Remote access to services – green revolution or cop out?

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ResourcesViewsApril 6th, 2023

Mike Hedges MS, Senedd Member for Swansea East, weighs up the pros and cons of of remote access to services.

We can divide the first part of the 21st century into pre Covid and post covid. The direction of retail, public and private services which were moving to on line and remote access was turbo charged by the pandemic.

For example, The Covid-19 pandemic caused a huge change in working practices across the civil service, with nearly 90% of the 430,000 staff dispatched to their homes for months on end

Across the public sector and private sector, remote working seems certain to have a more important role to play in the future. It was a national health necessity, but with this crisis behind us organisations are now able to go back to choosing where people work. Whilst some have returned to their pre-crisis approach many others have continued flexible and hybrid working. For most people, a hybrid arrangement which includes the workplace, the home, and potentially a third shared space where they connect with customers or colleagues is the new method of working.

Given the efforts made to adapt, short-term, enforced change have resulted in longer-term change but do they benefit both public and private sector workers, organisations and more importantly the public who use these services.

In a survey, almost three in five of respondents said they are more productive working from home, and 72% agreed that their wellbeing would be greatly improved if they were able to continue doing so.

Home working has been environmentally friendly, with a substantial reduction in traffic on roads such as the M4 and A4232. My mileage has dropped by over a third this year as has the mileage of many people I know. Environmentally this is good but , there is always a but, heating need to be put on longer increasing home energy costs and this is having an environmental impact. Whilst for organisations it reduces their rent, rates, and energy costs there is an increased energy cost on the home worker. It can certainly be argued that remote access to services also save individuals travel costs and also reduces energy use as they access via a phone or mobile device without leaving where they live.

To access services there is an assumption that everyone has a mobile phone, a mobile internet enabled device and easy access to the Internet. For many, older and many poorer people that is not true.

Many, not just the elderly and less well of actually like to speak to someone face to face or via a telephone. As we have seen with banks that is becoming less and less easy to do as branches close. Sometimes queries are complicated or difficult to explain and using a FAQ service certainly does not meet the needs of many people. Many, of these online queries are difficult to navigate and cause concern for the user. It has taken persistence and a great deal of time to find physical addresses and email addresses for many organisations.

Too often, what works for an organisation takes precedents over the needs of the general public. We have moved from face to face and phone calls, contact via emails to online queries which fail to meet the needs of many.

The reply you can access our website go to our FAQs and then send an online query does not meet the needs of a significant proportion of the population. It is a greener way of working but it leaves people excluded especially those who cannot or do not want to access service via the Internet. Too often people arrange services for people like themselves without any thought to those who are not like them.

In summary, remote working is greener, benefits organisations and lots of their employees but fails those who are older and less well off.

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