Few people can have missed the fact that new technologies and digitalisation are bringing about profound changes in the nature of paid and unpaid work.
There is, however, little agreement about what the impact of these changes will be—and a growing industry of people and organisations willing to offer their opinion.
This debate is often characterised by two contrasting visions. Some analysts offer an extreme vision of significant job loss, as people are replaced by robots or smart technologies. Others predict the exact opposite, portraying a future of work in which new employment opportunities and job roles have been brought about by the adoption of digital technologies.
Our aim is to bring a little light to the white heat of this debate.
We would argue that, while there are many excellent blogs, research, books and so on, it is also true that far too often, debates about digital futures are based on speculation, vested interests, and hype. Robust evidence on the extent and nature of technology-based changes at work remains scarce. This is where Digit comes in.
Since January 2020, our ESRC Digital Futures at Work Research Centre (Digit) has been investigating these issues. We want to know: How are digital technologies reshaping work and impacting employers, employees, job seekers, governments and others?
Led by the Universities of Leeds and Sussex, with partners from Aberdeen, Cambridge, Manchester and Monash Universities, Digit aims to advance understanding of the benefits, opportunities, risks and challenges of digitalisation, through theoretically-informed, empirically-evidenced and policy-relevant research.
Utilising impact activities and engagement with policymakers, commercial and third sector organisations, our research programme involves more than 50 researchers, drawing on international, interdisciplinary and innovative approaches. The Digit blog aims to provide a platform for this wide-reaching community of expertise to contribute and engage in more evidence-based conversations, drawing on insights from our research.
Our work is focused on four core research themes:
- The impact of digitalisation on work and employment – How can we conceptualise the ‘Connected Worker’ – and the ‘Disconnected Worker’ – historically, regionally and internationally, and how is digital employment regulated legally?
- Understanding employers’ digital practices at work – using a survey approach in a major new study, we will provide robust evidence on how and why different technologies are, or are not, being implemented at work. We will report on employers’ business rationale for digital investment, and the perceived impact of such change on the key dimensions of work.
- Understanding employers’ and employees’ experiences of digital work across sectors – through longitudinal, sector-based case studies in creative industries, consumer services, business services, and public services, we are undertaking intensive investigations of the nature of digital adoption by employers, and how this is potentially transforming business models, management practices and employees’ experiences of work.
- Reconnecting the disconnected: new channels of voice and representation – we are exploring how the disconnected attempt to reconnect, through public employment services, new types of self-employment, and platform work, as well as workers’ responses to building new forms of voice and representation in an international context.
As our research progresses, we look forward to sharing and discussing our findings through the Digit blog—and to contributing to an informed, fascinating and wide-ranging debate about technology and work.