Digital Futures at Work Research Centre

Lead Research Organisation: University of Sussex
Department Name: University of Sussex Business School


The Digital Futures at Work Research Centre (Dig.IT) will establish itself as an essential resource for those wanting to understand how new digital technologies are profoundly reshaping the world of work. Digitalisation is a topical feature of contemporary debate. For evangelists, technology offers new opportunities for those seeking work and increased flexibility and autonomy for those in work. More pessimistic visions, in contrast, see a future where jobs are either destroyed by robots or degraded through increasingly precarious contracts and computerised monitoring. Take Uber as an example: the company claims it is creating opportunities for self-employed entrepreneurs; while workers' groups increasingly challenge such claims through legal means to improve their rights at work.

While such positive and pessimistic scenarios abound of an increasingly fragmented, digitalised and flexible transformation of work across the globe, theoretical understanding of contemporary developments remains underdeveloped and systematic empirical analyses are lacking. We know, for example, that employers and governments are struggling to cope with and understand the pace and consequences of digital change, while individuals face new uncertainties over how to become and stay 'connected' in turbulent labour markets. Yet, we have no real understanding of what it means to be a 'connected worker' in an increasing 'connected' economy. Drawing resources from different academic fields of study, Dig.IT will provide an empirically innovative and international broad body of knowledge that will offer authoritative insights into the impact of digitalisation on the future of work.

The Dig.IT centre will be jointly led by the Universities of Sussex and Leeds, supported by leading experts from Aberdeen, Cambridge, Manchester and Monash Universities. Its core research programme will cover four broad-ranging research themes. Theme one will set the conceptual and quantitative base for the centre's activities. Theme two involves a large-scale survey of Employers' Digital Practices at Work. Theme three involves qualitative research on employers' and employees' experiences of digitalisation at work across 4 sectors (Creative industries, Business Services, Consumer Services, Public Services). Theme 4 examines how the disconnected attempt to reconnect, through Public Employment Services, the growth of new types of self-employment, platform work and workers' responses to building new forms of voice and representation in an international context. Specific projects include:

1. The Impact of Digitalisation on Work and Employment
-Conceptualising digital futures, historically, regionally and internationally
-Comparative regulation of digital employment
- Mapping regional and international trends of digital technology and work

2. Employers' Digital Practices at Work Survey

3. Employers' and employees' experiences of digital work across sectors
-Changing management processes and practices
-Workers' experiences of digital transformation

4. Reconnecting the disconnected: new channels of voice and representation
- displaced workers, job search and the public employment service
- self-employment, interest representation and voice

Dig.IT will establish a Data Observatory on digital futures at work to promote our findings through an interactive website, report on a series of methodological seminars and new experimental methods and deliver extensive outreach activities. It will act as a one-platform library of resources at the forefront of research on digital work and will establish itself as a focal point for decision-makers across the policy spectrum, connecting with industrial strategy, employment and welfare policy. It will also manage an Innovation Fund designed to fund novel research ideas, from across the academic community as they emerge over the life course of the centre.

Planned Impact

The impact objectives are to:

1. Generate new co-produced knowledge about digital technology at work to inform the government's Industrial Strategy and business practice.
2. Develop an analytical framework around the concept of the 'connected worker' and the 'connected economy'.
3. Provide a strong career development programme for mid and early career researchers.
4. Develop a Masters programme in HR Analytics.

The mechanisms employed to contribute to a shift in policy and practice will be achieved by building strong networks with relevant businesses, policy and civil society communities, through international visiting exchange fellowships, doctoral internships at government departments, with the Low Pay Commission and selected businesses. This impact strategy will enhance the long-term sustainability of the centre strengthening our capacity with a substantial body of mid- and early career researchers and embedding this knowledge in our teaching programme.

Policy makers, such as government departments (DWP, BEIS) and agencies (LPC, ACAS) and bodies such as the CIPD, will benefit from understanding the catalysts and barriers to business adoption of digital technologies at work and their consequences for productivity, job quality and employment effects. We will provide evidence for future policies. Businesses will benefit from understanding developments in their sectors, the facilitators and impediments, pitfalls and advantages of adopting digital technologies. This should lead to the consideration of which practices and government policies would be most beneficial.

Unions will benefit from monitoring trends and their consequences in different sectors. This will help to raise awareness among disparate unionised and non-unionised groups as to how policy could be developed to improve the quality of digital employment.

Community organisations will benefit from understanding the digital skills requirements for young people looking for work and for the self-employed. Our research and engagement will raise awareness amongst organisations of young people about the challenges they face and the skills they need.

International research organisations, such as Pew, Eurofound, ILO, will benefit from sharing knowledge on methods of how to measure and evaluate the consequences of the emerging digitalisation of work.

Immediate beneficiaries will be those who are participating on the advisory board who will be involved in the co-production of the research and interpreting the initial findings. Through their networks and involvement in dissemination, this will have a medium to longer-term impact on their broader communities, both within the UK and internationally. Advisory Board members have been closely consulted in the preparation of the bid and represent a selection of some of the leading businesses and public sector organisations affected by the digital transformation of work, alongside trade unions, key international research organisations and academic advisors. The board will advise on the design of the employer survey, facilitate access to organisations for the sector case studies and help with dissemination of the results. They will annually review and advise on the output from the centre.

The Impact and Communications Officer will facilitate communications about the centre from its inception. This work will be supported in year 2 onwards by a Media Fellow (professional journalist) who will write policy-focused summaries of our research findings in a widely accessible form. This will attract additional interest from a broader community in the medium to long-term who will be able to register for newsletters and access multi-media resources via the website and the Data Observatory.



Jacqueline O'Reilly (Principal Investigator) orcid
Mark Stuart (Co-Investigator)
Danat Valizade (Co-Investigator) orcid
Samuel Stephen Roscoe (Co-Investigator) orcid
Brendan Burchell (Co-Investigator) orcid
Fang Lee Cooke (Co-Investigator)
Constantin Blome (Co-Investigator) orcid
Andy Charlwood (Co-Investigator)
Charles Umney (Co-Investigator)
David Hesmondhalgh (Co-Investigator)
Odul Bozkurt (Co-Investigator)
Simon Deakin (Co-Investigator)
Jo Ingold (Co-Investigator) orcid
David Spencer (Co-Investigator)
Chidiebere Ogbonnaya (Co-Investigator)
Dimitra Petrakaki (Co-Investigator) orcid
Katerina Antonopoulou (Co-Investigator) orcid
Jill Rubery (Co-Investigator)
Claire Wallace (Co-Investigator)
Chris Forde (Co-Investigator)
George MacKerron (Co-Investigator) orcid
Becky Faith (Co-Investigator) orcid
Mohammad Moeini Aghkariz (Co-Investigator) orcid
Ioulia Bessa (Co-Investigator)
Richard Dickens (Co-Investigator)
Debra Howcroft (Co-Investigator)
Nachiappan Subramanian (Co-Investigator) orcid
Kate Randle Hardy (Co-Investigator) orcid
Gail Hebson (Researcher)
Kevin Hernandez (Researcher) orcid


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Deakin S (2020) Decoding Employment Status in King's Law Journal