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Cllr John Sheridan / ‘Covid has broken the mould on remote working’

John Sheridan
Fianna Fáil councillor for Ardee and mid-Louth John Sheridan. Photo Credit: Kathy Gilroy-Barry.

Cathaoirleach of the Ardee Municipal District John Sheridan says he would “love” to see Louth used as an area to trial aspects of remote working, including the establishment of more eHubs.

The Fianna Fáil councillor says Louth – and in particular smaller towns and villages like Ardee, Dunleer and Tallanstown – would be appropriate venues for such digital innovation hubs. He says there should be target numbers for eHubs per population.

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In a written submission – seen by LouthNow.ie – made as part of the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation’s public consultation on remote working, Cllr Sheridan said that many workers believe that eHubs are associated only with start-up businesses or the self-employed.

‘There is a perception I believe that eHubs are interconnected with start up businesses or self employed only and not necessarily accessible to PAYE workers. Any new eHubs opening need to be widely promoted as an open opportunity for all,’ he wrote.

eHubs are centres that facilitate home and hub working as well as supporting start-ups and microenterprises in the area in which they operate. Louth County Council are currently working on a project in conjunction with The Mill Enterprise Centre to turn the old Drogheda Youth Development Building on Narrow West Street into a Digital Innovation Hub early next year.

Cllr Sheridan also believes that that questions on remote working should be included in next year’s Census and says that the provision of rural broadband under the National Broadband Plan should class ‘work from home’ as an extenuating circumstance for priority connection.

The Dromiskin-based representative also believes that employers could work towards organising rosters geographically, so that if employees are to split their time between the office and home, employees who live near each other could be encouraged to carpool.

In his written submission, Cllr Sheridan also wrote, ‘Anecdotally, most of us who work from home have said we work beyond normal working hours. There needs to be consideration of implementing the Organisation of Working Time Act and how this is monitored both in public and private sector to protect both the employee and the employer.

‘There needs to be encouragement for programmes like “Employee Assistance Programmes” in public and private settings to help give tools for mental health support particularly to those working from home up to five days per week who may no longer have the emotional support of work colleagues.’

Cllr Sheridan continued; “Hopefully [this consultation] will lead to significant resources of the State and Local authorities into the concept of remote working and eHubs and clearing up some of the grey areas that exist at present. I believe that work from home has always been something people see as a positive but equally for many years unnecessary anxiety existed about managing workers remotely and how it would work. The reality is that Covid has, overnight, changed the dynamic and broken the mould on this issue.’

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The councillor is a member of the Louth Meath Education & Training Board and has spoken in the past of the need to embrace and pivot towards remote working and what he believes are its myriad benefits.

Speaking to LouthNow.ie in April, he said: “I’ve been campaigning on the feasibility and benefits of working from home as an alternative to commuting for some time now. 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.”

Among the other considerations in his submission to DBEI, Cllr Sheridan calls for equality in terms of provision for proper desks, chairs and computers and full guidance on taxes, expenses and insurance. He also suggests that it could be construed as bullying if a worker dialling into a meeting remotely cannot see a live feed of the meeting and said guidelines on offering equality for the remote workers in this instance should be published.

According to an April survey from IrishJobs.ie, 44% of people working from home during the Covid-19 pandemic found they were working longer hours than they would in a normal working day, while almost half of employees chose the kitchen table as their designated workspace, followed by a home office (20%) or a spare room (14%).

When asked if they missed their usual working environment, 79% of employees surveyed said that they did. The main reason was missing the in-person interaction with their work colleagues while other reasons included working at a proper desk (62%) or missing the facilities available within their workplace (25%).

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