainable hybrid workforce.