Posted: Wed 10th Mar 2021

“Remote working is here to stay, but it comes with risks” Senedd committee warns

News and Info from Deeside, Flintshire, North Wales
This article is old - Published: Wednesday, Mar 10th, 2021

In March last year, companies across the UK were forced to shut workplaces and employees were told to work from home as a result of the pandemic.

The Welsh Government has now said its ‘long-term’ ambition is to see around 30 percent of the workforce in Wales working from home or near from home, including after the threat of Covid-19 lessens.

Ministers say the ambition would be achieved by ‘driving changes to Wales’ working culture’ that would give more people the choice to work in a way that helps their productivity as well as their work-life balance.

But a Senedd Committee has warned that whilst there are many benefits, permanent remote working will have serious impacts on the economy, businesses and the workforce.

The Economy, Infrastructure and Skills Committee launched an inquiry and commissioned experts from Wales and across Europe, to assess the long-term impacts this could have on a range of areas, including the economy and business, towns and city centres, workforce and skills, health, inequalities, environment and transport.

The Committee believes that the Welsh Government must “mainstream” equality into its policy for ‘remote working’ and ‘flexible working’ more generally so that no one is left behind.

Concerns were raised  that the highly skilled and highly paid are likely to benefit most from this policy so there is a real risk of creating further economic inequality – the Welsh Government must look at the wider socio-economic impacts of the remote working policy.

The Committee is also calling on the next Senedd to scrutinise the Welsh Government’s plans to close the digital divide and support individuals and communities with digital connectivity and digital skills to adapt to the ‘new normal’.

The Committee heard evidence about many advantages for workers of the flexibility of remote working.

There’s a widespread hope and expectation that a healthier ‘hybrid’ model of flexible working will emerge, where people sometimes work in the office and sometimes at home or in a co-working space for the rest of the time.

The Committee heard how urban centres are likely to lose if people work remotely, however this could advantage ‘left behind’ town centres and local neighbourhoods.

The Welsh Government is piloting new ‘community hubs’ for people to work from, but the Committee is concerned that there are gaps in evidence about the existing network of co-working spaces in Wales.

The Committee believes the Welsh Government should map out existing network of hubs

The Committee believes ‘community hubs’ should support local communities and high streets as well as supporting innovation and collaboration.

Russell George MS, Chair of the Economy, Infrastructure and Skills Committee said:

“The office isn’t dead but remote working is here to stay, and it comes with risks.

The “Great Homeworking Experiment” has busted myths and demonstrated huge environmental benefits.

But the Welsh Government’s ambition for 30% of workers to continue working ‘at or close to home’ has far-reaching implications.

A lot of work is needed by the Welsh Government to maximise the potential benefits of remote working.

It seems clear that a 30% ambition is achievable, but as well as obvious environmental gains, the wider impacts must be measured and mitigated.

There must be a plan to deal with the move of economic activity out of city centres and to ensure the benefit is felt by local communities.

Higher skilled, better paid workers will benefit most, and the implications of this for the rest of the workforce, and for public funding, need to be considered.

There are obvious benefits to remote working, and there are obvious concerns, it’s vital that as we recover from COVID-19 that we get the balance right for our communities and that no one is left behind.”

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