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Why it pays tech businesses to be based outside Dublin

The last 18 months have proved the adage that work is something you do, not somewhere you go. That saying always used to apply to the person, but what if companies started thinking the same way?


For historical reasons, Dublin had a strong gravitational pull when it came to attracting technology businesses to Ireland. It used to be the case that the capital city was where you needed to go if you wanted to have a hope of attracting talent – but that doesn’t apply any longer. After a year and a half of remote working, that’s changed utterly – and it’s why companies should be prepared to consider other locations around Ireland for their offices.


That applies whether they’re setting up here for the first time or wondering if it makes sense to continue leasing a multi-story office block when their hybrid workforce will only need a fraction of that space.


Foreign direct investment decisions usually hinge on key criteria like cost, capacity, capability, communications, and culture. The evidence suggests that clustering too many companies around a relatively small area only serves to drive rents and salaries upwards, increasing companies’ operating costs.


Rents for prime office space in Dublin are multiple times the rents in other parts of Ireland. By contrast, improvements to the road infrastructure means that a company setting up in the west of Ireland or the midlands will be within 60 minutes’ drive of the nearest airport. If a business were to set up in the Southeast, or the Northwest, they give themselves the option of hiring at more competitive rates or keep the same pay scales and opening the door to a wider talent pool.


Setting up a base in another part of Ireland can make an employer more attractive to talent. Covid has reminded us that long commutes to work are effectively another form of tax that workers have to pay. Over the past 18 months of experiencing virtually no travel time from the breakfast table to the laptop, many people have discovered they’d much rather work for a company that is either based closer to where they live or will give them the option of working remotely.


According to recent research from IWG, 72 per cent of office workers would prefer the ability to work flexibly in the long term over having to go back to the office permanently with a 10 per cent pay rise. The same research also found that two-thirds of workers wouldn’t apply for a new job unless it offered hybrid working. And that’s not just settled thirtysomethings and upwards with families. When the survey was put to young people between 18 and 24, more than 84 per cent said they would opt for working flexibly.


With more and more offices reopening, many workers are rediscovering the “joys” (sarcasm alert) of traffic jams and packed trams, and combining school runs with rushed commutes. This feels like a trigger moment that will have a lot of people reevaluating their options. New house price data shows that homeowners are moving to rural areas in greater numbers.


As for communication, the broadband infrastructure was put to the test during Covid-19, and by and large it delivered. Plus, there’s 5G available too across many parts of Ireland, so a lot of the constraints that would have forced companies towards densely populated urban centres in the past just don’t apply any more.


Companies coming to Ireland (or watching their property leases) should seize this moment to cast their net far beyond Dublin and its surrounding area. When there are attractive skilled work opportunities in places close to where people want to live, it can even be the push that people need to change jobs.


Let’s not just go back to the same old ways of thinking and doing. Let’s absorb the lesson from this upheaval: how things used to be isn’t necessarily how things have to be.


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