Enterprise Ireland will support 10,000 new co-working and “incubation” spaces at regional locations across the country within the next three years, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has confirmed.

The move is part of a series of “smart work” measures to help start-up businesses and employees, the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment said in response to a parliamentary question from Clare TD Joe Carey.

Deputy Carey asked the Tánaiste about his plans to “improve the facilities and conditions to encourage remote working, especially in rural areas”. In his response, Mr Varadkar confirmed that an “Interdepartmental Group” – led by his department – is currently working on a national remote working strategy which will be published “in the coming months”.

The Tánaiste revealed the public consultation on remote working in July received “hundreds” of submissions from employers, employees, representative bodies and special interest groups. He said the “first update” in relation to the consultation is due “before the end of the year”.  

In the meantime, Mr Varadkar told Deputy Carey several initiatives are already underway to support remote working practices.

The Tánaiste said: “Enterprise Ireland aims to support 10,000 co-working and incubation spaces in regional locations over three years. As a response to COVID-19, Enterprise Ireland have launched a €12 million Enterprise Centre Fund to help enterprise centres impacted by the pandemic to continue to provide important services to start-ups in towns and villages across Ireland.”

Deputy Carey, who has long campaigned for more balanced regional development, welcomed the Tánaiste’s commitment to developing a national remote working strategy.

The Fine Gael TD said the experience of remote working, forced upon many as a result of the pandemic, provides an opportunity to create a better work-life balance for employees.

Deputy Carey said there is now “a real opportunity” to change the way we work for the better and “to breathe new life into our local communities”.

The Clare TD also welcomed the announcement in Budget 2021 that an extra €5 million will be invested in remote working facilities at Broadband Connection Points (BCPs) and digital hubs across the country.

He added: “This type of investment is essential to provide local authorities and enterprise offices with the means to start building the infrastructure to facilitate the rollout of a new remote working ecosystem that can benefit local communities, local businesses and workers across the country.

“These facilities, along with the development of an innovative remote working strategy, have the potential to revolutionise work practices, creating more balanced regional development while helping us to meet climate change targets and giving employees a more positive work-life balance.”