Is e-Working on the Increase?

There has been much talk recently of an increase in e-working but does the evidence support the idea that it is more prevalent?

Technology development and in particular high speed broadband enables much office based work to be conducted remotely or away from the office. This, coupled with increased journey times to work has led to a greater demand for the opportunity for staff to work remote from the office and closer to home on a one or 2 days a week basis. Companies are reportedly increasing the availability of e-working in part as a means to retain key personnel[1].

The growth in employment opportunities in the shared or gig economy is another factor driving broadband demand to support employment growth and there is evidence that work and income generation in this sector is an important feature in rural areas such as the Western Region, see here.

Regional employers also value the ability to provide remote working opportunities, for example, Shopify recently announced the addition of 100 remote working jobs in the west of Ireland due to the presence of high-speed broadband, while Pramerica, a US multinational in Letterkenny, employ at least 20 e-workers who work from a well-established hub in Gweedore, Co. Donegal. Wayfair has also recently announced their intention to add over 200 jobs to their “Virtual” workforce in the west of Ireland (https://www.idaireland.com/newsroom/wayfair).

Benefits from e-working

Analysis for the Department of Communications measured benefits arising from delivery of high speed broadband planned under the forthcoming National Broadband Plan[2];

  • found that each house could yield a benefit of €89.00 per household per annum resulting from journey time and fuel cost savings from increased e-Working as a consequence of the availability of high speed broadband. This does not include other benefits such as carbon emissions savings etc.
  • Increased productivity is also forecast, generated from improved productivity of white collar workers living in rural areas but commuting to work in urban areas. This shows the benefit to the enterprise expressed as an increase in GVA per employee of 1.53% (€1,342) per worker, working from home or remote working on a 1 day per week basis. This does not capture benefits such as increased staff retention and more satisfied employees[3].

Demand for e-working/co-working spaces/ Hubs

The success of initiatives variously called e-working spaces/ co-working spaces/ hubs also suggests e-working is on the increase. However the various terms are used to describe a variety of uses, only some of which may actually support the individual e-worker.

There are working spaces in the enterprise space some of which are funded by the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation. Hubs variously classed as innovation, enterprise or community hubs, many are focussed on start ups and incubation spaces rather than providing e-working spaces for individual employees.

In the Western Region, the success of Digital hubs in County Clare, https://www.digiclare.ie/  where there are spaces in three sites across the county, Kilrush, Miltown Malbay and Feakle suggest an increased demand for e-working spaces.  Many of these types of hubs are providing high speed telecommunications access to communities that do not yet have access and are (still) awaiting the rollout of the National Broadband Plan. Initiatives such as Grow Remote suggest e-working  is an increasing phenomenon.

 The evidence on e-Working

However as the WDC pointed out in its e-working policy briefing, the evidence on e-Working in Ireland is limited and complicated by different definitions. The most comprehensive data is collected in the Census and the same question has been asked on previous Censuses. The question asked is ‘how you usually travel to work?’ with one of the answers being ‘work mainly at or from home’.

According to the Census, nationally, in 2011, 4.7% (83,326) of all those at work, stated they worked mainly at or from home. By 2016 there were 94,955 persons working ‘mainly at or from home’ in April 2016, an increase of 14%. There was a 11% increase in the numbers at work over the same period, indicating an increasing prevalence of working from home.

However, the Census definition is a very broad definition in that it includes all those that are self-employed and work from home (such as childminders, home-based GPs, farmers and sole traders across all sectors) and not just e-Workers. Moreover, the Census definition only captures those employees that work from home most of the working week and excludes those who e-Work even one or two days per week, which some studies suggest is the most common pattern of e-Working.

In 2016 an IBEC survey of their membership found that 30% (110) of companies had a practice of e-Working/ home-working, on one or two days per week. At a regional level, 21% of companies in the West/North-West report a practice of e-Working one or two days per week, lower than the national average. The likelihood of e-Working among companies increases with company size so that 40% of companies with 500+ employees cite a practice of e-Working nationally. The trend is for continued growth in the practice with 31% of companies’ surveyed planning to increase their use of e-Working, with a forecast that 60% of office based workers will work remotely regularly by 2020, see here.

Examining e-Working in rural Ireland, a report commissioned by Vodafone, found that nearly one in four broadband users in rural Ireland use the internet at home in relation to their work (about 430,000 people) and one third have remote access to their company network for work purposes. These e-Workers report that e-Working means they can avoid commuting to work, typically about two days a week. An estimated 150,000 workers avoid commuting some or all of the time because they can connect to work remotely.

However, the same report found that a quarter of those who work from home – or nearly 100,000 adults – say their current broadband service is not sufficient to meet their requirements for e-Working, and that it limits the work-related activities they can do from home. This share rises to nearly half of those living in detached houses in the countryside. 30% report that slow and unreliable speeds currently prevent them and/or family members from working from home.

Conclusions

It is clear therefore that the incidence of e-Working is greater than the measure of ‘those working mainly at or from home’, as captured by the Census. It is also likely that the trend is generally upward.

It is also clear that the rollout of the National Broadband Plan remains a vital infrastructure investment needed to support employment growth and retention, apart from the various and widespread social benefits it can yield.

Better data is needed to capture the actual extent of e-Working. The CSO should consider revising the Census question as it currently only captures those ‘who work mainly at or from home’. Data should measure the incidence of e-Working on a one day, two days and more frequent basis. This will also provide a useful baseline for measuring trends.

[1] https://www.wdc.ie/wp-content/uploads/WDC_Policy-Briefing-no-7.pdf, https://www.wdc.ie/wp-content/uploads/WDC-Insights-Home-Based-Working-July-2017.pdf  IBEC HR Update Survey 2016, Issue 2.

[2] Indecon International Economic Consultants, July 2012. Economic / Socio-Economic Analysis of Options for

Rollout of Next Generation Broadband. http://www.dccae.gov.ie/communications/SiteCollectionDocuments/Broadband/National%20Broadband%20Plan.pdf

[3] See footnote 3. There is also an increase in productivity at the enterprise level – measured at 0.67% increase in GVA per small non-farm enterprise in the Intervention Area. This is as a result of productivity gains through improved businesses processes, online sales and owner managers having the flexibility of ‘always-on’ connectivity.