From Zoom town to boom town 

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ViewsMay 17th, 2022

Remote working is back in the headlines. Yet Cardiff is the only Welsh place deemed to be a ‘Zoom Town’. Victoria Winckler, Director of the Bevan Foundation, asks if more should be done to facilitate the work-from-home trend.  

Remote working seems to be here to stay – it is now a well-established feature of many white-collar jobs. Despite the objections from Jacob Rees-Mogg and entrepreneur John Cauldwell, it is popular with many workers and bosses alike, It’s estimated that 11% of job adverts in January 2022 specified that they were remote working only.  In some places there are now so many remote jobs advertised on recruitment platform Indeed that they’re being dubbed “Zoom Towns”.   

Zoom Towns were initially pictured as rural idyls where tech workers could tap their keyboards while enjoying the scenery. Not so in 2022. Today’s Zoom Towns include Middlesbrough and Burnley, Stoke and Birkenhead. No doubt they are nice places – but idyllic isn’t the first word to spring to mind.  

Perhaps surprisingly there’s only one Welsh town in the top 25 – Cardiff. No sign of Swansea, Newport or Wrexham on the list, still less the smaller towns that it was hoped would benefit from a working from home (WFH) boom.  

The activity taking place elsewhere to harness the remote-working trend in many of the Zoom Towns s also striking. Instead of Working from Home the aim is to Work from Hubs.  

Sound familiar?  

The Welsh Government’s target of 30% of the workforce working remotely and its talk of remote working hubs was initially ahead of the curve. But the idea seems to have lost momentum – the list of hubs on the Welsh Government website dates from October 2021, has no listing for 6 local authorities and there are limited facilities in others.  I’m sure Maesteg Library – one of the hubs listed in Bridgend – is very nice but you have to wonder how the ‘bore coffi’ and ‘bounce and rhyme’ fit with that all-important Zoom call to a client. More clearly needs to be done to turn the Welsh Government’s policy wish into reality.  

Estimates  of the proportion of employers and employees who want to retain or grow remote work vary. But the overriding message is that some degree of WFH is here to stay. That said, employers and employees alike are concerned about the impact of WFH on young workers. And spare a thought for the 45% of remote workers forced to set up their desk in their kitchen, bedroom, bathroom or hallway!  

Effective and practical remote working hubs could be the way of both cutting the commute and reducing isolation. They could also help to retain spending power in local communities.  Hubs won’t suit all businesses, individuals or places. But a good quality hub has got to be better that working from your bathroom!  

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