The Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment has called on employers and workers to make remote and home working a much bigger part of working life after the Covid-19 pandemic.
Leo Varadkar launched a new campaign - #MakingRemoteWork - which aims to raise awareness of the advice and information available from Government to help workers and employers facilitate more remote and blended working.
Mr Varadkar said the Covid-19 pandemic has required many office-based workers to work from home. "We know now that it can be done," he stated.
He said that many workers want to return to the office, but many others want to continue to work from home or a remote hub local to where they live. Most want a blend, he added.
"After the pandemic, it should be about choice, so long as the work gets done and business and service needs are met. That's the principle I want to apply," the Tánaiste said.
"We need to make sure we do not drift back to the office and the old normal just because it's safe to do so. We need to seize this opportunity to create a new normal, a better normal," he added.
He said he was asking employers to consider how they can make remote working a more permanent feature of life after the pandemic.
"Whether it means keeping home working and remote working as an option, or a blended model of home and the office, or working from the office and remote working hubs, now is the time for employers to speak to staff about works best for them and the company as a whole," he added.
The Tánaiste said the Government has committed to bringing in new laws giving the right to request remote work and earlier this year it put in place a new Code of Practice on the Right to Disconnect.
"We are doing all we can to install high-speed broadband in all parts of Ireland as part of the National Broadband Plan. We are reviewing the treatment of remote working for tax and expenses in advance of the next Budget," he said.
He added that the Government will lead by example by making home and remote working the norm for 20% of public sector employment.
Mr Varadkar said it is most likely that staff will return to the office in September as the vast majority, if not all adults, will be vaccinated by then and it will be much safer to do so.
Speaking on RTÉ's News at One, the Tánaiste said it would be great if this could happen in August but the effect of the Delta variant in England means "that looks a little bit less likely now than perhaps it did a few weeks ago."
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Mr Varadkar said when the country is at Level 2 Restrictions, people can go back to the workplace for training, education and induction, while Level 1 is a staggered return to work.
He reminded people that the current advice is to work from home, if at all possible and only to return if it is absolutely necessary.
The Tánaiste said he expects the legislation giving people the right to request remote working will be published at the end of the year and hopefully enacted then too.
He encouraged employers and employees to start a conversation about what the return to the workplace looks like and the Government wants this to be the "new normal" and not have people drift back to the office in the way they did in the past.
He said most people want a blended work arrangement, where they work from home some days and go into the office on the other days.
Mr Varadkar said employers will retain the right to insist that employees have to come into the office if it is safe from a public health perspective and necessary for the business to operate,.
But he added that all employees will be given a legal right to request to request remote working and if an employer refuses this request, they have to have a genuine reason or it can be challenged in the WRC.
ICTU says time to plan for long-term remote work in workplaces
Meanwhile, the Irish Congress of Trade Unions General secretary said it took a pandemic to fully awaken Ireland to the potential for remote working.
"While the 15-month working from home 'experiment' has been fraught for some workers, for the vast majority it has been a positive experience and there is a huge appetite for remote and blended working arrangements when the Covid-19 restrictions end," Patricia King said.
She said that when implemented in the right way, working from home or remotely from another location close to home, such as a digital hub, offers many advantages for workers and their families, businesses, communities and the environment.
That is why ICTU was first to call for a legal framework for dealing with requests to work remote, in line with other countries, she added.