Kells-based product designer Des Fitzgerald reveals how he swapped a gruelling daily commute into Dublin for a better work-life balance.

“It was a no-brainer,” the Kells native states bluntly. “I was basically spending 16 hours a week on the bus to and from the city. I used to have loads of interests, whether it was going to the gym, running or cycling. But instead I was coming home late in the evening and I was too tired to do anything.”

Fitzgerald, a product designer with Dublin firm Twisted Image, is typical of a new movement that is sweeping the working world in Ireland where vital employees are switching from life-sapping commutes to a better way of life by harnessing broadband and the myriad of innovation and co-working hubs that are popping up all over the country, from Skibbereen to Arranmore and Kells.

“I was spending 16 hours a week in traffic and I was coming home in the evening just tired ”

According to figures produced earlier this year by the Regional Enterprise Plan in its vision for Ireland’s mid-east region, every day an estimated 21,000 people alone from Meath, 28,000 from Kildare and 19,000 people from Wicklow commute to Dublin city from the commuter belt.

Powering a remote working revolution

As Fitzgerald told the National Enterprise Town Awards (NETA) judges during the recent presentations for Kells’ entry into the National Enterprise Town Awards, he was one of those commuters.

“My life is better now and I can spend more time with my family and keep up with my own interests”

“Now I’m home at 5.30pm to cook dinner and my commute is just seven minutes by bike,” he said. “My family is delighted.”

In a riveting presentation to the judges, local business leaders demonstrated how Kells with a rich history as a market town back as far as 500AD and the original home of the Book of Kells, is harnessing its collective enterprise and creative heritage to make it a thriving business hub within reach of Dublin but also a unique location with a good quality of life. The population of Kells is growing and the town is set to grow from 6,500 people in the 2016 Census to more than 10,000 people in the next 10 years.

Among the presenters was Des, who wanted to talk about the future of work in the 21st century.

Fitzgerald’s experience, eschewing the commute for a more productive and fulfilling life closer to home, is not unique and in many ways feeds into a serious narrative that also affects SME employers: staff retention at a time of almost full employment.

He told the NETA judges how he was on the verge of quitting his job to opt for a job closer to home.

Speaking afterwards with Think Business, Fitzgerald explained: “I was spending 16 hours a week in traffic and I was coming home in the evening just tired. I said ‘no, I can’t do this anymore.’ I was offered a job to do exactly what I was doing but in a nearby town and it involved less commuting.

“I gave my notice to my boss and he came back to me and said he had heard about the Kells Tech Hub and asked me to consider trying it out instead of quitting. Now I only have to go to Dublin once a week or fortnight to sign off on a job with a client or do a hand-over.”

Fitzgerald uses CAD (computer-aided design) and his engineering know-how to turn marketers’ ideas and concepts into real physical objects from beautiful drinks cases to statues and awnings for events and more, even entire replica New York subway carriages. His work with Twisted Image sees him working with some of Ireland’s best-known venues, brands and luxury goods labels, turning concepts into real physical objects made with wood, stone, steel or glass.

The Kells Tech Hub, where he is based, is a former call centre building that is now home to a myriad of businesses and remote workers and the aim is to foster a culture of entrepreneurship and help SMEs and start-ups to grow and generate jobs in the region. The hub was funded through the Rural Economic Development Zone initiative and is located at the Kells Enterprise and Technology Centre. The project was developed by Meath Enterprise and co-funded by Meath County Council.

Happily ensconced at the co-working hub in Kells, Fitzgerald’s life is more balanced and healthy and he has found it has made his work even more rewarding. And, happily for his employer, he didn’t have to change jobs in the end.

“It’s literally a no-brainer,” he said. “I’m seven minutes away from the house by bike or 20 minutes if I walk. That’s a hell of a lot better than spending 16 hours on the bus every week.”

Another advantage of the hub is the fact that he is interacting with other professionals in a host of other walks of business. “This means I am sitting with people who while they may not have anything in common with my particular business, I am actually learning about other industries and this throws up all kinds of new avenues and possibilities such as using new technologies like 3D scanning to make my own work even more efficient, and that’s something I wouldn’t have learned just sitting in my old office.

“My life is better now and I can spend more time with my family and keep up with my own interests.”

Fitzgerald’s story is becoming less unique as many workers and employers across Ireland are discovering there is a better way to work and, ultimately, to live.

Pictured above: Des Fitzgerald from Twisted Image at work at the Kells Tech Hub. Image: John Kennedy

Written by John Kennedy (john.kennedy3@boi.com)

Published: 16 September, 2019

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