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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.

Even Nuttier about NUTS!

Last July I published a blog post Nuts about NUTS! where I discussed the introduction of the new regional classification for statistics in Ireland.  Briefly, a new regional classification for collecting statistics in Ireland was approved by the EU in 2016, following the Local Government Act 2014 and the establishment of three new Regional Assemblies.  The CSO first used this new regional classification in the Labour Force Survey for Quarter 1 2018.  It has since used the new regional classification in any data release which includes regional data.

The new structure involves three NUTS2 level regions (replacing the two previous NUTS2 regions (Southern & Eastern and Border, Midland & West)) and eight (revised) NUTS3 level regions as follows:

  • NUTS2 Northern & Western: Composed of NUTS3 West (Galway, Mayo, Roscommon) and NUTS3 Border (Donegal, Sligo, Leitrim, Cavan, Monaghan).
  • NUTS2 Southern: Composed of NUTS3 Mid-West (Clare, Limerick, Tipperary), NUTS3 South East (Wexford, Waterford, Carlow, Kilkenny) and NUTS3 South West (Cork, Kerry).
  • NUTS2 Eastern & Midland: Composed of NUTS3 Dublin, NUTS3 Mid-East (Wicklow, Kildare, Meath, Louth) and NUTS3 Midlands (Offaly, Laois, Westmeath, Longford).

The changes at NUTS3 level are the transfer of South Tipperary from the South-East NUTS3 region into the Mid-West NUTS3 region (following the amalgamation of North and South Tipperary Councils) and the movement of Louth from the Border NUTS3 region to the Mid-East NUTS3 region.  Therefore four out of the eight NUTS3 regions changed and four (West, South West, Dublin and Midlands) remained the same.  The CSO published an Information Note on the revisions.

Transition Period

Like the UK leaving the EU, we are currently in something of a ‘transition period’ when it comes to regional statistics in Ireland, and while nowhere near as traumatic, it is causing a few problems and some confusion, namely:

Which NUTS3 regions? It is easy to tell the ‘new’ classification when it includes the NUTS2 regions.  If you see Northern & Western, Southern and Eastern & Midland you know it is the ‘new’ one.

However as the names of the NUTS3 regions remained unchanged, when you just see a list of the NUTS3 regions, it is not clear if the ‘old’ or ‘new’ classification is being used. A good example of how this can be confusing was the recent Census of Industrial Production 2016.  In this release data was provided for five NUTS3 regions (Border, Dublin, Mid-East, Midland and West) as the data for the South West, South East and Mid-East were suppressed for confidentiality reasons. No data was therefore given in the release publication for the NUTS2 regions. Reading the release it was not clear which regional classification was used and it was not included in the Background Notes to the release.  Only by going into Statbank to download the data, and seeing the NUTS2 regions of Northern & Western etc. listed was it clear that the ‘new’ classification was used.

When using the CSO’s Statbank system, a ‘Note’ will usually appear in a dialog box at the top of the page (see below), and also at the bottom of the spreadsheet you download indicating if the new regional classification is used.  If you are looking at a published CSO ‘Release’ such as the Adult Education Survey 2017, then the regional classification is usually included in the ‘Background Notes’.

Fig. 1: Screengrab from CSO Statbank

Different CSO data sets: As mentioned above, any new data (which includes a regional breakdown) issued by the CSO since mid-2018 uses the new regional classification.  However data sets published prior to that use the older classification.  So for example the most recent Labour Force Survey data, which measures employment and unemployment, uses the new regional structure but the County Incomes and Regional GDP 2015 data issued last February uses the older classification.  Therefore a report or analysis drawing on a number of different CSO data sets may find that the regional classifications are not necessarily comparable.

Different data sources: While the CSO has adopted the ‘new’ regional classifications for all releases, this may not be true of all data providers.  Earlier this year the IDA issued its end of year results for 2018.  The results included data for the number of jobs in IDA-backed companies by region and the annual change.  The release did not specify which regional classification was used, so it was unclear if their ‘Border’ was the ‘old’ region including Louth or the ‘new’ region without Louth.

I got in touch with IDA and they confirmed they were continuing to use the ‘old’ regional structure as it aligned with their regional office structure, the regional targets set in their Strategy and current EU State Aid regulations.  Their intention is to switch to the new structures from 2020.

While this is very understandable, it does raise the possibility for some confusion and misunderstanding.  For example someone may compare total employment in the Border region in 2018 (derived from the LFS and using the ‘new’ regions) with employment in IDA companies (derived from IDA results and using the ‘old’ regions) without realising the two ‘Borders’ are not the same region.  This clearly illustrates the need for all data providers and users to state which regional classification is being used.

Time series: When releasing new regional data with the ‘new’ classifications, the CSO are (where applicable) issuing ‘backdated’ results for the ‘new’ regions to 2012, so for example in the CSO’s Statbank if you go to the Labour Force Survey, you can download data for the ‘new’ regions for each quarter from Q1 2012 to Q3 2018 (latest).  Clearly, recoding and backdating massive data sets with new classifications is a time-consuming task and providing six years of time series data is very welcome.

However it does mean conducting time series analysis at regional level (except for the four ‘unchanged’ NUTS3 regions) further back than 2012 involves a break in the data at 2012.  This break in the time series can cause some confusion, an example was the Survey on Income and Living Conditions (SILC) published late last year. The CSO used the new classification for the 2017 release and backdated to 2012, with the data prior to that (2004-2011) using the old classification.  They noted this in the dialog box (see below) and download in Statbank and in the ‘Information Note’ for the release.  However, there was some commentary by people comparing the regional poverty data from 2008 and 2017 without making reference to the fact that for four of the eight regions, the data for the two periods was not directly comparable.

Fig. 2: Screengrab from CSO Statbank

Also, while the CSO have committed to providing backdated time series for the new regions to 2012, it is not clear if all data providers will do the same.  Therefore it is important to check.

Coping with the transition!

Obviously over time this issue will largely resolve itself as the revised classification becomes the norm for all data and we move further away from the ‘break’ in the time series.  In the meantime however here are a few suggestions for coping with the transition:

  1. Check: When looking at or downloading any data at regional level, check which regional classification is used. For CSO data, it is usually included in a ‘dialog’ box in Statbank and the Background/Information Note for the release or if the data includes NUTS2 data it is easy to tell. In general any CSO data issued since June 2018 uses the ‘new’ classification and anything issued before that will be the ‘old’.  Also be sure to check if (and how far) any backdating of the data has been done, for CSO it will generally be to 2012. Other data sources would need to be checked on a case by case basis.
  2. Ask: If it is not stated or clear from the release or data, contact the data provider to check. The more people who make a query, the more conscious all data providers will be to clarify which classification is used.
  3. Say: If you are a data provider and publishing data at regional level, be conscious to explicitly state which regional classification is used. If you are a data user and are publishing analysis or commentary using regional data, clarify which classification you are using. This is particularly critical if multiple data sets or sources are used with different regional classifications.

While this may all seem a little pedantic, given the current interest in the impact of Brexit on the border economy, knowing if someone discussing data for the Border is discussing a Border including Louth (with Dundalk and Drogheda) or a Border excluding Louth, could make quite a lot of difference.

Pauline White

Self-employment – What does the Census tell us?

Regular followers of the WDC Insights blog will know that self-employment is a topic we’ve examined a number of times before, drawing on Quarterly National Household Survey data.  However this can only tell us what is happening in the Western Region as a whole, not in the individual counties.

The publication of Census 2016 – Summary Results Part 2, included some initial data on labour force status including self-employment. Again, as mentioned in our previous post on Principal Economic Status, it must be remembered that the labour market definitions used in the QNHS and in the Census are different, so the figures are not directly comparable.  In the Census, self-employed are referred to as ‘Employer or own account worker’.

Share of self-employed in workforce 

In 2016, according to the Census, there were 61,107 employers or own account workers (self-employed) living in the Western Region. This was 18.3% of all working people in the region. As we’ve mentioned before, self-employment is a particularly important source of employment in the Western Region.

From Fig. 1 it is clear that there is a very strong spatial pattern to self-employment. The State average is that 15.6% of those in employment are employers/own account workers.  The cities are where this is least common. Only 10% or less of workers in Cork and Dublin cities are self-employed. Galway city is next lowest at 11.1% and shows a very different pattern to the rest of the Western Region.

Besides these three cities, it is the other Dublin local authority areas, counties in the Greater Dublin Area and the other two cities (Limerick and Waterford) which have the lowest incidence of self-employment. Indeed the 11 areas with the lowest share of self-employment are the five cities and the Mid-East.

Fig. 1: Percentage of all ‘at work’ who are employer/own account worker by county, 2016. Source: CSO, Census of Population 2016 – Summary Results Part 2, Table EZ003: http://www.cso.ie/px/pxeirestat/Statire/SelectVarVal/Define.asp?maintable=EZ003&PLanguage=0

 

At the other end of the spectrum are the most rural counties. Co Kerry has the highest share of self-employment nationally at 21.1%, followed by Leitrim (20.3%), Cavan (19.9%) and Roscommon (19.9%).  In total, five of the Western Region counties are in the top  ten in terms of share of self-employment, with Mayo (19.6%), Galway county (19.5%) and Clare (19.5%) also having almost 1 in 5 of their workers self-employed.

The strong spatial pattern of self-employment in Ireland is related to many factors but notably the sectoral and occupational pattern of employment. Agriculture is a major influence, with construction trades also having high shares of self-employed. These sectors play a more significant role in the economies of rural counties. 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 the self-employment route.  The WDC will be conducting further analysis of the sectoral and occupational data from the Census and its link with employment status, over the coming months.

Change in the share self-employed

In every county in Ireland, a smaller share of the workforce was self-employed in 2016 compared with five years earlier.  The national average declined from 16.9% of workers to 15.6%, with a decline from 19.9% to 18.3% in the Western Region (Fig. 2).

Leitrim, Galway county, Roscommon, Mayo and Clare all had shares above 20% in 2011, with only Leitrim remaining over 20% by 2016.  Among the western counties, Sligo had the smallest change in the share self-employed, declining from 18.2% down to 18%. From Fig. 2 it is also clear how strongly Galway city differs from the rest of the region.

 

Fig. 2: Percentage of all ‘at work’ who are employer/own account worker in western counties, Western Region, State and Rest of State, 2011 and 2016. Source: CSO, Census of Population 2016 – Summary Results Part 2, Table EZ003: http://www.cso.ie/px/pxeirestat/Statire/SelectVarVal/Define.asp?maintable=EZ003&PLanguage=0

 

One of the key reasons for the declining share of self-employment in the inter-censal period is the recovery in the jobs market.  During the depth of the recession 2008-2011 employment declined hugely.  Self-employment was not quite as impacted as some people who lost their job turned to self-employment, existing employers and own account workers may have been able to sustain their own jobs while having to let to employees, and there was the continuation of the trend of some jobs becoming contract/self-employment that would previously have been employees. Therefore as overall job numbers fell, the relative importance of self-employment as a share of total employment remained strong. As the jobs recovery began from 2012 and more employment opportunities emerged, the relative importance of self-employment declined.

Change in numbers self-employed

From Fig. 3 it is clear that between 2011 and 2016 the number of employees grew far more strongly than the number of self-employed. Nationally the number of employees in 2016 was 12.9% higher than in 2011, whereas the number of self-employed was only 2.3% higher.  In the Western Region the number of self-employed actually declined in this period, down -1% while the number of employees grew by 9.8%.  It is notable that for both forms of employment, the Western Region’s performance was weaker than the State average and the Rest of State.  The decline in the numbers self-employed in the region is of some concern given its continuing greater significance in the labour market, especially in more rural counties (see Fig. 1 above).

 

Fig. 3: Percentage change in number of employer/own account workers in western counties, Western Region, State and Rest of State, 2011-2016. Source: CSO, Census of Population 2016 – Summary Results Part 2, Table EZ003: http://www.cso.ie/px/pxeirestat/Statire/SelectVarVal/Define.asp?maintable=EZ003&PLanguage=0

 

Across the region, Mayo, Galway county, Roscommon and Leitrim, the four counties where self-employment continues to play the largest role in their labour market (see Fig. 1) and the most rural, experienced declines in the actual number of people self-employed between 2011-2016.  All other western counties had some growth in the numbers self-employed with the strongest growth in Galway City (2.8%), which nevertheless continues to have a low share of self-employed.

In all cases the growth in self-employment was always substantially less than the growth in the number of employees.  The main exception to this was Sligo, which had very low growth in employees at only 2.6%. Indeed Sligo had the lowest growth in employee numbers in the State in this period.

Conclusion 

While the relative importance of self-employment within the labour market declined between 2011-2016, largely due to the strengthening jobs market, it remains a very significant form of employment. In the five most rural western counties of Leitrim, Roscommon, Mayo, Galway county Clare, 1 in 5 of those at work, work for themselves.  Nationally there is a very strong spatial pattern of higher rates of self-employment in rural counties, with the lowest shares in the cities and Mid-East.

Some of the region’s most rural counties experienced a decline in the numbers self-employed between 2011 and 2016, the underlying reasons for this will only be apparent when the sectoral and occupational pattern of employment change in these counties is explored.

 

 

Pauline White