Blog and news
October 13, 2020

The View from IFOW: Our May 2020 Newsletter

Welcome to our second monthly update. Be the first to receive this update by signing up here.

As businesses, unions, scientists, policymakers and government wrestle with the challenges of lifting the lockdown, nurturing recovery, and building resilience, the future of work is fast moving into the centre stage.

We know that economic shocks profoundly affect the way people live and work, how organisations operate, and industries and societies respond.

Covid-19 has shrunk and reshaped economies by supressing the supply and demand that depends on close human contact. It has forced companies to switch to remote models at speed, and redesign jobs at all levels. The way we’ve been communicating and interacting has been overturned - and so has the way we perceive and value some work, particularly those fighting in the frontline battle against Covid-19.

Our response to these shifts will shape our nation for generations.

What We’ve Got Coming Up

So we’re reconvening the Future of Work Commission, bringing together heads of business, academics and workers’ representatives in an emergency session next week to identify the key barriers and opportunities as we reconstruct the economy in the wake of Covid-19. We’ll share their insights in a report next month.

We expect the Commission’s report to be made public in time to be presented to the global leadership and festival of AI, CogX, which is meeting virtually for the first time on 8-10 June.

We’re proud to be the partner and co-curator of the Economy and Future of Work Stage, leading discussions on the links between work, well-being and inequality, automation and AI, and rebuilding a resilient society.

The full programme will be announced shortly but, as a taster, we’ll be hosting sessions on the acceleration of automation with Chris Pissarides and Daniel Susskind; new models of partnership with Naomi Climer and Jim Knight; and supporting Generation Covid with Anne-Marie Imafidon. Watch this space!

What We’ve Been Doing

The potential of data-driven technology to understand and track the coronavirus, make leaps in virology, immunology or epidemiology, or help companies adapt to rapid change, features daily in the news. But we must engage and tackle its adverse effects too, especially at work where the stakes are high. Our report on technical auditing tools in hiring, published in the last month, explored the growth of artificial intelligence tools used in hiring, and the way these can embed and deepen inequality. Among a series of recommendations for policymakers, businesses adopting these technologies, and tech developers, the report argues frameworks, processes and tools for ‘auditing’ must be expanded to capture a range of impacts on equality for workers.

We’ve proposed that businesses carry out Equality Impact Assessments to evaluate and respond to these impacts, and we’ve designed a first prototype. We’re launching a public consultation on the assessment next month so we can make it better. The paper was picked up by parliamentary allies, as seen in this EDM.

We captured the experiences of furloughed workers from across sectors, geographies and career stages, in another Spotlight report. We found that some firms have made worse the underlying and inherent uncertainty caused by the pandemic by limiting what they share with their workers about their furloughing strategy and business sustainability (known in economics as ‘information asymmetry’). From this, and our Charter for Good Work, we’ve put together a 5 point plan for unfurloughing Britain. Stay tuned.

Staying in the Know – research that caught our eye

ONS releases this month paint a stark picture in terms of both labour market shock, and secondary impacts of COVID19. Our Chair was interviewed on BBC Today programme about crashing numbers of vacancies, suggesting that unemployment could rise to about 10%. For those in work, people in the most exposed occupations are disproportionately from black and minority ethnic backgrounds (20%) relative to their share of the population (11%).

An academic study found those with the lowest household incomes were six times less likely to be able to work from home, and three times less likely to be able to self-isolate. This is borne out by new research that finds a direct correlation between income and ability to work from home. On average, those earning less than £20k can only do 30% tasks from home, set against 58% if earning more than £50k. This raises significant questions about changes in work, with our partners at the Oxford Internet Institute finding that online work is significantly increasing.

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In other research, MIT Technology Review found that 40% of those surveyed had seen job losses owing to automation in the last year. EY reported that nearly half of top bosses in 45 countries across the world are speeding up plans to automate their businesses as workers are forced to stay at home during the coronavirus outbreak.

We’re offering subscribers the chance to receive another update from us each month – a Future of Work Geeks Update. This will list provocative publications, blogs, online lectures and academic articles so you can stay ahead of the debate. Subscribe here to receive this additional publication.

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