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Ireland – seizing the potential of remote working for rural development

By Platform
Lush and green irish coast

One of the trends that have been enhanced by the COVID-19 pandemic is the increase in teleworking (also known as remote working). As the public health situation worsened in 2020 and 2021, many companies and/or governments directed their employees to work from home.

According to some estimates, before the pandemic, only 15% of European workers had ever teleworked, while the number jumped to 40% as a result of the pandemic. While in early 2023 life has returned to „normal“, in most of Europe the experience has left an impact. Employees have started to value the opportunity to work remotely, and businesses are more experienced in how accommodating this wish.

Another interesting phenomenon has been the change in the location where people prefer to work from. As working from home has become normalized, people have also been looking to move out of cities or city centres. During the pandemic, the new inflow of people led some regions and municipalities to consider the potential benefits and opportunities for their regional development.

This was also briefly touched upon during the Policy Learning Platform online discussion about raising the competitiveness of rural SMEs during COVID-19 times. The change in the way work-life is organized post-pandemic has also led to policy changes.

Tapping into the potential of teleworking on a policy level



Tackles specifically the issue of pro-active remote working and adequate co-working opportunities and does this with a holistic set of measures and initiatives.

Developing the chance to work remotely in rural areas is high on the country’s policy agenda. “Our Rural Future: Rural Development policy 2021-2025” has an ambitious list of policy deliverables related to remote work. To just list a few:

  • Invest significantly in remote working infrastructure to enable more people to live and work in rural communities, with good career prospects, regardless of where their employer is headquartered.
  • Provide financial support to Local Authorities to bring vacant properties in Town Centres back into use as Remote Working Hubs.
  • Utilise remote working facilities to support the retention of skilled people in rural communities and attract mobile talent to rural areas
  • Move to 20% home or remote working in the public sector in 2021, with further annual increases over the lifetime of this policy.”

Furthermore, the country also has a specific strategy “Making Remote Work: National Remote Work Strategy”. The strategy’s objective is to “ensure that remote working is a permanent feature in the Irish workplace in a way that maximises economic, social and environmental benefits.”

In practical terms, one of the most impressive outcomes of policy development has been the establishment of the National Hub Network. The Network is a Government of Ireland initiative that provides a vehicle for individual hubs to come together under a shared identity to maximize the economic opportunity of remote working.

It started out only in 2018 as a network of 4 teleworking hubs and has now grown into a national network of over 300 hubs and nearly 5000 rentable working desks. The government’s ambition is to onboard 400 hubs by 2024.

The network includes five types of hubs:

  • Enterprise hubs,
  • Scaling hubs,
  • Research and Development hubs,
  • Co-working Hubs 
  • Community and enterprise hubs.

An essential part of the network is the Western Development Commission-led ConnectedHubs portal launched in May 2021 which is an online single gateway to booking and managing remote working locations.

The portal functions as a one-stop shop for all hubs throughout Ireland. It has been designed to simplify and standardise the process of sourcing and booking spaces, desks, offices and events in hubs. It also functions as a community for hub managers across Ireland and supports collective engagement with government agencies.

The infrastructure and network development have also been supported financially. In 2020 and 2021 the Department of Rural Community Development supported the network and the hubs with 13 million Euros. For example, in 2021 8.8 million were invested in 117 remote working projects across the country with individual grants ranging between €10,000 to €250,000.

In 2021 The Connected Hubs Fund aimed to add additional capacity to the existing remote working infrastructure in Ireland by upgrading existing hubs and Broadband Connection Points (BCPs) while continuing to support COVID-19 mitigation measures.

The Cork Action Plan developed within the FOUNDATION project directly addresses the teleworking topic on a local level. The regional action plan envisioned the following action: “Regentrification including retrofit/design and repurposing of facilities to solve the driving need for remote working and promote innovative collaboration”.

The action is carried out through collaboration and consultation with the Department of Rural and Community Development, Cork County Council, relevant Local Enterprise Offices, University College Cork and Munster Technological University.

According to John Hobbs, coordinator of the FOUNDATION project and a lecturer at the Munster Technological University, “It is important to ensure that co-working or regional hubs are designed in such a way that they encourage collaboration and connection between others using the same spaces to contribute to both innovation and social inclusion.”

In practice, Cork wants to utilise clustering as an economic development tool to drive innovation/collaboration in remote working and digital hub facilities. Inspiration for the action was also taken from the clustering programmes managed by Business Upper Austria and how Tabakfabrik Linz and Softwarepark Hagenberg are laid out to support opportunities for collaboration and co-learning.