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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.

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.

 

Public Consultation on Transport and Sustainable Mobility Policy

Introduction

The Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport has opened a public consultation to review Ireland’s sustainable mobility (active travel and public transport) policy. Sustainable Mobility refers to active travel, such as walking and cycling and public transport (e.g. bus, rail, tram). This review is part of a commitment in the Programme for Government to review public transport policy “to ensure services are sustainable into the future and are meeting the needs of a modern economy”.

This public consultation is an opportunity to give stakeholders, interested parties and the public the opportunity to contribute to the development of a Sustainable Mobility Policy. The public consultation will commence on 14th November 2019 and conclude on 24th January 2020, see here for details.

Transport accounts for 20% of Ireland’s greenhouse gases[1]. The population is forecast to grow by around 1 million people by 2040 with over 600,000 extra jobs forecast (Project Ireland 2040). Almost €7 billion of taxpayer funds have been spent on sustainable mobility services and infrastructure since 2009. How we travel is important and the plans we make for future travel will have significant impacts in the context of funding, climate change and quality of life.

The Department of Transport have published a range of background papers examining various different aspects of sustainable mobility and setting out questions designed to help develop the new policy framework, see here for links to background papers.

Background Papers

Paper 1 focuses on transport accessibility and asks what are the priorities to improve public transport accessibility for people with disabilities, elderly or those with mobility difficulties.

As Ireland is an ageing society we need to consider mobility challenges more.

The paper on Active Travel (Paper 2) examines issues in relation to promoting more active travel such as walking and cycling.

Paper 3 examines the Climate Change Challenge and asks which sustainable mobility emissions mitigation measures, that are not currently employed should be considered? It also asks how mitigation measures should be prioritised, for example on the basis of least cost, carbon, abatement potential, disruptive effects, co-benefit potential etc.?

Paper 4 examines congestion and asks what are the opportunities and challenges around reducing traffic congestion in our cities and other urban areas? A recent report by the Department of Transport see here. estimated the annual value of time lost to road users due to aggravated congestion in the Greater Dublin Area (GDA), at €358 million in 2012 and is forecasted to rise to €2.08 billion per year in 2033. These estimated costs do not include other costs, for example, increased fuel consumption and other vehicle operating costs, or increases in vehicle emissions or the impacts of congestion on journey quality.

Additional demand management measures should be considered for example congestion charging/road pricing.

The WDC also believes that demand management measures such as an increase in e-working/remote working should be supported, see the discussion in a recent blog post here. Increased e-working can also help significantly reduce emissions. The Government have just published the Remote Work in Ireland report which supports greater flexible working practice and can be read here.

Paper 5 examines Greener Buses and asks what challenges and issues need to be considered in relation to transitioning alternative fuel options for the urban bus fleet?

Paper 8 focus on public transport in Rural Ireland which of particular concern to the WDC. The Western Region is a very rural region: 80% of the population live in areas outside of towns of 10,000, compared to 49.8% for the State. Lower population densities may mean that a different model of public transport provision should apply compared to that in cities.

There are also papers examining Regulation (Paper 8), Funding (Paper 9) and a Review of actions on the Smarter Travel Policy.

The Department are inviting comment on any and all these issues and this is an opportunity to influence the preparation of Transport policy over the next decade at least. The public consultation will conclude on 24th January 2020 and all the detail is available here.

 

 

Deirdre Frost

[1] Climate Action Plan 2019