Lee Waters MS, Deputy Minister for Economy and Transport
The coronavirus pandemic has had an impact on all of us and we have all had to make changes to our personal and work lives – to the way we live, work, travel and socialise.
As we continue to respond to the virus, it is important we are also able to reflect on and learn from the experiences of the last six months. While much of the pandemic has been dominated by the impact of the virus on people’s health and wellbeing and the impacts on individual businesses, sectors and the wider economy, there have also been some positive changes, which we want to build on for the future.
During the first wave of the pandemic, we asked everyone who could work from home to do so. For some, this was a real challenge and we have lessons to learn about better mental health support, a more creative approach to childcare, more innovative housing design and new forms of respite that will be needed to support those for whom the new workplace reality has proven to be a demanding experience.
But for many others, home working has been a positive experience, giving them greater flexibility in their working lives and removing what can often be an expensive and difficult daily commute into a busy office location.
As the number of people working in offices has reduced, there has been a corresponding fall in road congestion and private car use, helping to improve air quality.
Working from home has also helped to improve productivity by giving those working from home greater flexibility.
The UK Government instruction for everyone to go back to the office is not one we are repeating in Wales.
We want to retain the benefits of working from home. We want employees to have more opportunities to work from home or in a local office more of the time, where it works for them and for their employer – not less.
As part of our “Transforming Towns” vision we also want to capture the benefits of this approach for towns and communities where this could create new opportunities for regeneration and economic activity. If we make these new work patterns a part of our future, it will give us the ability to re-think the design and the layout of many of our town centres and high streets. We can move from a retail-dominated model to a more diverse range of activity and opportunities, providing us with the platform to revitalise our town centres.
Of course for many the lockdown has meant very little flexibility at all. We are grateful to those in our services, manufacturing and logistics industries who have continued to go in to work through the pandemic, including our keyworkers, and for whom working from home is unlikely to be an option. But here too we need innovation and change. New technology and digital services provide the opportunity for fair work and it’s important we take that opportunity to re-design workplaces with the workforce in mind.
We believe many people will want to continue to work remotely in the longer term and this could be a step-change in the way we work in Wales, but we are also conscious of the needs of those for whom, for various reasons, home working is not a viable option.
We will be exploring how a network of community-based remote working hubs, within walking or cycling distance of many people’s homes could be created in communities across Wales, putting into practice our commitment to the Town Centre First principle. These hubs could be used by public, private and third sector employees and help encourage new partnerships to develop between industry, Welsh Government, local government and others. This work is being led by the Deputy Minister for Housing and Local Government.
We have an opportunity to make Wales a country where working more flexibly is integral to how our economy functions, embedding a workplace culture that values and supports remote working. We aim to see around 30% of the workforce working remotely on a regular basis.
In partnership with our stakeholders across the public, private and third sectors we will support a shift to greater numbers of the workforce working remotely; a shift informed by our fair work principles and where the worker voice plays an active role in shaping good work environments.
Our aim is for a hybrid workplace model, where staff can work both in the office and at home, or in a hub location. By doing this, we can contribute to taking action against climate change by reducing congestion and pollution, while increasing productivity and promoting work-life balance benefits for employees and employers.