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Research into the transformative potential of the digital revolution tends to take a quantitative approach in an attempt to monitor changes in employment levels due to digitalisation. The fear of potential job losses and negative disruption brought about by digital technologies has permeated the policy debate on digitalisation. In contrast, this report, based on case study research, takes a more qualitative approach to exploring the impact of selected digital technologies (internet of things, 3D printing, and virtual and augmented reality) in the workplace. While digital technologies can bring many opportunities and have been shown to be beneficial for both workers and organisations, there is a need to put safeguards in place to ensure employee data protection and privacy. A well-functioning social dialogue is also key to reaping the benefits of digital technologies and preventing – or minimising – any negative outcomes.

Digitisation in the workplace

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Key findings

The presence of innovation clusters that support innovation is an important enabling factor for the implementation of digitisation in the workplace. Good practices that highlight the business case and raise awareness about the opportunities that digitisation technologies can provide are critical to the higher uptake of new technologies.

The area in work most impacted by new technologies is task definition and content, with the Internet of Things (IoT) putting a greater emphasis on managerial and analytical tasks, 3D printing reducing physically demanding tasks, and virtual and augmented reality (VR/AR) either enriching or simplifying existing tasks. This drives the upgrading of skills and a rise in job discretion, mainly among managerial and engineering professionals, and less so for lower skilled and blue-collar workers. Public support in the form of funding, incentives and advice can help companies and smaller businesses with fewer resources to identify skills gaps and assist with measures to meet the skills required for digitisation technologies.

Management decisions play an important role in how digitisation technologies impact on work organisation and job quality. A digitisation strategy with a phased approach, based on experimentation and piloting underpinned by a high level of employee involvement in the innovation process, can contribute to more positive outcomes for both workers and organisations.

Social dialogue plays a critical role in digitisation at the workplace at many different levels. At company level, a digitisation approach that disregards employee participation and engagement will amplify negative impacts on working conditions. In the context of technological change, social dialogue also encourages greater acceptance by employees of new technologies.

IoT is the most pervasive of the three technologies examined, raising the greatest concerns when used for employee performance monitoring and requiring greater safeguards to protect workers’ fundamental rights. At European level, one avenue to address the issue of employee monitoring can be the EU social partners’ negotiation of a specific framework agreement on the collection and use of personal data in the employment context.

The report contains the following tables and graphs.

List of tables

Table 1: Definitions of digitisation technologies
Table 2: Overview of the digitisation case studies
Table 3: Most relevant sectors for technology uptake and use cases
Table 4: Drivers of and barriers to the adoption of digitisation technologies
Table 5: Overview of approaches to digitisation across the establishments investigated
Table 6: Areas of work organisation most impacted by the use of digitisation technologies
Table 7: Elements of job quality impacted by the use of digitisation technologies
Table 8: Specific impacts of digitisation technologies on skills and discretion

List of figures

Figure 1: Analytical model for digital technologies
Figure 2: Adoption by enterprises of IoT and 3D printing by size and sector, EU27, 2020 (%)
Figure 3: Advanced technology use by enterprises (with at least 10 employees) by country, EU27, 2020 (%)
Figure 4: Distribution of IoT clusters in Europe, 2019
Figure 5: Key elements for successful technology implementation

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