CitySwift raises an additional €2m with investment from The Western Development Commission creating 25 new jobs

CitySwift, the Galway-based transport data company transforming the operations and passenger experience of public transport, has closed a funding round of €2m bringing funding to date to €3.5m. This round was led by the Western Development Commission, Irelandia Investments, Act Venture Capital, Enterprise Ireland, Mike McGearty (former CEO of CarTrawler), and other notable Irish transport entrepreneurs. All investors have been involved in both of CitySwift’s funding rounds.

Dynamic public transport planning and optimising operations through data is set to play the main role in the recovery and new future of public transportation and mobility in cities, and CitySwift’s specialist data engine is set to be at the very foundation of this transport evolution. The platform – an end-to-end SaaS platform- intelligently powers public transportation for forward-thinking operators. It visualises a birds-eye view of a cities mobility data and creates an operational plan and schedule simulations that orchestrate the movements of passengers and every vehicle in a city-wide transportation ecosystem, enabling public transport operators to choose the best options available and create a superior service for passengers while significantly reducing operating costs for cities.

Gillian Buckley, Investment Manager at The Western Development Commission said; “We are delighted to be part of this latest funding round for Cityswift which will support the creation of 25 new jobs across Ireland and remotely over the next twelve months. CitySwift are a fantastic example of a highly innovative company building a scalable enterprise from their base in the west of Ireland.”

CitySwift’s industry-leading data engine for public transport has been rolled out by a number of the UK’s largest listed passenger transport companies, including National Express and Go-Ahead Group, who have collective revenues of over €8billion, where it is being used to reduce operating costs and increase reliability. The technology has enabled an agile response to social distancing measures and lockdown restrictions being eased assisting bus companies in planning and reacting to the new normal.

CitySwift’s latest solution, a passenger-facing bus capacity checker using AI predictions, works like Google Maps but with the added feature that passengers are able to see how busy their bus is going to be up to two weeks in advance of travelling. It generates dynamic predictions of bus loadings to inform passengers’ journey choices whilst capacities are restricted and as new travel patterns emerge. Passengers can access a colour-coded timetable of bus routes, which shows what buses are likely to be busy or have space, on a stop-by-stop basis. This technology has recently been deployed across Go-Ahead Group’s entire UK operations via ‘When2Travel.co’ with other bus operators showing interest in rapidly deploying the solution to encourage passengers back onto the bus.

Brian O’Rourke, CitySwift Co-Founder and CEO states, “One thing we’ve come to learn through Covid-19 is just how important data is – whether for businesses trying to operate, governments trying to reopen or individuals trying to understand this pandemic. This has been even more evident for public transport companies as they monitored the effects of lockdown restrictions on their networks and model and plan for future scenarios as restrictions have begun to ease. The CitySwift platform has been leveraged to enable our clients and their passengers to make informed, data-driven decisions as they navigate the road to recovery in these ever-changing times”.

CitySwift’s latest funding will speed up product development and the hiring of 25 new positions, in Ireland and remote, over the next twelve months. The hires will be across commercial and technical roles including business development, customer success, product, data science and engineering, fuelling the expansion of its business in the European market, where they are already working with a number of public authorities.

Minister Canney announces €300,000 to support enterprise hubs to reopen along the Atlantic Economic Corridor.

Sean Canney T.D., Minister of State for Community Development, Natural Resources and Digital Development, today (22nd June) announced an investment of 300,000 for enterprise hubs along the Atlantic Economic Corridor to help them implement measures to reopen in compliance with public health guidelines as the economy recovers from the impact of COVID-19.

The investment will be made by the Department of Rural and Community Development through the Western Development Commission as part of the Atlantic Economic Corridor Enterprise Hub Network project.  Funding of up to €5,000 will be provided in grant aid to successful applicants.

Making the announcement, Minister Canney said:

“As we reopen our economy and adjust to the new challenges brought about by COVID-19, it is important that we help people to return to work in a safe environment.  With over 100 hubs along the Atlantic Economic Corridor region from Kerry to Donegal, the AEC Enterprise Hub Network  can play an important role in the economic recovery of the region by supporting remote working, community enterprises and the development of ‘second sites’ in the region for businesses.

However, many hubs face significant challenges in reopening under the current conditions. The investment I am announcing today will support hubs to manage this process by helping them to adapt their premises to comply with public health and social distancing guidelines.

In addition, the provision of other supports by the Western Development Commission, such as the development of a shared on-line booking system for workers wishing to use the hubs, will further help the hubs to safely manage the services they provide as the country moves through the Roadmap for Reopening Society and the Economy.”

CEO of The Western Development Commission, Tomás Ó Síocháin, said:

“This support will allow the hubs to reopen and provide facilities for workers to work remotely in fully equipped office settings.  WDC research, carried out in conjunction with NUIG, has identified immediate challenges to working from home, and the AEC enterprise hubs can help address those challenges.  The hubs can play a critical role in rural and regional areas, allowing skilled workers to work close to where they live, driving sustainable economic activity and building communities.”

Hub managers along the AEC region will be invited to join a webinar on Tuesday 30th June – ‘A Practical Guide to Reopening your hub.’  Attendees will learn how to prepare to re-open their hubs and plan to operate safely internally with staff and hub users. The webinar will also look at potential funding supports available, including through the Atlantic Economic Corridor Hub Outreach scheme, Enterprise Ireland supports and others.

WRAP Fund set to Generate more than €16m spend across the West of Ireland

The Western Region Audiovisual Producer’s Fund or WRAP Fund today announced a number of new projects which are expected to generate in excess of €16.8m across the West. The Fund also marked a significant year of growth with a number of high-profile productions. Set up to enhance the level of production across the film, television drama, animation and games sectors in the West of Ireland, the WRAP is now seeing a substantial €12 multiplier on every €1 invested.

Last October, Wild Mountain Thyme caused a stir as international acting talents Emily Blunt, Jamie Dornan and Christopher Walken descended on Co. Mayo. Meanwhile in Lahinch, Co. Clare, television series Smother starring Dervla Kirwan and Seana Kerslake commenced shooting in March and is planned for broadcast on RTÉ One and inclusion in the BBC Studios catalogue
for international sales once filming can be resumed. Previously announced projects The Winter Lake, Death Of A Ladies Man and animation Ooops! Back In The Deep End were also produced across the Region in the last twelve months.

New projects announced today include the animated series The Wee Littles from Co. Clare animation studio Magpie6 Media, Finnish director Klaus Haro’s My Sailor, My Love to shoot in Mayo and Galway, the Donegal set UK/Irish production God’s Creatures as well as Epic Pictures backed horror The Ten Steps bound for Roscommon and Sligo.

Sarah Dillon, Development Manager of the WRAP Fund, commented “The last twelve months have been a very busy time for the WRAP Fund with extensive high-quality production and development activity in every county in the Region. The recent releases of feature film “Calm With Horses” and international television drama “Normal People” showcase what the West has to offer productions in terms of locations, expertise and support. We have many more exciting productions in the pipeline. The impact of Covid 19 has been hard felt in the Region and we are relying on the Irish government to look favourably on the request of the Western AV Forum to extend the Regional Film Development Uplift. This would be a very positive measure to jumpstart production and send out the message that the West is open for business again once it is safe.”

In tandem with its production investment, WRAP is announcing the recipients of a number of rounds of development investment to assist local producers to develop projects that can undertake production within the region in the future. Companies based in Clare, Galway, Mayo, Roscommon and Sligo have all received support. These include:

  • Tails At Animal Airport: an animated television series developed by Roscommon’s Studio Meala and written by Emma Hogan (Clare)
  • Swallows: a feature film developed by Clare production company Newgrange Pictures and written by John McDonnell (Clare)
  • Obituary: a television series developed by Galway production company Magamedia, written by Ray Lawlor (Mayo) and to be directed by Oonagh Kearney with additional support from Virgin Media and Screen Ireland
  • Della & Jim: a feature film developed by Sligo production Janey Pictures, written and to be directed by Marion Quinn with additional support from Screen Ireland
  • Dad’s Red Dress: a television series developed by Mayo production company Lunar Pictures and written by Lindsay Jane Sedgwick
  • This Is The Country: a feature film developed by Mayo production company Little Rose Films with Feline Films, written and to be directed by Mark O’Connor
  • Tir Anann: a game developed by Galway Games Studio Tribal City Interactive with additional support from Creative Europe
  • Eldritch House: a game developed by Galway Games Studio Doomcube Games

Tomás Ó Síocháin, CEO of Western Development Commission, said; ’the Creative Economy is a both an economic driver and a significant calling card for the west of Ireland at home and abroad. Our policy analysis, the development of the Atlantic Economic Corridor and a regional network of creative hubs in conjunction with GMIT complement the work of the WRAP Fund to sustain and grow the Creative Economy in the region into the future.’

 

 

///ENDS///

 

Remote Working in Ireland During Covid-19 – Initial Findings from WDC/NUIG Survey

Introduction

The WDC in partnership with Whitaker Institute NUIG has just published initial findings of its survey Remote Working in Ireland During COVID-19, see here. These are the summary results from the national survey of 7,241 individuals across a wide range of industries and occupations over a one-week week period in April-May 2020. This is a very high response, well in excess of the number surveyed for the CSO Quarterly Labour Force Survey. The survey was led by Tomás Ó Síocháin and Deirdre Frost at WDC and Professor Alma McCarthy, Professor Alan Ahearne and Dr Katerina Bohle-Carbonell at NUI Galway.

The survey results show that 87% of respondents are now working remotely because of Covid-19. Over half of those surveyed (51%) had never worked remotely before the Covid-19 pandemic. Of those who had never worked remotely, 78% would like to work remotely for some or all of the time after the crisis is over.

Advantages to Remote Working

  • The top three advantages of working remotely were: no traffic and no commute (76%);
  • Reduced costs of going to work and commuting (55%);
  • Greater flexibility as to how to manage the working day (48%).

Over two thirds say their productivity is the same or higher working from home. 37% of respondents indicated that their productivity working remotely during COVID-19 is about the same as normal and 30% report that their productivity is higher than normal.  25% report that their productivity is lower than normal and 9% of respondents indicate that it is impossible to compare productivity as the demand for products/services/business has changed.

Close to half (48%) say it is easy or somewhat easy to work from home while 37% find that it is difficult or somewhat difficult to work from home.

Challenges to Remote Working

The top three challenges of working remotely included:

  • Not being able to switch off from work (37%);
  • Harder to communicate and collaborate with colleagues and co-workers (36%);
  • Poor physical workspace (28%).
  • Internet connectivity is a challenge to working remotely with close to 1/5 (19%) reporting this as an issue, which highlights the importance of the speedy rollout of the National Broadband Plan.

The challenge of juggling childcare with work commitments was cited as a key issue in the open-ended comments received. The provision of better ergonomic equipment is one of the key changes suggested by employees to help with their well-being and productivity while working remotely.

Remote Working in the Future

The majority (83%) indicated that they would like to work remotely after the crisis is over.  Of these:

  • 12% indicated they would like to work remotely on a daily basis
  • 42% indicated they would like to work remotely several times a week
  • 29% indicated they would like to work remotely several times a month
  • 16% indicated they do not want to continue working remotely.

Those with dependent children aged between 6 and 12 years are most likely to want to continue working remotely following Covid-19.

In a recent WDC blogpost, I noted regional patterns in working from home, pre Covid-19, see here. In this survey while a significant majority of workers across all regions want to continue some type of remote working (83%), even more workers in the West (85.7%) and Midlands (86.8%) want to continue the practice.

Just over half (51%) would like to work from their home, with the balance seeking a mix of home, a hub/work-sharing space and the office. The practice of remote work will be important in sustaining regional and rural communities as well as reducing congestion on key routes.

Of the 16% who do not want to continue any type of remote working, there is a higher share of women (17%) compared to 13% of men. There is also a higher share among those without dependent children, indicating that one of the benefits of remote working is that it helps those juggling work and family life.

Further Analysis of Survey Findings

The results presented in the initial report, publicly available here are just the summary findings. Must more extensive analysis is to be undertaken and this will help inform the future policy direction of remote work generally and how remote work can help as we emerge from the Covid-19 restrictions. The following themes will be explored.

  • Geographic analysis of the 19% who indicate internet connectivity as a challenge.
  • Geographic profile of other challenges, advantages and preferences for remote working post Covid-19.
  • Given the extent to which ‘no traffic and no commute’ was expressed as an advantage, analysis of the data on commute times/distances will be useful.
  • Further analysis of the profile of companies where respondents indicate their organisation or line manager would not support future remote working arrangements.
  • Preference to continue remote working by organisational size, age profile, gender, with dependent children or not.
  • Profile of those who do not want to continue remote working post covid-19.

In addition, the WDC would welcome any suggestions for further analysis.

Future Outlook for Remote Working

In a recent blogpost in relation to remote working, I asked What will be the New Normal? see here. I examined trends in the numbers working from home and how the numbers have changed with changing economic circumstances with an indication that there is a correlation between economic growth and employment levels.

One of the trends seems to be that with a tight labour market, and high employment levels, there are greater levels of working from home. More employees seek the opportunity of working from home especially given the longer journey times associated with full employment and congested transport networks. It is also argued that employers are more receptive to the practice, in part related to the need to retain skilled workers.

However, following the crisis, the unemployment rate is likely to be much higher than pre-crisis levels. How will this impact on the demand for remote working? The results from the WDC/NUIG survey indicate that the demand for continued remote work will continue.

Furthermore, in the short to medium term there will be physical/social distance requirements that will likely impact on the numbers who can return to their workplace. So, it is likely that for a transition period at least, there will be much higher levels of working from home than pre Covid-19.

In future blogposts the WDC will highlight findings from more detailed analyses of the WDC/NUIG survey.

 

Deirdre Frost

May 2020

 

The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of the WDC.

Survey Shows 83% Want to Continue to Work Remotely After Covid-19 Crisis

A recent survey by researchers from the Whitaker Institute at NUI Galway and the Western Development Commission (WDC) has shown that 83% expressed interest in continuing to work remotely.  Over half of those surveyed (51%) had never worked remotely before the Covid-19 pandemic. Of those who had never worked remotely, 78% would like to work remotely for some or all of the time after the crisis is over.

The survey was led by Professor Alma McCarthy, Professor Alan Ahearne and Dr Katerina Bohle-Carbonell at NUI Galway, and Tomás Ó Síocháin and Deirdre Frost at WDC.  These are the initial findings from the national survey of 7,241 individuals across a wide range of industries and sectors over a one-week week period in April-May 2020.

The top three challenges of working remotely included: Not being able to switch off from work; harder to communicate and collaborate with colleagues and co-workers; and poor physical workspace. The top three benefits of working remotely included: no traffic and no commute; reduced costs of going to work and commuting; and greater flexibility as to how to manage the working day.

The challenge of juggling childcare with work commitments was cited as a key issue in the open-ended comments received. The provision of better ergonomic equipment is one of the key changes suggested by employees to help with their well-being and productivity while working remotely.  Many also report the need for more suitable workspace within their home and just under 1-in-5 (19%) identified internet connectivity as an issue.

Frakli tech-worker remote working in Flipside, Sligo. Working in tech on a laptop in a cafe. Lifestyle, Working and investment opportunities on the West Coast of Ireland

In relation to current levels of productivity, 37% of respondents indicated that their productivity working remotely during COVID-19 is about the same as normal and 30% report that their productivity is higher than normal.  25% report that their productivity is lower than normal and 9% of respondents indicate that it is impossible to compare productivity as the demand for products/services/business has changed.

The majority (83%) of the 7,241 respondents indicated that they would like to work remotely after the crisis is over.  Of these:

  • 12% indicated they would like to work remotely on a daily basis
  • 42% indicated they would like to work remotely several times a week
  • 29% indicated they would like to work remotely several times a month
  • 16% indicated they do not want to continue working remotely.

The survey indicates that 87% of those surveyed across all counties in Ireland are now working remotely because of Covid-19.

Speaking about the national survey, Professor Alma McCarthy said: “The findings of our survey indicate that employee preferences to continue working remotely will facilitate the opening up phase and aid with social distancing.  The future of work post-COVID-19 is really interesting.  The vast majority of respondents want to continue to work remotely when the crisis is over.  Many roles and jobs can be performed effectively remotely.  What is the benefit of long commutes to work and sitting in traffic if we can leverage technology at least some of the week to do our work?  Productivity does not necessarily correlate with presence in the workplace.  What we do is more important than where we do it for many roles. A mind-set change is needed by managers and employers in terms of managing work remotely. The current crisis provides an opportunity for organisations and managers to rethink how we work.”

CEO of the Western Development Commission Tomás Ó Síocháin said: “While a significant majority (83%) want to continue working remotely to some degree post-Covid-19, the figure is higher in the West and Midlands. Just over half (51%) would like to work from their home, with the balance seeking a mix of home, a hub/work-sharing space and the office. The preference of working from home or close to home in a hub/work-sharing space will allow individuals a better balance of work and home and generate and sustain economic activity in rural and regional areas.”

Respondents suggest a number of key changes and improvements that their managers and employers should make regarding remote working at present:

  • Provision of better and more ergonomic physical workspace including provision of a good (ergonomic) chair, provision of printer, and better screens.
  • Better management of video-conference meetings
  • Reduce expectations and workload to more realistic levels
  • Regular communication and check-ins
  • Ensure provision of well-being supports
  • More flexibility in terms of hours of work to cater for caring responsibilities at this time.

Read the full report  HERE.

Working from Home – What are the Regional Patterns?

Introduction

In a recent blogpost I examined the data on working from home and the trends that have occurred up to the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic. The data over the last two decades suggest that there may be a correlation between economic growth, unemployment levels and the numbers working from home. So, for example, as the unemployment rate declined the percentage engaged in working from home increased. When unemployment was at its lowest, in 2019 at 5%, the percentage working from home was at its highest at approximately 20% nationally, see here.

In this blogpost I examine previously unpublished data to see if there are regional differences. Are there regional patterns? Are there different levels of working from home in more urban or rural regions or those regions considered ‘commuter regions’ such as the Mid-East?

Labour Force Survey: Working Sometimes or Usually from Home

The CSO Labour Force Survey asks how often did you work at home. If the response is that you worked for at least one hour from home in the last four weeks then it is categorised as ‘sometimes works from home’. If the respondent reports that ‘At least half of the days worked at home’, then the response is categorised ‘as usually works from home’.

Examining both these groups to capture all those who work from home; nationally over a fifth of the population (21.5%), report sometimes or usually works from home. These data include all sectors (including Agriculture, Forestry and Fishing). Note the data reported in the previous blogpost see here, reported a slightly lower working from home rate of 20%, but this excluded the Agriculture, Forestry and Fishing sector[1].

In 2019, all regions report greater levels of working from home than in 2012, see Table 1 below. In 2019, two regions have levels above the national average (Dublin and the West region), both at 23.9%. This is followed by the Mid-East region (21.4%), followed by the South-East and South West regions, both with 20% working sometimes or usually from home. The regions with the lowest rates in 2019 are the Midland region (19.1%) and the Border region (17.3%).

As noted in the previous blog post, the trend in the national rate had been downward from 2012 through to 2014 with an upward trend in the latter half of the period to 2019, coinciding with rising employment levels and reduced unemployment. This pattern is also generally evident across most regions with the exception of the Midland region which has experienced a continuous upward trend.

Geographic Differences between Sometimes and Usually working from Home

Combining the categories of ‘sometimes’ and ‘usually’ working from home captures all those working from home but a closer look at the data highlights important differences. The chart below depicts those who sometimes and those who usually work from home in 2019 by region. It is clear that there are regional differences. It is also clear that there is a different regional pattern when examining the separate categories of usually and sometimes working from home.

So for example, those regions with the highest rate of sometimes working from home such as Dublin and the Mid-East are those regions with the lowest rate who usually work from home. Conversely those regions with some of the highest rates working usually from home (the Border and Midlands regions) are those regions with the lower rates of usually working from home. The West region is somewhat of an exception here with relatively high rates of both usually and sometimes working from home.

Examining the separate groups in more detail, it is worth repeating the definitions;

  • those who usually work from home are those who report having worked ‘At least half of the days worked at home’.
  • those categorised as sometimes works from home are those who have worked for ‘at least one hour from home in the last four weeks’.

Usually working from home

It is likely that those who usually work from home include those engaged in Agriculture and others who are self-employed and largely home based, for example home-based sole traders and self-employed such as GPs, childminders and construction workers. Previous work by the WDC Policy team have noted the relatively high rates of self-employment in more rural areas. A blogpost on Census data, see here notes the very strong spatial pattern to self-employment with the most rural counties having higher rates than the state average of 15.6%. For example, five of the Western Region counties are in the top ten nationally in terms of share of self-employment, Leitrim (20.3%), Roscommon (19.9%), Mayo (19.6%), Galway county (19.5%) and Clare (19.5%) all having in excess of or close to 1 in 5 of their workers self-employed.

As that analysis notes, the strong spatial pattern of self-employment in Ireland is related to many factors but notably the sectoral and occupational pattern of employment. Apart from Agriculture and Construction, the relative lack of alternative employment opportunities, especially in the more remote rural areas, means that more people choose (or are necessitated) to turn to self-employment. Table 2 below shows the percentage of employment by region, usually working at home over the period 2012-2019.

The data certainly supports the rural/urban pattern with higher rates of those usually working from home in the more rural regions, such as the Border and West regions, while the more urban region of Dublin has the lowest rate of 6.4% in 2019.

The trend nationally has also shown a decline from 2012 to 2016 with an increase thereafter. This suggests that there is also some relationship with higher employment levels and low unemployment rates in 2019. This trend is also clear across every region, albeit with different levels in each, see table 2 above.

Sometimes working from home

Those categorised as sometimes working from home are those who have worked for at least one hour from home in the last four weeks. In 2019 the national average was 13.3%, with Dublin, the Mid-East and West regions having higher than average rates. The lowest rates are in the Border and Midland regions. This suggests that both opportunity (employers who are receptive to remote working) and traffic congestion/ commuting are factors influencing the rate of those sometimes working from home.

The levels of those working sometimes from home (Table 3) is somewhat higher than those working usually from home (Table 2). This is unsurprising as other data suggest that working from home is most common on a one or two-day week basis. For example, the CSO conducted a pilot survey in September 2018 see here. This found that among those at work, 18% declared they worked from home. Working from home 1 day per week was the most popular practice (35%), followed by 2 days a week (13%) and 5 days per week (by 11%).

Data on the impact of Covid-19 and Future Outlook

The most recent CSO data on working from home measuring the current situation due to the Covid-19 crisis, (data only at a national level) shows that, over two-thirds (69.0%) of enterprises indicated that they implemented remote working over the five-week period from 16 March to 19 April 2020. Almost three in every ten businesses (29.0%) had the majority of their workforce working remotely during that period, see here for full release. The practice of enforced home working is likely to change the overall levels of working from home, with huge sections of the workforce experiencing it for the first time.

So, if there is a correlation between economic growth, employment levels and the numbers working sometimes from home, what might happen once we emerge from the Covid crisis?  One of the factors seems to be that with a tight labour market, and high employment levels, there are greater levels of working from home. More employees seek the opportunity of working from home especially given the longer journey times associated with full employment and congested transport networks. It is also argued that employers are more receptive to the practice in part related to the need to retain skilled workers.

However, following the crisis, the unemployment rate is likely to be much higher than pre-crisis levels. How will this impact on the demand for home working? At a sectoral and regional level, if the sectoral patterns of employment are a factor in the rates of those usually working from home, what will the patterns be when we emerge from the pandemic? In future blogposts the WDC will continue to monitor trends and highlight issues as they emerge.

 

Deirdre Frost

May 2020

 

The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of the WDC.

[1] In this special run, it was not possible to provide a sectoral breakdown and examine regional data due to sample size.

 

The eagerly-anticipated Irish thriller Calm With Horses got it’s digital release today

The eagerly-anticipated Irish thriller Calm With Horses got it’s digital release today April 27th after its cinematic release was affected by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Adapted from the story by Mayo’s Colin Barrett and directed by Nick Rowland, Calm With Horses sees the enigmatic Barry Keoghan play Dympna Devers alongside rising stars Niamh Algar and Cosmo Jarvis in an DMC Films/Element Pictures co-production with Michael Fassbender on board as executive producer.

The critically acclaimed film which shot across Clare, Galway City and County had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival and was supported by the Western Audiovisual Producers Fund /WRAP Fund, Film4, Screen Ireland and Altitude Film Entertainment. The production was assisted by the Arts Office of Clare County Council and ScreenWest.

Sarah Dillon, Development Manager of the WRAP Fund believes that “Calm With Horses is an unflinching, mile a minute thriller underpinned by real heart and emotion. The stunning landscapes of Clare and Galway are captured in epic portions and it is a real showcase of what the West and the WRAP Fund has to offer productions.

Tomás Ó Síocháin, CEO of the Western Development Commission said “The Wrap Fund is something we are really excited about. We’ve seen an additional spend of just under €10m for the region which is a very tangible output for the agency. It brings to reality all the work that’s in the region, all the skills that are in the region and builds the profile of the region internationally.”

COVID-19 Remote Working National Employee Survey Launched by the Western Development Commission and NUI Galway

Researchers from the Whitaker Institute at NUI Galway and the Western Development Commission (WDC) have launched a national survey to gather data on employees’ experiences of remote working in these unprecedented times.  This project is being led by Profeessor  Alma McCarthy, Professor Alan Ahearne and Dr Katerina Bohle-Carbonell at NUI Galway and Tomás Ó Síocháin and Deirdre Frost at WDC.

The COVID-19 crisis has catapulted hundreds of thousands of employees and their employers into a work pattern and routine vastly different to their normal daily work experience.  This radical change happened suddenly and for the vast majority the change effectively occurred overnight.  While some employees have experience of remote working, many find themselves operating remote working without any time to plan, negotiate, organise and set-up remote working in conjunction with their employer and manager.

WDC CEO Tomás Ó Síocháin said ‘the move to remote working has allowed many, but not all, employees to continue to work during the current crisis. The WDC has published a significant body of work on how remote work has developed over many years so this anonymous survey will help to shape national policy. As well as improving individuals’ quality of life, working part-time or fulltime from home or from a hub can make a huge difference to rural and regional communities. ’

The NUI Galway and WDC COVID-19 Remote Working Survey will gather data about the following questions: how are employees adjusting to remote working, what is going well and what changes would employees suggest?; how are employees responding to remote working from a well-being perspective?; how is remote working impacting employee productivity?; and what lessons can be learned about remote working that could be retained/sustained post-COVID-19?

Remote worker from Sligo tech start-up Frankli who employ staff remotely all over the country. Image taken from the WDC Image bank which will be released later this year.

 

Speaking about the national survey, Professor Alma McCarthy said: “Anecdotally, we understand employees are responding in diverse ways to mandatory remote working: some are finding it very difficult to adjust to remote working with no social contact with colleagues and the need to self-structure their work; others have significant challenges managing caring (child and/or elder) responsibilities with work; and yet others are enjoying the absence of the morning and evening commute, no traffic, and report higher productivity levels.  We are undertaking this survey to gather data on employees’ experiences of remote working in these unprecedented times.”

The research team will analyse the findings of the survey and make them publicly available on NUI Galway’s Whitaker Institute website and on the WDC website.  The data and study findings will be available to inform employers about employee experiences of remote working.  The research team will provide recommendations for employers on how to better manage remote working in the current crisis as well as more generally.

To complete the survey visit bit.ly/covid19remoteworking

For further information please contact Professor Alma McCarthy, Professor of Public Sector Management and Head, Department of Management, J.E. Cairnes School of Business and Economics at NUI Galway on  087 642 2180 or alma.mccarthy@nuigalway.ie ,or Tomás Ó Síocháin, CEO of the Western Development Commission at tomasosiochain@wdc.ie

 

Project page on Whitaker Institute:  http://whitakerinstitute.ie/project/covid-19-remote-working-employee-pulse-survey/

 

Working from Home – ‘The New Normal’?

Introduction

Though unintended, one of the biggest experiments in employment practices is underway globally; enforced working from home. Where possible, Governments have asked that all workers conduct their normal work from home, a radical change from what has gone on before.

What will happen when some degree of ‘normality’ returns? Some commentators suggest working from home will become a much more established feature of working life. Others suggest that life and work will return to ‘normal’, only time will tell. In this blogpost I look at patterns and trends in working from home and remote working up to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The terms telework and e-Work were more common in the past but generally refer to remote working – the practice of using technology (tele-work) and electronic ways (e-Work) to work at a location separate or remote to the office.  Working from home is specifically that and can be considered a subset of remote working, in contrast to working from a shared space such as a hub.

Recent History

Working from home and remote working is not a new phenomenon. As noted in the recently published Government report Remote Work in Ireland (2019), The late 90’s saw the first emergence of Government activity on remote work (then referred to as e-Work or telework). This was due to the increasing availability of ICT and broadband infrastructure. A series of actions were undertaken to promote e-Work (largely working from home).

  • In 1998 the National Advisory Council on Teleworking was established by Government. Comprised of experts across a range of areas it was charged with the task of advising the Minister on telework and related employment opportunities.
  • In 2000, twenty years ago, the Government approved a Code of Practice on e-Working entitled ‘e-Working in Ireland’ and the Programme for Prosperity and Fairness (2000-2002) (PPF) committed the Government to introduce e-Working options into mainstream public service employment by 2002.
  • In 2001-2003, the Western Development Commission (WDC), was represented on the e-Work Action Forum, the successor to the National Advisory Council. The e-Work Action Forum assumed the role of developing tasks and strategies set out in the report, e-Working in Ireland: New Ways of Living and Working.
  • The Department of Finance, in 2003 issued a circular on Pilot schemes to promote e-Working in the Civil Service. Though some individual Departments did introduce pilot schemes and may have continued the practice, no central evaluation or assessment of the policy has ever taken place.
  • The Office of the Revenue Commissioners issued guidance dealing with the tax implications of e-Working for employees and employers which was updated in 2013 and updated further in April 2020 to take account of the current enforced working from home practice under Covid-19.

Environmental impacts

Generally, the earlier work on promoting e-Working focused on economic and social benefits and there was little attention paid to environmental benefits. Before the financial crisis hit, and in line with economic growth, high employment levels and greater levels of commuting, the Department of Transport published its Smarter Travel Policy A Sustainable Transport Future, A New Transport Policy for Ireland 2009-2020 (2009). This included actions to reduce travel demand and traffic congestion.

  • One of the actions was to realise some of the benefits of e-Working. This included setting targets to encourage e-Working in the public sector.
  • There was also an objective to research and develop e-Working centres (in effect the precursor to enterprise centres & working hubs). For example, as part of the smarter travel town initiative, a pilot e-Working centre was established in Dungarvan in 2012. This ‘Remote Working Space’, allows workers to rent space and access broadband while also operating in an office environment closer to home than the office. At that time, Westmeath County Council set up six community e-Working centres aimed at residents who travel to Dublin or elsewhere to work.

However, the financial crash ensured that e-Working as policy objective was relegated and the ensuing higher unemployment, lower employment levels and associated lower congestion levels removed some of the impetus for e-Working.

Employment Trends and Working from Home

The unemployment rate and the numbers working from home rate, as measured by the Labour Force Survey (LFS) is shown in the chart below. The data from the LFS measures those who work ‘usually or sometimes’ from home.

In 2012, the unemployment rate was 16% and the working from home rate was 13.8%.

As the unemployment rate declined the percentage engaged in working from home increased. When unemployment was at its lowest, in 2019 at 5%, the percentage working from home was at its highest, 20%. One of the factors seems to be that with a tight labour market, and high employment levels, there are greater levels of working from home. More employees seek the opportunity of working from home especially given the longer journey times associated with full employment and congested transport networks. It is also argued that employers are more receptive to the practice in part related to the need to retain skilled workers.

The Labour Force Survey is a sample survey and therefore it is more difficult to get detailed regional breakdowns. The WDC uses Census data in order to get a Western Region picture.

Census data on Working from Home

The Census asks the question ‘How do you usually travel to work’? with one of the answers being ‘work mainly at or from home’. While the Census measure is valuable in providing regional data, it is limited in that it only captures those that work from home most of the working week, and excludes those who work from home one or two days per week. More recent data from the CSO (discussed below) suggest one or two days per week is the most common pattern.

Furthermore, the Census definition is inadequate in capturing the extent of e-Work as it includes all those that are self-employed and work from home (such as those engaged in agriculture and home-based sole traders such as GPs, childminders and others across all sectors) and not just e-Workers.  For example, in 2011, 4.7% (83,326) of all those at work, stated they worked mainly at or from home. Of these the most significant occupational group is farmers, fishing & forestry workers, comprising over two fifths (43.5%). Excluding this group, in 2011, the share of the state’s working population reported as working ‘at or from home’ was 2.8% (47,127)[1].

[1] This compares to 3.2% (8,994) of workers in the Western Region, indicating a higher incidence of working from home in the Western Region.

The chart above depicts the numbers ‘working mainly at or from home’ (secondary right-hand axis) and the unemployment rate since the late 1990s up to and including March 2020. This excludes the Covid-19 monthly unemployment figures which was first measured in March 2020. In 1996 there was over 158,000 persons who stated they worked ‘mainly at or from home’. As noted above, a large proportion of this number is those engaged in agriculture. With the ever-declining numbers employed in agriculture it is likely that the agricultural component has continued to decline.

Most recently, there were 94,955 persons who stated they worked ‘mainly at or from home’ in 2016. This was still below the 2006 peak of 105,706, though it represents an increase of 14% between 2011 (83,326) and 2016. Once more the peak in 2006 corresponds to a period of very low unemployment, while the dip in those working from home in 2011 corresponds to a period of high unemployment. Notwithstanding the caveats with the data there does seem to be a relationship between employment, unemployment and the extent of working from home.

CSO 2018

More recently, the CSO invited submissions to the consultation on questions for Census 2021. The WDC advocated for the inclusion of a question to more effectively capture the extent of Working from home/e-Working to which the CSO agreed. The CSO conducted a pilot survey in September 2018. This found that among those at work, 18% declared they worked from home. The level of non-response among workers was low at 3%. Of those working from home, the breakdown by number of days was as follows:

Working from home 1 day per week was the most popular practice (35%), followed by 2 days a week (13%) and 5 days per week (by 11%). It should be noted that 26% of those who said they worked from home did not state the number of days. One possibility may be that their pattern changes on a weekly basis.

Profile of those working from home

  • The CSO pilot results showed that the percentage of those working from home increased as age increased, peaking at 19.6% of those at work in the age group 45-49. Of this group 32% worked one day from home. The proportion of home workers decreased among workers in older age groups.
  • Over half of those who worked in ‘Computer programming, consultancy and information service activities’ indicated that they worked from home. This industry comprised 3% of all workers in the pilot but 11% of all home workers were in this industry. See the CSO release here.

IBEC collects data on the extent of e-Working (largely working from home) based on a survey of their membership. The most recently published data (for 2018) shows an increasing prevalence of the practice. For example,

  • In 2018, 37% of IBEC members (152 companies) had a practice of e-Working/home-working, on one or two days per week basis, up from 30% (110) in 2016.
  • The likelihood of e-Working among IBEC companies increases with company size, 54% of companies with 500+ employees cite a practice of e-Working 1 or 2 days a week.
  • There is a higher rate of e-Working among foreign owned companies compared to Irish, 40% and 33% respectively, and both these figures are up on two years previously – 34% and 27% respectively.
  • Sectorally the highest rates of e-Working are within the Electronic services sector (69%), followed by the Financial services sector (58%).
  • At a regional level IBEC members in the Dublin region have the highest incidence of e-Working, with almost half (49%) reporting having an e-Working policy of 1-2 days working from home per week. This rate drops to one-third of companies in the Cork region, one-quarter in the Mid-West and South-East and 24% in the West/North West. This regional variation supports the idea that at least some of the e-Working demand and take-up by employers is driven by the greater extent of congestion in larger urban centres.

What will be ‘The New Normal’?

So, if there is a correlation between economic growth, employment levels and the numbers working from home, what might happen once we emerge from the Covid crisis?

It is very likely that the ‘enforced’ working from home experience will have created an appetite and interest to continue the practice, by both employers and employees. The extent of this will depend on how suitable the work and role is and how effective the supports for employees working remotely has been. Some employers may find that they are pleasantly surprised with how its worked and will be receptive to continuing the practice, others may find the opposite. It is worth noting that the draft document for Government between Fiánna Fail and Fine Gael propose that public sector employees move to 20% home and remote working in 2021.

It is also likely that we will have a higher rate of unemployment than before the Covid pandemic and as with the aftermath of the financial crisis, with lower employment levels, congestion levels on public transport and road networks may drop considerably. However, the current circumstances are unprecedented and it is possible that any correlation with working from home and high unemployment will not apply while the various restrictions remain in force.

There are some differences in the context now and what prevailed in the late 1990s and early 2000s, which will likely impact on ‘the new normal’.

  • Technology is even more advanced with videoconferencing easily available and this can be useful for employers and employees in maintaining and promoting the remote working relationship.
  • Before the pandemic, working from home has become a feature of some company’s business models, illustrating that companies can operate very successfully with all staff working remotely (e.g Shopify, Wayfair)
  • The Covid pandemic forced a huge section of the workforce to engage in working from home, and in effect to trial it, albeit under rushed circumstances. While unintended, this provides a mechanism for much of the labour market to experiment working in a new way.

The most recent data[1], suggests that up to one fifth of the workforce work from home on at least a 1 day a week basis. This could be considered ‘the normal rate’ up to the occurrence of the Covid pandemic and under conditions of strong economic growth and close to full employment.

The LFS to be published in August will have additional data on the impacts of the pandemic including figures measuring the current extent of working from home.

However, as the restrictions are slowly lifted the numbers working from home will decline from their current peak and over the next few months and beyond the level of ‘the new normal’ will begin to emerge.

The levels of working from home may well be influenced by the extent to which the economy can recover relatively quickly or whether we enter a longer recessionary period. Either way ‘the new normal’ may not become clear for another year or so.

In the meantime, the WDC will continue to monitor trends and highlight issues as they emerge. As part of this work the WDC is collaborating with NUIG to gather the experiences of those working from home at this time and the findings will be discussed in a future post.

 

Deirdre Frost

23 April 2020

 

The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of the WDC.

[1] CSO Pilot September 2018

United Nations AI for Good Conference Announced for Sligo

Trail blazers from the world of Artificial Intelligence alongside international and national policy makers will gather in Sligo for The ‘AIforGood Global Visions’ conference from 25th-27th March. The event which is fully supported and endorsed by the United Nations agency for Information and Communications (ITU), will be the first of this kind to be held outside Geneva.

Keynote speakers include Neil Sahota, Global Lead for IBM Watson, Digital Inclusion advocate Joanne O ‘Riordan, Alessandra Sala from Nokia Bell Labs and Ethical AI leading expert Dr. Kevin Danaher. The conference has been organised by US firm, Live Tiles who have their EMEA headquarters in Sligo and is supported by The Western Development Commission, The Atlantic Economic Corridor, IDA Ireland, IT Sligo, Sligo County Council and Tech Northwest.

CEO of The Western Development Commission Tomás Ó Síocháin welcomed the announcement and said “improvements in technology and developments in artificial intelligence [AI] will bring significant change to the way we live. Welcoming the AI for Good conference to Ireland’s west coast is timely and the conference will explore the ways in which new technologies can improve quality of life for millions around the globe.“

The conference aims to ensure trusted, safe and inclusive development of AI technologies and equitable access to their benefits. Additionally, a priority goal of the Irish event will be to provide recommendations and actions that feed into and influence policy making at the Global Summit to be held in Geneva in May 2020. Attendees can also look forward to AI-inspired performances from the Yeats Society of Ireland and AI-related activities bringing together surfing and sea forecasting, oyster farming and Ocean health, hill walking and cultural heritage activities.

“AIforGood Global Visions will connect innovators in artificial intelligence with problem owners to solve national and global challenges” says Karl Redenbach, CEO of LiveTiles who are partnering with the UN’s ITU agency to launch the event in Ireland. “AI represents not just the biggest economic opportunity that the world has witnessed but an unequalled opportunity to leverage AI technologies for good and to put human-centric policies and design at the forefront of how we interact with technology.”

The 2020 summit is kindly supported by and is run in conjunction with the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) the UN agency for information and communication technologies (ICT).

A Limited number of early bird tickets for this event are now on sale, alongside discounted accommodation prices from the trusted partner hotels. See www.aiforgoodsligo.ie for more details.

For further information or to arrange interviews, please contact 

Allan Mulrooney, Head of Communications

allanmulrooney@wdc.ie or +353 87 334 3713