At the Commission on Workers and Technology, we’ve spent two years speaking to workers up and down the country, everywhere from an insurance office to a factory floor to a supermarket, investigating what the rapidly changing world of technology will mean for workers. In this blog series, find out what we learned.
During the Coronavirus pandemic digital technologies have transformed work and helped protect jobs. In April 2020, almost half of employed people worked at home part of the time enabled by technologies like high-speed internet, video communication and collaboration tools. For many this made work better, supporting caring responsibilities or saving commuting time.
Technology can make work safer, more interesting or more creative. When we surveyed workers, 57% of people whose jobs had been affected by new technologies in the last five years said that it had a positive impact.
But for some, technology makes work worse because of the social isolation, insecurity, or exploitation. Sometimes risks are transferred from companies to individuals, for example in the platform and gig economies. We’ve also heard about workplaces using excessive surveillance, such as technology that logs where workers are or how long they spend online at their computer.
Another worrying trend is increased work intensity. 37% of workers we surveyed in 2015 said work was “often” or “always stressful”. It’s now so easy to reach people, by emailing and calling them, and workloads are increasing. An “always on” culture has consequences in terms of their stress, mental health and family life. Importantly this doesn’t help employers, as there is no evidence that this culture improves productivity!
Too often we hear about workers not being involved in the design and implementation of technology changes, which then don’t properly function or create extra work. If workers are consulted and involved in the process then technology change can take away the parts of jobs that we don’t enjoy, and free us up for other work.
Our commission looked carefully at what good work is and defined seven key pillars of good work.
Firstly, good work gives job security and sufficient working hours.
Secondly, it promotes a work life balance – meaning reasonable hours, flexible working practices and the ability to manage the boundaries of work and personal.
Thirdly, good work requires healthy working conditions, with a safe environment and positive workplace relationships.
Good work gives you control and fulfilment. That means you’re trusted to do your job, decide how you do it and get tasks that are interesting, valuable and meaningful.
Good work has fair pay and benefits, reflecting your skills and contributions. That means earning a living wage, and accessing decent paid leave.
It gives you opportunities for learning and progression, with training and support for you to thrive in your role.
Finally, good work must give you power, voice and representation. That means you have a meaningful say in what happens at work through good management, relationships, formal consultations and representation arrangements.
It requires a conscious choice to use technology to deliver this kind of good work.
We want to see good work standards drawn up by employers and trade unions and supported by the government. Good work standards could be adapted for particular sectors or locations, such as the London and Greater Manchester Good Work Charters. Employers should be obliged to meet these standards when bidding on government contracts.
The right to request flexible working must be extended. It should apply to everyone, including those who are not classed as employees or new to an organisation. Different ways of working flexibly should be promoted, from working slightly different hours each week, buying extra annual leave back from an employer, reducing daily hours, or agreeing variations to working location.
Finally, we want greater protections for workers in terms of automated decision making and workplace monitoring. There should be agreed limits to surveillance, and assurances that workers and trade unions will be consulted when an employer wants to introduce a new form of surveillance.
The Commission for Workers and Technology is part of the Changing Work Centre, established by Community and the Fabian Society in February 2016 to explore progressive ideas for the modern world of work.
If you want to read more you can download the full report from our website, where you can also find resources for reps and members about managing technology in the workplace, and access to all our training and learning opportunities.