Remote working

Tech cannot be used to solve non-technical problems

The government’s remote working initiative is interesting, but the expectation that IT and telecoms are a panacea for our woes is mistaken, says Jason Walsh
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Image: George Milton via Pexels

8 June 2022

Never let a good crisis go to waste, as Winston Churchill said.

Today in Ireland, the government is facing four crises, and its latest move to promote remote working hubs looks very much like a direct response to all of them.

RTE reported this morning that the government was to launch a series of incentives to encourage more remote working. A voucher scheme will pay for access to co-working spaces, providing at least 10,000 ‘hot desks’ nationwide.

 

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Remote working took off during the Covid-19 pandemic, proving the point that in very many cases it could be done, but other crises appear to be driving this measure. The ongoing housing crisis, with homes being not only unaffordable, but as rare as hens teeth, is driving people out of the capital and even its hinterland.

Rising fuel costs, too, are making commuting an impossibility for some. Petrol is now more than €2 per litre in many stations and while a recent move to reduce public transport fares is welcome the country is not exactly known for its extensive transit network. This will only get worse as the EU’s near-total ban on Russian oil following the country’s invasion of Ukraine is coming at a time when oil companies worldwide have cut back on capital expenditure, meaning we can expect crude prices to remain high.

On top of all of this, the general spike in inflation is making life unaffordable and work unprofitable.

Despite worries about a coming recession and predictions of a tightening labour market there is no sign of a return to work as usual. Resignations continue apace, and not just in low status and low paid jobs: science journal Nature has reported that even academia is being hit by the Great Resignation, with even tenured scientists deciding to quit in search of a happier life.

Clearly, a great many people are fed up, and remote working could be at least a partial answer to that. Indeed, a new study from NUI Galway found that if their remote working preferences were not facilitated, 30% of all respondents indicated that they will change job, while 33% indicated they may change jobs even if it meant a pay cut.

Into this mire step, or rather are shoved, broadband connectivity, PCs and tablets, remote working and co-working hubs and, of course, the cloud.

As long time readers will know, I welcome opportunities for the expansion of remote and hybrid work, though I am somewhat concerned that the scheme announced today could amount to another subsidy for commercial property owners.

Even if that turns out to not be the case, there is a danger in thinking that arming people with a laptop, a 4G hotspot and a part-time desk in a hotel lobby, business park or café will deal with the deep rooted malaises that have resulted from a lost decade of underinvestment since the financial crisis.

IT workers know all about ‘doing more with less’ and the inflated expectation that computers possess magical problem-solving powers, but the truth is much more mundane: technology can be used to bridge gaps, but it cannot be relied upon to solve social problems.

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