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Workers in Ireland have had the right to request remote working from their employer since the legislation was published by the government in September 2021. Employers formulated comprehensive remote work policies and provided contracts that outlined the terms and conditions of this arrangement. However, employers now seek to have their employees return to working in the office and reduce the number of people working from home.

Shift in workplace culture

The Covid-19 pandemic brought about a transformation in workplace dynamics across Ireland. Remote working swiftly became the norm, enabling employees to carry out their roles from their homes. The concept of remote working is appealing to employees who want to continue with flexible working arrangements as part of their working relationship with their employer. Employees have seen huge benefits such as more flexibility, less commuting, and more time for family and friends. Working from home has had a positive impact on employees’ work-life balance and a significant number of people would like to continue working remotely.

Why do employers want employees back in the office?

Employers may prefer having workers back in the office for several reasons. In-person collaboration fosters direct communication,  quicker decision-making, and generates a wider variety of ideas, which contributes to enhancing employment relationships, productivity, and innovation. Additionally, it promotes a cohesive team environment, strengthens company culture, and facilitates mentorship and skill development. Another factor is empty office spaces that companies are still paying for.

Challenges in bringing employees back to the office

Employers have the right to determine the nature and location of work, as long as these decisions comply with employment contracts and legal requirements. Many employees received contracts allowing them to work from home during Covid-19. Renegotiation of remote working contracts might lead to various tensions between employers and employees and getting employees back to the office might be tricky for employers. 

For employers, it is an easy move to call back those who still live within commuting distance of the office as well as junior-level employees. But mid and senior-level workers may have greater leverage in keeping flexible arrangements. Given the current labour shortages, experienced professionals may also be more in demand, especially in industries where there is strong competition for talent. However, giving some employees special working conditions can create perceptions of inequity and potentially divide teams.

What can employers do?

As companies scramble to develop return-to-office policies, transitioning employees back to the office from remote working arrangements, especially when they have existing work-from-home contracts due to the pandemic, requires a well-considered approach. Employers should initiate open and transparent communication with employees, explaining the reasons for the transition and the benefits of in-person collaboration. Addressing any concerns or uncertainties that employees might have, is very important. Finding a collective agreement between both parties can help identify flexible solutions that balance organizational needs with employee preferences, such as hybrid work models. Any changes in the terms or conditions of employment must be agreed upon with the employer and employee.