On Monday 29 March, the Government published Our Rural Future, the blueprint for a post-COVID-19 recovery and development of rural Ireland over the next five years.

Something that has really come to the forefront of recent national conversation is the need for Government support in creating more and better jobs throughout rural regions. This in turn will allow individuals to have a greater range of employment opportunities while continuing to live and work in their native rural area.

Remote working – whether from home or co-working facilities – will provide greater opportunity for part time farming (for example), where the employee no longer has to commute a long distance to an urban workplace, giving them more free time in the morning and evening time.

The policy’s overall ambition is to have more people living and working in rural Ireland, with good earnings and career progression opportunities, regardless of where their employer is headquartered.

The move to remote working will allow people to work from their own local communities, revitalise our town centres, reduce commuting times, lower transport emissions and most importantly – improve the quality of life of our people

Something that really jumps out of the document is the increasing demand on employers to be more adaptable and innovative, in allowing their employees to work remotely.

In response to this prospect, the Minister for Rural and Community Development, Heather Humphreys said: “For decades we have seen global trends where young people leave their local communities to live and work in larger cities. As we emerge from COVID-19, we will never have a better opportunity to reverse that long-standing trend.

“The move to remote working will allow people to work from their own local communities, revitalise our town centres, reduce commuting times, lower transport emissions and most importantly – improve the quality of life of our people.”

In line with this proposed worker-led decentralisation of the public and private sectors, an increasing number of digital and enterprise hubs are being established in rural locations throughout the country. It is estimated that up to 400 remote working hubs will form part of an integrated national network throughout the country in the coming years.

The transition to remote working in properly purposed facilities will benefit employers too

The roll out of the policy would help retain high-skilled workers in rural communities, as well as attracting business into the rural economy, in turn revitalising rural regions.

The transition to remote working in properly purposed facilities will benefit employers too – regardless of where they are located – as they will have access to a wider pool of highly-qualified candidates.

The national enterprise development agencies, such as Industrial Development Authority (IDA) Ireland, Enterprise Ireland and Údarás na Gaeltachta, will work to promote awareness and use of the remote working hubs as they become available across the country.

NACEC: supporting employment and careers in rural areas

Speaking to Irish Country Living, Siobhán Finn the national hub network manager of the National Association of Community Enterprise Centres (NACEC) gives her views on the challenges and opportunities that come with Our Rural Future.

Siobhán Finn, the national hub network manager of NACEC.

Siobhán grew up on a dairy farm in north Cork and is passionate about the wellbeing of rural Irish people and communities. She is in strong support of a future of remote work for employees and communities.

“What COVID-19 has done is present us with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to revitalise our rural towns and villages. This pandemic has definitely opened the eyes of many employers and has focused the national Government, to drive that rural agenda forward.

“It is very important that we now give people a choice, and let them know that they do not have to leave their local rural community for employment anymore.

“I think overall, since COVID-19, there has been a massive re-education and realisation worldwide, that you don’t have to be sitting at a desk under the eye of the employer, to do a really good day’s work.

“And in fact, a lot of recent surveys have shown that our productivity when working from home is far higher. That is not to say that we were unproductive before, but I for example, have had a 2.5-hour commute removed from my work day. That is massive change for your energy levels and work-life balance.

“Employers have become more understanding of the possibilities that exist for remote working. So now it is about driving this plan from the ground up, with support from the top down.

“The development of regional work hubs will be a key factor in revitalising our rural towns and villages. It will open up opportunity for flexible and remote learning and education also.

“It is really important for people to understand that what we are doing right now is not remote working. We are working from home, through a pandemic; this is very different to the hybrid model of work being proposed.

“Right now we are all really missing the human interaction of sitting around the table, brainstorming with others. We need human interaction and stimulation yes, but you can find that balance in a regional work hub, without having to drive to the city.

“My understanding of the National Broadband Plan is that it has already started. But the Government do a lot of talking about it. Now, they need to focus on it in a razor sharp way and absolutely drive it forward – because our plan for rural work hubs will not be deliverable if there is not proper broadband in place.

“The hundreds of thousands of employees that the Government are talking about relocating around the country need proper infrastructure. And now the Government need to deliver on their policy’s 150 commitments to rural development.

“Core to this strategy’s success is the collaboration of people along with Government investment. This is a very exciting prospect.

“I can see this move completely revitalising our communities – bringing back the post offices, the local butchers, hardware shops and more. The things all disappeared to the capitals in the 1980s, because there was no demand for them. Now, we can bring all of that back and return to our rural roots.

“This is a good news story from COVID-19 and I think we need to hold on to it. There is an online hashtag, #buildbackbetter, which I think we need to remember when we are coming out the other side of this pandemic: we have to build back, but we also have to build back better!”

Find out more about NACEC at www.enterprisecentres.ie

Did you know about our Right to Disconnect?

The right to disconnect which came into immediate effect on 1 April 2021, gives employees the right to switch off from work outside of normal working hours, including the right to not respond immediately to emails, telephone calls or other messages. The code which is more important than ever while working remotely has three main aspects:

  • The right of an employee to not have to routinely perform work outside their normal working hours.
  • The right not to be penalised for refusing to attend to work matters outside of normal working hours.
  • The duty to respect another person’s right to disconnect.
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