E-work or electronic working, also referred to as teleworking, are terms used to describe work which uses communications technology to work remotely from the office location.
With the widespread rollout of broadband services it might be expected that e-working is becoming more common. Is e-work more prevalent in urban or rural areas? To what extent does weaker broadband access in more rural locations impact on the rate of e-working? What are the other factors driving e-work?
What does the data say?
The evidence on e-working in Ireland is limited and complicated by different definitions.
Time series data is available from the Census and the most recent data available is from 2011. The 2011 Census asks whether one ‘works mainly at or from home’. Trend data shows that the level and share of those working mainly at or from home is in decline, as the chart below shows.
Chart 1. Population at work, population working mainly at or from home and share of working population working mainly at or from home
Source: CSO Census of Population: Statbank Interactive tables
In 1986 17.2% of workers were reported as working at or mainly from home and this had declined to 4.7% in 2011. However this includes those engaged in agricultural employment and the decline in numbers engaged in this sector would largely explain the overall decline.
In 2002, the CSO carried out a special survey on Teleworking, which examined the profile of teleworkers in Ireland across a range of characteristics. It distinguished between (1) those who work from home and (2) those who work from home and use a computer and (3) those who work from home and need a computer with a telecommunications link, this latter group are defined as teleworkers. This survey found that nationally 2.3% of those in employment were classed as teleworkers. It should be noted that these data exclude workers in the Agriculture, forestry and fishing sector.
More recently a survey conducted by UPC (3.41 MB) in 2014 found that 47% of Irish employees use the internet at home in relation to work, up from 45% in 2012.
There are regional differences recorded, for example in the CSO 2002 survey the Mid-East region recording the highest rate at 2.9%. This is followed by Dublin with 2.7% of those in employment classed as teleworkers. Commuting to Dublin is likely to be an important driver explaining the higher rate in the Mid-East. The lowest rate of teleworking was recorded in the Mid-West with a rate of 1.5% of all in employment classified as teleworking. The West region, comprising largely rural counties of Mayo, Roscommon and Galway, recorded a rate of 2.2% teleworkers as a percentage of those in employment, higher than might be expected if access to quality broadband was a key driver.
More questions than answers
The difference in e-working levels reported – from 2.3% in the CSO 2002 survey through to 47% employees from the UPC 2014 survey raise further questions. Definitional differences no doubt explain some of the difference, though it is also likely that excluding Agriculture, the trend is may be upward, as evidenced by the UPC findings.
The 2016 Census figures should be available next year and it will be interesting to identify trends, especially since the return to employment growth. In the meantime further analysis of Census 2011 data is planned, examining occupational, sectoral and regional differences.
Other aspects to be examined in forthcoming work by the WDC include positive benefits that can accrue from more e-working such as carbon savings through lower transport emissions, more family friendly working and greater opportunities for employment creation and retention in more rural locations.