As the Government begins to open the economy, we must work together to revalue and transform work for good. The director of the Institute for the Future of Work, Anna Thomas, argues that the opportunities and risks faced by people across the country need an integrated, forward-looking and strategic response.
COVID-19 has changed the way we live and work. It has accelerated many future of work trends, and created new ones. The direct consequences of the pandemic are likely to last for 18 months at least, but shifts in ways of working and business models are likely to endure.
As the latest ONS release shows, only one thing is certain: disruption.
As consensus over the lockdown is unravelling, the Institute for the Future of Work is reconvening the expert group from the Future of Work Commission, including heads of business, academics and workers’ representatives, in an emergency session to identify key barriers and opportunities to rebuilding a future of good, sustainable work. A dedicated Commission will help us plan for disruption.
The main goals are to offer insights into new work trends and model the kind of collaborative forum we think is critical to collaboratively shaping futures of work beyond this period of crisis management.
Through our crisis and post-crisis response, we have an opportunity to think creatively, and think together, about how we align the interests of business and society, and improve the value, shape and experience of work for generations to come. We must take it.
So, first, to provide the best insight, the Commission will be multidisciplinary. It will bring together different perspectives on how to manage fast-paced change in way that respects the new value we share for people’s social and economic roles, especially ‘key’ roles.
The Commission will represent a wide range of expertise from philosophy and economics to technology, law and public health. In the face of poor evidence and unprecedented threats, this is a time for renewed trust in expert opinion to translate shifts in what we value most into tangible change. A cross-disciplinary consensus will help bridge the gaps between science and society too.
But we are adding some new angles to the old band. This time, we will invite frontline retail and social care workers to join the meeting as ‘experts’ in the essential and often invisible work that has kept us going through the pandemic. And we will be joined by Professor Sir Michael Marmot, 10 years on from his landmark review on the social and economic determinants of health.
Second, the Commission will model a partnership approach to identify and solve key challenges. The Chancellor has demonstrated the potential of working with business and unions together in co-development of the furloughing scheme (Job Retention Scheme) and the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme. The success of this model contrasts with the divisions of the last week – and it should be embedded by the Government.
There is a wealth of international evidence to support the social partnership approach. Last month, the re-opening of Danish schools was negotiated in some detail with the Danish Union of Teachers, education minister and the health authorities (largely provided by local authorities). The unions then publicly expressed trust in the authorities, saying they felt quite safe about advising their members to return to work.
Return to work needs dialogue, and ultimately consensus, between stakeholders that affect decision-making and behaviour in order to get the best results. This need is likely to become more pronounced in the next phase of the crisis: the transformation of work.
Third, the Commission will advocate for prioritising the creation of good future work at the heart of Britain’s public policy agenda, guiding policy-making across Government.
A strong case has been made for Government playing a more active role in helping people make radical changes to their ways of working and doing business, as well as stimulating growth and the creation of new jobs. Extricating ourselves from the lockdown and rebuilding the economy will need a strong, strategic and co-ordinated response across the Departments for Work and Pensions, BEIS, Health, Education and Treasury and the combined authorities.
It’s been done before. Not only through the Commission set up by Tom Watson in Westminster 2016-17. There’s the Californian Future of Work Commission, the Danish Disruption Council,Swedish Job Security Council and New Zealand Future of Work Forums
The pandemic has shone a spotlight on systemic issues, reframed the conversation about work, and revealed new questions for business, unions, policy-makers and legislators as the government wrestles with the challenge of lifting the lockdown, nurturing a recovery and building resilience for the future.
How we respond will shape our nation for many years to come. It’s essential to step back and consider what we want the future to be.
We have seen how work is at the centre of people’s lives and the economy. A sharper and more consistent focus on how to create good work in the future across the departments of local and national government is the best way to make sure work supports health, wellbeing and resilience for individuals, communities and the nation. The Commission, to advance this mission, is a first step. It should help us identify priorities and focus resources to create a country better prepared to face of the upheavals ahead.
The expert group from the Future of Work Commission will meet in an emergency session on 28 May. The IFOW press release is here.