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‘Remote working here to stay, but comes with risks’ says Senedd committee

11 Mar 2021 4 minute read
Photo by John Schnobrich on Unsplash

Remote working is “here to stay” but it “comes with risks” according to a committee of Senedd members.

The Economy, Infrastructure and Skills Committee warned the Welsh Government that whilst there are many benefits, permanent remote working will have serious impacts on the economy, businesses and the workforce.

The Committee launched an inquiry following the Welsh Government announcing a long-term ambition in September 2020 of 30 per cent of people working remotely on a regular basis.

It commissioned experts from Wales and across Europe, to assess the long-term impacts this could have on a range of areas.

These include, the economy and business, town and city centres, the workforce and skills, health (physical and mental) and wellbeing, inequalities between different groups and different parts of Wales (including those areas with poor connectivity), the environment, and the transport network and infrastructure.

It came to the conclusion that there are potentially significant positive and negative equality impacts of remote working.

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.

It is concerned 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 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 office isn’t dead’ 

Russell George MS, Chair of the Economy, Infrastructure and Skills Committee: “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 per cent of workers to continue working ‘at or close to home’ has far-reaching implications.

“The widespread hope and expectation is that a healthier hybrid model of flexible working will emerge, and that this will be a good thing.

“However, a lot of work is needed by the Welsh Government to maximise the potential benefits of remote working.

“It will need to address risks by supporting communities though the transition, protecting all workers’ rights, ensuring that managers have the right skills to support healthy remote working, and preventing the development of a ‘two tier’ workforce.

“It seems clear that a 30 per cent 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.”

Professor Alan Felstead, from Cardiff University’s School of Social Sciences: “Coronavirus will have a long-lasting effect on the way we work, with an explosion in the prevalence of homeworking.

“Even when social restrictions are fully lifted, it is unlikely there will be a full return to the traditional office setting.

“Instead, the last twelve months has revealed a strong appetite for homeworking among employees and has proved to employers that flexible working can bring business benefits.

“However, these changes are not going to be straightforward. We will need to rethink and reimagine our notions of home and work, the nature of our towns and cities, and assess whether our transport and telecommunications infrastructure is fit for purpose.

“By setting a target for remote working and launching an inquiry into the phenomenon, Welsh Government and the Senedd are leading the way.”

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