Smart Solutions

Grow Remote

A not-for-profit, volunteer driven community project supporting remote working opportunities at local level in rural areas

Implemented inTubbercurry and South Sligo

Country : Ireland

What’s the solution?

  • Grow Remote connects remote workers, companies, and local communities so that people can choose to work where they want to live, and not vice versa.
  • Grow Remote, through events and an ever increasing network of local ‘Chapters’, bypasses traditional methods for creating employment opportunities in rural areas by equipping community leaders with the necessary tools and resources required to build a remote working ecosystem and connection between remote jobs (at a national and international stage), remote workers and local communities at local level.
  • This solution was developed by a group of community developers from across Ireland who were trying to understand the best way to bridge the gap between remote work and local impact in order to make rural communities more viable, sustainable and vibrant moving forward. It operates as a ‘Meitheal’ - the old way of working in rural Ireland where everyone in a local area chips in with part of the solution to help support the economic and social revolution of Irish villages and rural towns through remote working.

What makes it smart?

The Grow Remote solution uses the power of remote working as a tool to promote community development. They do so through multiple forms of innovation. See below:

Business innovation – By first connecting, and then creating collaborations between co-working managers, freelancers, nomads, remote workers and remote working companies, through novel channels of communication and information distribution, Grow Remote has developed a new form of remote working that has increased the number of employment opportunities available in local communities, particularly more rural ones.

Digital innovation – The setting up of ‘Chapters’, as part of the Grow Remote initiative, is done so through free to use technology platform called ChangeX, where any local community leader can get trained up online on how to go about building a remote working community in their local area. This makes it possible for people living in rural communities to now have instant access to thousands of secure remote working jobs. This in turn helps tackle issues such as depopulation, limited employment opportunities and out-migration in rural areas.

Social innovation – The biggest challenge for those who want to work remotely is isolation, and not knowing where to find the work. Grow remote addresses this issue by providing a platform for different actors (remote workers, companies, and local communities) to come together to explore and understand the possibilities of remote working. Indeed this model of employment requires all stakeholders to work together to enable local communities to thrive.

In all, the remote working solution documented here is smart because it helps retain and attract people to live and work in rural areas, ultimately benefiting communities economically and socially. Furthermore, the presence of a thriving and vibrant remote working community in a local area allows people to have a better work life balance, by reducing their commute times and having a lower cost of living than they would in an urban setting.

How is the solution implemented?

  • Grow Remote encourage the establishment of local ‘Chapters’ as a means of connecting remote jobs, remote workers and rural communities at local level. These Chapters are usually set up and ran by community leaders who are passionate about the opportunities remote working presents for companies, employees and communities in their locality. Ideally, Chapter leaders should be well connected in their community, and also enjoy taking on new projects. Grow Remote Chapters can be set up and created at zero cost on the ChangeX technology platform. ChangeX connects people with proven ideas for strengthening communities with the resources needed to start them. Providing community leaders with the training and support needed to set and establish a Grow Remote Chapter through the free to use ChangeX platform, helps create remote working networks and ecosystems at local level. Ideally, the of running a Grow Remote Chapter should fit alongside the rest of the community leader’s work, with the assistance of a team of around four people to share ideas and divide up the task with. Dedicating approximately 4 hours a week should be sufficient enough time to get a local Chapter up and running. Grow Remote have also developed a five-step guide to starting a Grow Remote Chapter. Please see below:
  • Decide to become a Chapter leader and complete your 30 day challenge – A Chapter leader should be someone who buys into the Grow Remote mission and is willing to get their hands dirty in findings ways to figure this out locally. Upon joining the network, Chapter leaders are not only provided with the knowledge and support needed to create a remote working community, but are also required t0 participate in a 30 Day Jumpstart Challenge designed be Grow Remote to get their project off to the strongest possible start by building momentum in the first month.
  • Get yourself up to speed – A Chapter needs to determine the existing status quo regarding the attitudes towards, and potential for remote working in their locality. This requires identifying whether there already co-working spaces in their local community, to determining would the local Chambers of Commerce be able to assist in spreading the word and connect them with relevant stakeholders etc.
  • Build a small team – A local Chapter needs to onboard local actors who are interested in seeing a remote working community grow, and may have a diverse set of skills in areas such as marketing, events, tourism etc. The creation of a successful Chapter at local level also requires regular engagement with local government and business associations so that they are aware of the Chapters activities at an early stage, and in turn, provide you with further assistance when needed.
  • Set a goal – Grow Remote’s experience to date has taught them that communities generally want to achieve one of three goals: (i) Help those already in their community to find employment, (ii) Help repopulate their community by targeting remote workers and (iii) Help remote workers to engage locally. Therefore, once a new local Chapter sets out their goal(s), Grow Remote can then easily introduce them to other Chapters with similar aims and objectives.
  • Keep engaged and creating! - Local Chapters are encouraged to continually strive to find new and innovative ways to get remote working impacting locally. A local Chapter also facilitates the sharing of knowledge and experiences relating to remote working amongst members. Such interaction and collaboration between groups of like-minded people at local level also helps to bring about social inclusion in rural areas.

In what local context has it been applied?

• Tubbercurry and South Sligo is a small village located in a remote, marginalised area in the northwest of Ireland with limited resources.

• The region has been significantly affected by demographic change resulting in a dispersed, older population, over-reliance on farming, lack of opportunity, loss of services and a reducing retail offering.

• Tubbercurry is also an unemployment blackspot and the village economy has been heavily impacted by the closure of retail businesses and the relocation of two large employers including a government department away from the town.

• The young people of Tubbercurry and South Sligo are leaving the area for third level education and not returning to the area upon completion of their studies.

• As many national and multinational companies do not advertise locally through local recruiters, or even through traditional job boards, the local community has limited opportunities to access such career paths.

• The village relies largely on volunteers for community development, however they have also managed to build strong relationships with private and public sector including local and national government agencies, including putting themselves forward for pilots, initiatives and working groups

• Tubbercurry and South Sligo pioneered the idea of remote working at local level as the means to attract and retain young people in rural communities, ultimately reigniting rural areas economically and socially.

• Tubbercurry and South Sligo’s passion and particular focus on the potential of remote working in a rural Irish setting resulted in them being selected as Ireland’s first ‘Smart Community’ by the Irish Department of Rural and Community Development and the Department of Communications, Climate Action and the Environment in January 2019 as part of their digital strategy for the regions of Ireland.

Who was behind the implementation?

The Grow Remote team identified Tubbercurry and South Sligo as an outlier example of a rural community who already have the experience and infrastructure in place to champion the spread of remote working across Ireland, mainly due to the innovative and pioneering work of the Tubbercurry and South Sligo Smart Community committee located in the area. This group has successfully created a ‘smart’ ecosystem model at local level over the past decade, and also have a proven track record in organising and hosting events that support the smart revolution of villages and rural towns.

Tubbercurry and South Sligo Smart Community is a subcommittee of Tubbercurry Development Company who are passionate about creating a community that is vibrant, sustainable and connected. Joann Hosey, Chair of Tubbercurry and South Sligo Smart Community explains that their ambition is to ‘bring remote workers together and to create a new community of people with common interests’ and its purpose is to ‘create a community that will help the economic prosperity of our town, a community that will help Tubbercurry to thrive’.

What was the local journey?

Tubbercurry and South Sligo, initially set up and became a Chapter of Grow Remote by following the step-by-step guide outlined above.

One of the most significant challenges that Tubbercurry and South Sligo initially encountered was getting members of the wider community to buy into the concept of remote working. The committee facilitated a number of awareness sessions to address this, by providing community members with important pieces of information such as the fact that 50 remote workers is equivalent to an FDI company employing the same number in the locality for example. Tubbercurry and South Sligo also overcame this lack of understanding at local level by generating a strong communication plan to increase awareness amongst the community:

• A website and social media pages (Facebook and Twitter) were set up which disseminated relevant content on remote working, government schemes, training courses and supports available.

• A number of Community meetings held to explain the concept of Smart Community and remote working

• Lobbied local government and sent content and articles to local newspapers and radio stations

• Engaged with key stakeholders to understand how they could support out ambitions including Sligo County Council, Sligo leader, Sligo LEO, Library service, Western Development Commission, Atlantic Economic Hub project, Department of Communications, Climate Action & Environment, Department of Rural and Community Development and the Sligo Institute of Technology (Sligo IT).

With an increased interest and appreciation of remote working amongst community members as a result of such measures, the Tubbercurry and South Sligo Smart Community committee subsequently utilised and optimised all available assets and supports at their disposal in their application to host the International Grow Remote conference, upon which they were successful. A number of ideation sessions were then held with Grow Remote team to design and organise this event aimed at building awareness within local communities on the possibilities of remote working. The vision was ambitious, but there was no funding. The committee then reached out to private and public sector, shared their vision and were successful in acquiring the necessary funding to progress with the project. A logistics plan for event was then drawn up followed by the delivery of a comprehensive communication plan across multiple media channels (radio, print, social).

After a successful promotional campaign, Tubbercurry and South Sligo hosted this International Remote Working conference in April 2019 in conjunction with the Grow Remote movement.

What have been the main outputs & results?

  • The mobilisation of the Tubbercurry and South Sligo Community led to a repeatable Grow Remote model that has scaled into 133 locations in 8+ countries across the world, running over 230 events and engaging with more than 10,000 people offline and 2million+ online.
  • At a more local level, a ‘smart’ thinking movement has been set in motion within the Tubbercurry and South Sligo community as a result of becoming a chapter of Grow Remote. This is evident from their involvement in a number of innovative initiatives, including a recent collaboration with Sligo County Council on a project they are working on entitled ‘Digital Technology Usage in Sligo’, aimed at understanding the views and vision of rural consumers, businesses and local clubs regarding the future of their local community. Tubbercurry and South Sligo have also partnered with Sligo Institute of Technology (Sligo IT) and a number of software companies in the North West of Ireland to roll out an EU funded e-invoicing project. The objective of this project is to foster innovation and to facilitate private entities, particularly micro-enterprises supplying goods and services, to use the European standard eInvoicing in order to enhance their services and make their businesses more efficient. Such linkages with a third level institution is a particularly strong facet of Tubbercurry and South Sligo’s Smart Solution.
  • Furthermore, whilst parts of Tubbercurry and South Sligo have an average broadband connectivity, their technical capacity to now facilitate remote working has enhanced by their community co-working space named ‘An Chroi’ (an Irish language word meaning ’The Heart’ in English), signifying its centrality and importance within the community, that can now be utilised to its full potential, ultimately enabling the people and businesses of the area to thrive.

What does it bring the village/community?

  • This solution will make remote working both visible and accessible to the local community, thereby enabling those who want to live and work locally to do so, and have a wealth of career opportunities.
  • With the establishment of both a digital hub and a remote working community, this solution can provide the conduit to ensure remote workers are engaged in the local community and not isolated.
  • Attracting remote workers to rural locations can help develop a broader economic base in rural communities in the face of urbanisation, thereby supporting local businesses, particularly retailers and service providers to survive.
  • Furthermore, the realisation of remote working in rural areas will help lead to a better work-life balance amongst rural dwellers, thus allowing local community groups, clubs and societies to thrive.
  • Remote working also allows diaspora to return home and live their life where they want to live, rather than being influenced by where their job is based.
  • Additionally, remote working allows individuals to work in a different way, utilising digital tools to stay connected with their colleagues and customers. In fact, research suggests remote workers are more productive when compared to onsite in an office environment.

What’s needed

Financial resources

Main types of cost:

• To create a chapter of Grow Remote, it is possible to do so on zero cost. The training course and free to use ChangeX technology platform outlines the 5 steps to setting up a local Chapter, including getting a team together, onboarding local partners and running kick-off events.

• Grow Remote’s International Conference held in Tubbercurry, Co. Sligo cost €35,000. With assistance from Tubbercurry and South Sligo’s Smart Community committee, this conference was fully funded from ticket sales, sponsorship, local and national government funding.

• Grow Remote were recently awarded funding of €500,000 over the next 3 years. The goal of this group is to develop the central supports the chapters need.

Financial needs:

• Initial/set-up costs: € 0

• Ongoing/recurring annual costs: €0

Human resources

• Community volunteers to get the project started

• A remote working community that want to learn from each other

• A community manager to coordinate activity on behalf of the community, local expert in grant applications, driving the communications across remote working community, connected to wide network of companies who hire remotely

Physical resources

• Quality broadband

• Local communication channels to stay in touch – website, Facebook page, WhatsApp

• High spec co-working space (in terms of security, IT, booking system, video conferencing)

What to do…

  • Start a chapter of Grow Remote. Use their tools and advice to get things started in your community.
  • Start with ecosystem mapping.
  • Empower and champion others in the community.
  • Collaborate with public and private sector on projects. Take the supports they can offer.
  • Be ambitious - apply for grants that are available – you won’t get them all but if you are not in you can’t win. Think big - we organised an international remote working conference - described by a high-profile attendee as the Web-summit in Tubbercurry and South Sligo’s parish hall.

and not to do

  • Get disheartened when people do not understand.
  • Don’t try to do it all on your own. You don’t have the resources or the capacity. ‘Piggy back’ on regional campaigns – we are part of the Atlantic economic corridor hubs project, a community network between the hubs identified in the region offering training and business development, PR for remote working in the area, supporting local hubs with suite of back office ICT infrastructure including online booking engine.
  • Don’t focus on just co-working spaces. Your remote working strategy should also include home office workers and blended workers that work partially remote and partially onsite.
  • Don’t be afraid to lobby government officials. We got involved in a government pilot on smart communities. We ideated and helped create Smart community strategy and were chosen as Ireland’s first Smart Community. Tubbercurry and South Sligo sought financial support from local and national government in relation to their international conference.

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