Analysis: working from home means the end of the commute, better work/life balance and more flexibility in where and how you work.

By Maébh Coleman, Marian Jennings and Rowena HenniganTU Dublin

Dr Who is a very famous Time Lord who has the ability to be in several places in the galaxy at once. This reminds us all of our busy working and home lives as we wish for more time and the ability to be in several places at once. An increasing number of employees are now taking charge of their commute time and working hours and, with the support of policies from their employers, can work from home. They are able to be in two places at once, home and work, almost like a Time Lord! 

You will generally be in one of two camps on the subject of remote working: those who think working-from-home is either too isolating or is a secret code for skiving off, or, those who believe in work flexibility as an active advocate. Let's call the first group the Presentatives because their commitment to work is demonstrated by being present and visible in the office. Even when there is a red-weather warning from Met Éireann, they will battle traffic to be in for 9am and leave at 5.30pm (or later if the pressure to demonstrate hard work persists until after dinner).

Then there are the Remoters. They use the flexibility of not battling rush hour traffic to use that extra two hours to walk the dog, prepare home-cooked food, bring a relative to an appointment, pick up kids, exercise, and more.  Many of these Remoters are knowledge workers and research shows that they consider themselves more productive working from home. Irish jobs website Indeed reported that searches for keywords related to flexible work, including remote and home working, have risen by 196% in the past two years, validation of this rising interest from jobseekers in flexible work arrangements.

From RTÉ Radio 1's The Business, recruitment firm Abodoo co-founder Vanessa Tierney and occupational psychologist John Deeley on the positives and negatives for employers and employees of remote working 

While the Remoters require flexibility and may not have a regular 9-to-5 work pattern, the Presentatives view all time away from the office as their own. Both search for something that is known as time sovereignty, which is intimately linked to your rights as a worker and whether you think of your work as a fixed place. 

Time sovereignty is the ability to direct your own working hours or daily routine. Yes, the work needs to get done, but this need not necessarily happen during set hours in a particular space for different workers. Most of us have heard the story about the company that turns off its email servers at 5pm, while employees of many high-tech companies have a reputation for being "always on". Having the right to switch off from work has become an issue through courts and new laws in Germany, Finland and Canada, but it's also controversial, owing to increasing demands from employees for time sovereignty.

Presentatives vs Remoters

Presentatives might think Remoters can’t not effective because they’re not around or highly visible, but Remoters can sometimes be alienated by the pressure to be present. Many Remoters have arrived at their status by default or by chance. Others have achieved it with conscientious planning and their employers' support, therefore they have best-practice and lessons learned to share.

Both groups may be surprised by some facts about remote working in Ireland today. While there are approximately 250,000 remotely based workers in Ireland and almost 80% of global companies have implemented some kind of remote working for their staff on a global scale, the numbers in Ireland are lagging behind.

Successful Remoters have a "start-work" and "end-work" routine that helps them create distance between their home office and well, their home!

Remote working has all sorts of positive impacts and valid solutions for increasing commute times, Dublin-centric jobs growth and the housing crisis. Remote work is environmentally friendly, supports socio-economic spread, has broader positive social impacts and means you don’t have to sell an internal organ online to buy a home in the capital. There are some very robust strategies in place that companies can use to make sure both the organisation and the employee get the best of both worlds. 

But there's also a downside. Remoters are more likely to face feelings of loneliness and isolation and potentially even burnout as a result of disconnection or paying for their flexibility with a tendency to overwork. You might consider this a fair trade as the Remoters want to be away from the office, but wel really need the benefits that a team structure can provide, like the social interaction and the added participation in work-based events. Remote-friendly organisations make an effort to include Remoters so that the very flexibility that attracted them to their role doesn’t drive them away. 

From RTÉ Radio 1's Morning Ireland, Sharon McGuinness from the Health and Safety Authority on the impact of remote working on health and safety

Both camps have a lot to learn from one another. For example, most successful Remoters have a "start-work" and "end-work" routine that helps them create distance between their home office and well, their home! Presentatives have a great routine already as the trip to and from work that provides distance and ritual. Organisations can help provide balance and appreciation between the two communities by working toward integrating remote and on-site teamwork, demystifying what people really need and planning for a successful blend of practice and policy in the best way possible for all. 

With the rapid and increasing demand for remote work, organisations will need to develop robust policies that enable both on-site or off-site employees and their productivity to thrive. Researchers and government agencies are coming together to help organisations do exactly that. There is now a dedicated national initiative to support remote working called Grow Remote and TU Dublin School of Management has also recently implemented the first blended learning module on remote working for future HR managers.

Remote working is something to consider if your New Years’ resolutions for 2020 include a shorter commute, better work/life balance or more flexibility in where and how you work. You may not need to change as much as you think to become like Dr Who.

Maébh Coleman is a lecturer and teaching fellow at the School of Business at TU DublinMarian Jennings is a law lecturer at the School of Business at TU DublinRowena Hennigan is a lecturer on various marketing modules at TU Dublin

The views expressed here are those of the author and do not represent or reflect the views of RTÉ