As we approach 2021, the world around us, globally and locally, continues to change in the face of COVID-19.
By better understanding how our working lives have changed and will change going forward, there is an opportunity to align the regulatory and tax environment with the interests of government, businesses, business owners, and employees.
Even with all of the positive news on various vaccines for COVID-19, there appears to be a consistent sentiment that office working life has likely changed for the foreseeable future.
During restrictions, employees across a wide cross-section of industries from professional services to technology have been asked to work from home and stay out of previously busy offices in city and town centres.
Employees that solely work from home may benefit from no commute to and from work, but in some instances can suffer from the lack of social interaction with colleagues and clients/customers.
The solution would appear to be a hybrid remote working arrangement, where employees could continue to be based away from the primary workplace for the majority of their time, but have the ability to avail of a remote workspace in a hub in their locality and close to their home where possible.
From here they can work and be productive, while being able to physically separate their personal home life from work life. It could also shift larger businesses away from the idea of having one central location and towards a local or regionalised approach where they have local hubs for employees in that region.
This has been a core element to IDA Ireland’s strategy in attracting international businesses to Ireland. They actively encourage companies through financial incentives to consider regional locations outside of the main cities.
Why not expand this encouragement to domestic businesses as well, and offer tax incentives for businesses that avail of this option?
There are some existing basic tax incentives around working from home in the form of a tax allowance/deduction, but I think government can do much more to reflect the new way of working.
We need the government to recognise the seismic impact of COVID-19 on businesses and the individuals who own, manage and work in those businesses, and the likely long-term effect of that impact. We need to facilitate and incentivise businesses to establish a local or regional presence whether as a primary or secondary location.
More vibrant localities and regions around Ireland – local businesses will benefit from more activity and an increased spend locally.
The environment also benefits from fewer cars on the road and fewer commuters sitting in traffic.
There will be gains for an individual’s health and wellbeing for the same reason, and a greater opportunity to walk or cycle to work. The collective health of the country gains from less cross-county travel and mixing together in busy offices in overcrowded city centres.
Families gain from less travel time, meaning more time spent together and more time for parents to bring kids to activities and sports, or even take part!
Plus, it would result in a more flexible and resilient workforce. With the lessons learned from the experience of COVID-19, we would have a flexible and resilient workforce ready to adapt to any possible future pandemic.