From the People’s Republic to the Kingdom: Why Remote Works

The move to Kerry was a gradual one for Cork woman Jennifer Dowling. Having worked seasonally in Kerry during her early twenties, she started working here partly remotely after completing a master’s degree in organisational psychology and taking a job in Cork. Working two or three days a week from Kerry gave her a flavour of the remote-working lifestyle she would later embrace.

Out of the Box

The biggest challenge Jennifer discovered working from home was not having a community of peers. “In Killarney, it can be hard to get to know a community,” Jennifer admits. “Things are often designed for tourists, not for people living here.” But then home is not too far away. “Proximity to Cork means I can go to gigs and galleries fairly regularly.”

And she has also found a way to make connections. In 2019, she and Adrian McCarthy of Grandview Media decided to set up The Box CoWork space in Killarney. “To feel part of a community, it’s great to have somewhere like The Box. And I think a lot of the people here would say that.”

Within a few months, the Box was fully booked. And the people who made use of the space were not always who you might expect. “What was interesting was the number of senior managers who work in Kerry a few days a week,” Jennifer explains. This discovery fascinated Jennifer, whose main area of research as an organisational psychologist has been remote working and flexible working. She works with companies to support increased flexibility, implement training, and look at the human side—“what makes people work well remotely, what challenges them, and how training can be designed to support it.”

Remote Working & Flexible Working

Earlier this spring, Jennifer set up Train Remote to support “remote-first” training, coaching, and team development. She supports organisations as they transition into some form of remote working. “Research does not suggest that everyone is suddenly going to go fully remote, but the idea of flexible working does support the ability to work somewhere else if you only have to be present in the office two days a week,” Jennifer explains.

Jennifer doesn’t see companies leaping into remote working feet first. “Companies are just dipping their toes in the area of remote working. Over the last few years, the more senior you were in an organisation, the more likely you were to have some kind of flexible working, but companies don’t yet have the policies and structures in place to fully support remote working. There will be a period (after Covid-19) when people may need to go back to the office in some form or other, but I’ve noticed that companies are more interested in how they can properly set up remote working now.”

But there is resistance to the concept. “The biggest bottleneck before would have been managers: Remote working meant more work for them and not being able to see their people. However, once they have done it and managed to operate effectively, the feedback is ‘we can do this,’ but the organisation still needs to regroup and shift from what we are doing now, which is not proper remote working but working from home in a crisis.”

Recruiters are also holding off because they want to see people first before they allow them to work remotely. The lack of familiarity means there may be a transition period before proper remote working comes in.

Why Trust Is Paramount

For teams that are thriving while working remotely, Jennifer cites trust as the most important predictor of success. Crucially, these teams enjoyed high levels of trust before they started remote working. Managers know their people, so if there are problems before teams start working outside the office, these will simply be amplified by distance. Trust is also diminished if remote working is not done properly and people aren’t supported.

“I think we’re still far away from most organisations transitioning to fully remote; that takes time and intentional changing of processes and ways of working. We’ll likely see an increase in partial remote, which in many cases may develop into fully remote,” predicts Jennifer

What can companies do now?

Jennifer advises companies to take the learnings from the last few months of working from home, deciding what worked and what didn’t work. They then need to carry out gap analysis of what needs to be done. “They can start looking at their policies and feeding policies on what they’ve learned. There is also a piece of work around what has worked for employees—not just managers,” advises Jennifer.

Companies should support quality training:

· They need to put tools in place for informal communications.

· Managers need to be trained in how to manage and support remote teams.

· Individuals need training in how to work effectively while remote.

· HR and L&D departments also need to upskill.

· Other areas of training include coaching on remote leadership and team development to connect people who are working apart.

With some team members going back to the office, while others remain at home, individuals must be able to work as well from home as they do in the office. Jennifer sees this as a significant challenge for companies in the next few months, but one that must be accepted if we are to transition to greater remote working practices.

The Opportunities for Remote Working

Hundreds of available jobs can be filled anywhere for a variety of skill sets, and that number is only going to increase as the big players adapt to living and working fully remote.

It must be stressed that not all companies can offer a remote work option due to the nature of their business. However, those that can and that do offer flexible work arrangements will attract and retain staff. They need to build on what they have, become more flexible, and grab the opportunity to use flexible working as a huge selling point from a talent perspective.

Why Kerry Is Ideal for Remote Working

“Kerry is great from a connection perspective,” Jennifer points out. This is literally true for The Box, which enjoys particularly good connectivity through its sponsorship by Vodafone as a digital hub. Physically, Kerry is just an hour’s drive from Cork and less than three hours from Dublin by train, or an hour from Dublin by plane. From a digital perspective, Jennifer highlights the hub community, and she also notes the proximity of both the Munster Technological University and University College Cork.

On top of all that, Jennifer cites the quality of life and sense of space in Kerry, as well as the reasonable cost of living, as key draws for the remote working community.

Then there are the personal and professional connections. “We have a growing community of professionals working here who support and understand each other,” explains Jennifer.