The Welsh government has set a new post-pandemic target of 30 per cent of the workforce working from home in defiance of UK prime minister Boris Johnson’s “back to work” message.
Mark Drakeford, the Welsh first minister, has concluded that the shift in work patterns over the spring and summer — caused by the Covid-19 lockdown — has had various positive benefits.
The government in Cardiff will therefore seek to drive “changes to Wales’s working culture” to help people’s productivity and work-life balance.
At the same time it will argue that the plunge in the number of people working in offices has reaped a green dividend through a sharp drop in road congestion, pollution and private car use. There are also potential regeneration and local economic benefits to more people working at home or close to home, it will argue.
The Welsh government will not use any legislative powers to compel homeworking. Yet its new messaging will prompt alarm bells in Downing Street where Mr Johnson has been urging people to “go back to work” — meaning to their workplaces — since early August.
UK ministers have been dismayed at the slow pace with which people have taken up the advice amid concerns that prolonged homeworking is laying waste to city centres, in particular London. Many Tory MPs believe the government should be going further and compelling most civil servants to return to their workplaces as an example to the private sector.
The Welsh government said it was also exploring plans for a network of community-based remote working hubs to encourage much shorter commutes.
“The intention is to develop a hybrid workplace model, where staff can work in the office, at home, or in a hub location,” the Welsh government said. “The aim is that this will enable 30 per cent or more of workers to work remotely, helping reduce congestion and pollution and improving work-life balance for employees and employers.”
Lee Waters, deputy minister for the economy, said the pandemic had prompted a potential “step-change” in the way people worked in Wales.
“The UK government instruction for everyone to go back to the office is not one we are repeating in Wales,” he said. “We believe many people will want to continue working remotely in the longer term.”