No problem at all.
I thank the Acting Chair and wish all the members of the committee a good morning.
On behalf of Grow Remote, I sincerely thank all the members of the committee for the opportunity to come before them today. Joining me remotely is Mr. Finn Hegarty, who is chief product officer, CPO, and co-founder of Glofox, an Irish remote company.
I would like to highlight the work done to date by the Government in relation to building a sustainable remote working ecosystem in Ireland, in particular, by the Tánaiste, Deputy Varadkar, and the Minister for Social Protection and Minister for Rural and Community Development, Deputy Humphreys, in relation to the roll-out of both the national remote-working strategy and Our Rural Future - the national rural development policy. I would also like to give particular thanks to Senator Emer Currie, who has been a tireless advocate for remote working in Ireland and who has played a key role in Grow Remote being here with the committee today.
Grow Remote is a social enterprise and we are on a mission to unlock the power of remote working to enable everyone to work, live and participate locally all over Ireland. We do this by providing training for managers to employees and to jobseekers and practical supports to businesses to enable them to take the advantages of remote working.
We also enable communities of remote workers to power social connections locally. In this space, we have begun an ambitious project to map every remote worker in Ireland and beyond to build a living census of the remote working population.
In broad terms, we welcome the draft legislation before us. Before I address specific issues in the general scheme, however, it is important to highlight that, ultimately, the success or failure of remote working in Ireland does not lie within legislation alone. What is needed is systemic change at all levels to support companies to make the transition to remote-first working. Over-focus on specific legislation risks missing the point of what remote working can achieve for businesses, people, families and communities from Malin Head to Mizen Head.
We need to act now to build a robust remote working ecosystem or we risk losing the momentum we have gained over the past two years. Legislation allowing individual workers to request to work remotely, while very welcome, simply will not equip Irish businesses to compete at the highest level nationally and globally. The evidence shows that businesses benefit from remote working, and a vast proportion of the Irish workforce wants the opportunity to work remotely. There are 80,000 remote jobs available in Ireland today, and that number is growing at a rate of 5% to 7% monthly. Employees have options, and those options are only growing. Companies are currently operating in a highly competitive hiring landscape, and employers in Ireland who do not adopt remote working models run the risk of losing out to those who do.
In asking companies to make the transition to remote working, however, we are expecting them to undertake a significant, costly and time-consuming transformation project. We must take bold steps to de-risk that change for employers. Therefore, the Government's focus must be on catalysing real action and ring-fencing the investment needed to support businesses and to drive major cultural change in the Irish workplace. With that in mind, we have three asks. First, we call for funding supports for Irish businesses that want to transition to remote working models. This should be designed to empower companies to hire without location in Ireland. It should include a local enterprise office fund to support small to medium-sized companies at a local level. Second, ensuring that Irish businesses are remote-ready and equipped for the future will require an awareness and communications campaign at the level of the Brexit Ready campaign. We urge the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment to fund and to develop that. Third, we believe it is imperative that the Government lead by example and prioritise embedding remote working across the public sector.
If we fail to put the right supports in place, we will face three significant risks. Irish employers who are unable to offer remote working will run the risk of losing talented employees to those who do. Without a thriving, robust ecosystem for remote employment in Ireland, we will struggle to compete internationally with other countries that are moving very quickly in this space. More importantly, we risk losing the current window of opportunity to drive significant social and economic change on the island of Ireland by making decent employment available to everyone, regardless of where they live.
Moving to the draft legislation, it is important to call out that the conversation and the legal frameworks must move away from one-off deals for individual people. There must be an active move towards a remote-first culture whereby the jobs, not the people, are remote. That said, Grow Remote strongly welcomes the draft Bill on the right to request remote work as a step in the right direction. The general scheme and the public debate on the topic of remote working are far too heavily stacked towards providing reasons employers should not enable their staff to work remotely. We are here to argue that the debate needs to move away from the reasons to say no and towards identifying solutions. We are taking bad practice and allowing it to hold us back. For each of the reasons listed in the legislation to say no, innovative, global and fast-growing companies have figured out solutions and are coming for our talent.
That is why we are so grateful to have one of those leaders, Glofox, here with us today. Bringing companies such as Glofox into the debate means we can all learn how they are addressing the challenges and building successful remote-first companies. The committee will really benefit from hearing first-hand how organisations are finding solutions to the challenges that are often raised: challenges such as how to successfully onboard new staff, how to manage health and safety requirements and how to collaborate, communicate and foster a shared sense of culture and belonging. Glofox and many other companies that Grow Remote works with have put measures in place to meet these challenges and have built successful businesses with a highly engaged and satisfied workforce in a remote setting. There is a lot we can learn from Glofox and others, and they are willing to share what they have learned with us to support others on the journey.
Despite the progress made in the past two years, there are still many misconceptions about remote work and we need to address them if we are to truly realise its potential. Many of these misconceptions are embedded within the draft legislation. They are misconceptions that will restrict and limit the potential of remote work as a driver of social change.
Head 6 of the general scheme states that an employee shall be entitled to submit a request for remote work when he or she has completed at least 26 weeks of continuous service with an employer. We question the need for this eligibility criterion and urge the committee to recommend the removal of this requirement from the draft Bill. By imposing a six-month eligibility criterion, the legislation restricts one of the key benefits of remote work, the removal of location as a barrier to employment. When new hires have to be in the office for the first six months of their tenure with a company, they will have no option but to live within commuting distance of the office. This requirement serves to reinforce a common misconception about remote working, that is, that it is not possible to effectively onboard and ramp up a new hire remotely. Remote-first companies such as Glofox have proven that it is entirely possible to onboard a new hire remotely and for new employees to feel engaged and connected from day one without any need to default to the office setting.
Head 12 covers the reasons an employer can decline a request for remote working, with 13 business grounds for refusal listed. We recognise that there can be valid business reasons for an employer to say no to a request for remote working - for example, connectivity issues or an inadequate work-from-home space. However, a number of the current reasons for refusal in the draft Bill are far too subjective and open to interpretation. Some of these reasons serve only to feed into damaging misconceptions about remote work. For example, one reason for refusal is where an employer "cannot reorganise work among existing staff", which implies that the person working remotely will not be working at full capacity and will need his or her work to be reorganised among other staff to allow for this. There is strong evidence that remote working enables employees to be more productive, not less, yet this reason gives weight to the myth that people who work remotely are not working as hard as those in the office. We urge the committee to recommend changes to this head in order that the spirit and letter of the eventual Bill will shift entirely towards supporting companies to say yes to remote working.
Head 13 states that the right to appeal is limited only to procedural grounds. We encourage the committee to allow for appeals to the Workplace Relations Commission, WRC, to be based on the substantive decision of the employer, not merely on procedural grounds. We strongly urge the committee to strengthen the legislation in order that employers must have a firm rationale for refusal that is based on objective and measurable reasons. We can then be in a position to provide employers with the right supports and guidance to help them overcome these challenges.
There has been a shift in remote work where we are missing out on tax income because employment is landing in other countries. We need to support Irish companies to hire without location within Ireland to mitigate this severe and rapidly increasing risk. This is the committee's opportunity to create a legacy whereby location is no longer a factor in the opportunities available to our people across the country.
I thank the committee for its attention. We are happy to take any questions.