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Home working has its benefits - but ministers also see negative impact

Ann Marie Walsh


Many people now prefer working from home. Stock image

Many people now prefer working from home. Stock image

Many people now prefer working from home. Stock image

Thousands of people working from home have been told to stay put - and were offered a modest financial incentive to do so in this Budget.

Currently, remote workers can get tax relief on their heating and electricity bills. They can now do the same with broadband. But there was no move to make it compulsory for employers to pay a daily subsistence allowance to those who have been carrying out their roles from spare rooms and kitchen tables since March.

As things stand, employers can reimburse home workers a daily allowance of €3.20, but it's not mandatory.

The Irish Congress of Trade Unions has been lobbying the Government to make it compulsory and to reassess the amount.

Nonetheless, the official advice is, for those who can work from home, to do so for now.

Chief medical officer Tony Holohan said on Monday he is increasingly concerned about the number of people returning to workplaces having worked from home earlier in the pandemic. "There has been a creep of people who did work from home in earlier stages of this now creeping back into the office," he said.

Encouraging people to work from home poses a dilemma for ministers keenly aware that it is also detrimental to businesses in city centres dependent on their trade.

Public Expenditure and Reform Minister Michael McGrath said he wanted to encourage people back to work in cities.

Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe said he hoped for a phased return to the office next year.

The ministers have been cautious in their language, perhaps conscious of British PM Boris Johnson's U-turn when he scrapped his plans after urging staff to get back to their desks.

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Without the political will, whether working from home will become part of the so-called new normal is open to debate. "Long term, I think there will be some kind of blended approach," said Síobhra Rush, partner at human resources law firm Lewis Silkin. "Most people I know would not necessarily be happy working entirely from home. There can be mental health issues, particularly for younger people in house shares."

It can be difficult for employers to ensure health and safety legislation is complied with and working hours fall within legal limits, she said.

Despite the risks, a lot have seen it doesn't affect productivity as much as they thought and can see the benefit of lower costs.

"I can't see us going back to an entirely office-based system - population trekking in from nine to five Monday to Friday - unless employees are happy to do it as well," she said. "It will be more fluid, but there will have to be a clear policy on issues like how many days you work from home and whether you are expected to come in for meetings."

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