Fianna Fáil councillor John Sheridan hopes that employers are using the Covid-19 pandemic to reassess how they and their employees do their jobs, as thousands of workers nationwide continue to work from home in light of non-essential businesses temporarily closing their doors and government implemented restrictions on movement during the crisis.
The widespread implementation of social and physical distancing as the spread of coronavirus reached Ireland led to many companies telling staff to work remotely, a move which was followed by restrictions limited non-essential travel and forcing non-essential businesses to close. It has meant that workers all over Ireland are swapping their open-plan offices for open-plan living and dining areas, their co-workers for spouses, parents and children.
Communication tools such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams and Slack are being widely adopted by users who are having to adapt to life without a work commute. And Cllr Sheridan, an advocate of remote working in the past, believes the current situation for many presents an opportunity for companies to re-examine their approach to work life.
“I’ve been campaigning on the feasibility and benefits of working from home as an alternative to commuting for some time now,” he said. “The reality is the restrictions over Coronavirus have almost accidentally forced many organisations to consider working from home for their employees. What I have been advocating is a hybrid of working from home some days and continuing to go to an office setting other days.
“This would still give employees the human connection and social side of going to an office, but so much evidence suggests that employees actually get more work done on days working from home. They’re also more rested and get to spend more time with family. Not to mention the mental health and environmental benefits of not facing a long commute of two hours plus a day.”
The Dromiskin-based councillor says, as a board member of the Louth Meath Education & Training Board, he often has to attend procedural meetings that last a short amount of time, adding unnecessary journeys and times to working days for him and board members situated across the two counties. “Since the outbreak of coronavirus, I’ve now had two ETB meetings conducted remotely via Microsoft Teams. This saves time, saves taxpayers money but on balance is also a logical thing to do where face to face meetings are not really needed,” he said.
Given how much the work landscape appears to have changed in the space of just three short weeks, it looks increasingly likely that office work may never be the same again. Cllr Sheridan, who is approaching the one year anniversary of his election to Louth County Council, believes a hybrid model of splitting time between work and home is the future.
“There are lot of the concerns around the technology of working from home, and the supervision and how this could work practically. What I have been advocating is a hybrid of working from home some days and continuing to go to an office setting other days,” he said.
“This would still give employees the human connection and social side of going to an office, but so much evidence suggests that employees actually get more work done on days working from home. They’re also more rested and get to spend more time with family. Not to mention the mental health and environmental benefits of not facing a long commute of two hours plus a day.’”
“Amidst the crisis of Coronavirus, we have seen that not all workers need to be on the M1 daily commuter belt. The conveyor belt of commuting has now been highlighted and seriously questioned. A hope I have is that arising out of this very challenging time many organisations will make the change and embrace allowing local employees to work from home for some days per week”.”
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Last October, Cllr Sheridan tabled a motion which passed at Louth County Council, in which he prompted the local authority to seek funding from central Government to provide more co-working spaces in the county. Local Enterprise Office Louth are continuing to consult with Ardee Business Park over plans to reintroduce remote working spaces in the town.
The Ardee Community Development Company, owners of Ardee Business Park, are currently investigating the viability of the provision of remote working facilities, believing there is a gap in that particular market in Ardee. The ACDC are currently working alongside MBS students from Dundalk Institute of Technology in conducting research into the subject.
In recent times, both Creative Spark in Dundalk and the Mill Enterprise Hub in Drogheda have reconfigured their layouts to increase the amount of space set aside for co-working. An eHub also opened in Louth Village late last year. The councillor wants the new County Development Plan to include “very specific measures about working from home and making Louth a county that promotes and encourages it for the benefit of our people.”
Cllr Sheridan believes the Covid-19 crisis has been a wake-up call for the public in many senses, prompting questions about fundamental aspects of daily life.
“The current crisis is of course a huge challenge for us all, including employers and those who are concerned for their own health and wellbeing of loved ones. We have also seen the tragedy of deaths, so I am very conscious to acknowledge the seriousness and worry of coronavirus that we are all facing as a nation.”
“So many people have been saying that Coronavirus has been a wake up call for so many of us. Through an extraordinary challenge we have been questioned about many fundamental daily things we take for granted. For many spending time with family, getting around to those DIY house jobs, garden work, and the confines of travel from our homes has caused us to pause and reassess how we live our lives. From an infection control point of view, post Coronavirus we will have a new cough and sneeze etiquette as well as conscientiously washing out hands more.”