What does the National Remote Working Strategy mean for employers?
The Right to Request Remote Work Bill 2021 is part of the government’s vision to make remote working a permanent feature in Ireland – economically, socially and environmentally.
But what does it mean for Irish businesses? Clodagh O’Donovan of Advance HR addressed the National Remote Working Strategy at our conference on March 10th. She discussed what it means for employers, the pros and cons of remote working, grounds to decline remote working requests, and what to consider before the Bill becomes law – when the legislation will require businesses to have a remote work policy. There is a video of the full presentation, below.
What is the National Remote Working Strategy?
In a nutshell, the strategy is a range of government initiatives to promote and encourage remote work practices across Ireland. It includes;
- Investment in remote work hubs
- Remote Working Tax Relief
- Right to Disconnect Code of Practice
- Right to Request Remote Work Bill
What is remote working – and who can request it?
Remote and hybrid work requests are a request from an employee to work from somewhere different to their default piece of work; this could be from home, a remote work facility, a co-working centre, or similar. It can be for some or all of their working hours.
The Right to Request Remote Work Bill is currently being drafted and expected to become law in summer 2022. It will be the first legal framework around requesting, approving or refusing a request for remote or hybrid work.
Who can request to work remotely? In the eligibility criteria set out in the moment, an employee requesting remote work must:
- have a continuous period of 26 weeks service with their employer before submitting;
- give adequate notice (usually at least six weeks);
- address specific information, including the proposed location they want to work remotely and the timing/number of remote days;
- and include an assessment of the location’s suitability for remote work, from the perspective of health and safety, data protection, confidentiality requirements etc.
The bill also includes a response time frame and an appeals’ process through the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC). If an employee is not responded to within the application timeframe, or if the employer does not give them a reason as to why they’re declining their request, employees can appeal through the WRC.
The legislation will require businesses to have a remote work policy that sets out exactly how they approach and manage remote work requests.
Hybrid and Remote working in Ireland – pros and cons for employers
- Shows a genuine company commitment to a balanced work-life approach – it means more options for exercise and healthy eating for employees, and satisfaction gains from reduced commuting time
- Enhances the employee experience – raising your ability to encourage and attract key talents, and retain talent in your business
- Decreased costs – reduced workspace and equipment needs, can lead to cuts in catering and cleaning costs etc
- Improved productivity – research shows it can improve productivity, with less interruptions to work from walk-ups and office distractions.
- Communication barriers – for those new to it can be a challenge, especially due to the lack of body language feedback
- Access to information and technical challenge – you can’t physically handover items and tasks, there’s a need for secure cloud resources and shared IT to support those
- People management – some issues – like time management, supporting new/learning employees, or encouraging initiative – can be more challenging remotely unless managers are trained in doing so
Grounds for declining remote work requests
There are 13 legitimate reasons given for businesses to decline a remote work request. Common ones include:
- the nature of work does not allow it to be done remotely: eg. a role is customer-facing, requiring someone to be on the premises to assist clients
- potential negative impact of quality of a product or service: eg. employees won’t have access to what they need in order to maintain and sustain the level of quality required
- potential negative impact on performance of employee, or other employees
- concern around the ability to protect confidential and intellectual property
- concerns around the proposed remote working location based on health and safety grounds, data protection brands, or internet connectivity
- the employee has recently concluded or in an ongoing disciplinary process
Other concerns include inordinate distance or the burden of additional costs on a business.
Best practices for Irish remote working policies
So, from a business point of view, what’s the best approach to remote working policies and steering clear of the WRC?
The legislation is going to require businesses to have a remote work policy that sets out exactly how the business manages remote work requests from individuals.
There is an obligation to provide new hires and existing staff with it. Businesses who do not provide a written statement of their remote work policy to employees can be fined.
- Be prepared. As a starting point, Irish employers should have a comprehensive policy clearly outlining the approach to remote working requests.
- Best practice would be to circulate a policy on an annual basis and, should amendments be needed, to engage and involve employees throughout the decision-making process.
The Department of Enterprise Trade and Employment has published a page on remote work advising employers on what to do next.
While this is certainly a big change for many employers, being open, transparent and approachable is the best option all round. It will both ensure that you’re doing the right thing for your employees and protecting your business from risk in the future.
Want to know more? Watch the video recording of Clodagh‘s full presentation, below.