Remote working

Ukraine conflict forcing a reappraisal of natural and human resources

Rising fuel costs will put employers under pressure to reconsider their return to office timetable, says Billy MacInnes
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Image: George Milton via Pexels

9 March 2022

Over the past two years, we have endured a seismic event that many believed could force a ‘reset’ of how the country and its people conducted business and lived our daily lives. Covid-19 forced many changes on us, such as social distancing, mask wearing, travel restrictions and working from home. The vast majority of them have been reversed or reduced in the past few weeks.

Now we find ourselves confronted by another huge shock to the system following Russia’s unwarranted and indefensible invasion of Ukraine. A memo to the cabinet has warned Ireland could be at serious risk of shortages, higher prices, disruption to food production, rationing of gas and electricity, cuts to public transport and depressed economic growth as a consequence of the invasion.

One of the government’s first responses has been to try and mitigate the rapid rise in fuel prices by reducing duty on petrol by 20c and on diesel by 15c. While this move will be welcomed by many, our experience during the pandemic has already demonstrated one of the most effective measures to reduce the effects of higher transport costs: working from home.

 

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It’s true that there has been the beginnings of a shift back to the office in recent days – the likes of Apple, Google and Microsoft have all outlined plans for employees to return to work in company premises – but the current crisis could force many to reconsider their timetables. The preference for those tech giants seems to be for a three-day working week in the office and two days from home, but the very appreciable rise in the cost of getting to the office may prompt a rethink.

After all, it’s fair to say many companies developed a tried and tested remote working regime during the pandemic. IT laid down the parameters to make that regime work. We know how successful it has been in enabling remote working by the fact so many businesses have been willing to adopt a hybrid working model for employees in the post-pandemic world.

The problem is that plans for that post-pandemic world have already been overtaken by the event of Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. The good news is we have the tools and technology in place to reduce some of the disruptive effects of that invasion. With fuel prices where they are and with the prospect of supply constraints on oil, it makes little sense to expect people to drive to the office if they can do their work from home.

Not only is it becoming uneconomical for employees to drive to work, it’s also deleterious to the country if people are being forced to use more diesel and petrol than in the pandemic at a time when fuel stocks are under more pressure than they have been for many years. We have the home working infrastructure in place to support our businesses, institutions and organisations, we should continue to use it.

On the subject of energy, The Independent notes the memo also stated managing the supply and price of energy would be “essential to mitigate risks to enterprise and investment”, especially in biopharma, microelectronics and medical devices. The impact on data centres “would have a wider and significant international effect”.

An unforeseen consequence of the Russian invasion of Ukraine is that potential energy shortages could highlight the impact of data centres on Irish energy supply much earlier than anticipated.

Maybe, once this crisis is over and Ireland’s reliance on fossil fuels, its anaemic public transport provision and vulnerability to supply shocks is starkly apparent to us all, we might think strategically about how the country can reset itself. Maybe this time, we might take it seriously.

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