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Office of Technology Assessment at the German Bundestag Office of Technology Assessment at the German Bundestag

Information on the project

Opportunities and threats of mobile and digital communication in the workplace

Thematic area: Technology, society, innovation
Analytical approach: TA project
Topic initiative: Committee on Education, Research and Technology Assessment
Status: completed
Duration: 2014 till 2016

Background and central aspects of the topic

The modern workplace is characterized by globalisation, mobility and constant accessibility. The digitisation of work and production processes changes the workplace fundamentally, and with it society. Mobile working using a laptop, smartphone and tablet computer is already a standard feature for many people. Thanks to new technologies we are less and less tied to our office-based work desks. A raft of benefits is ascribed to this new mobility. The ability to work anywhere at any time creates a great deal of freedom: for companies, because employees can be deployed even more flexibly; for employees, if they need and want flexibility in their work to fit in with their private life. In addition to these benefits, however, there are also drawbacks and threats, for both the employer and the employee. Fears about the work/life balance becoming too entangled, with the potential for this to result in stress and impaired health, together with the lack of contact with colleagues, poor IT skills, privacy and security concerns and the lack of control are raised repeatedly when this issue is discussed. Furthermore, far more fundamental changes can be seen in the way we work: what in the past were regarded by the labour market and existing labour legislation as characteristic features of a »normal job« are being replaced by increasing flexibilisation of employment forms and working models such as cloud- or crowd-working. Apart from the transformation in knowledge-intensive occupations, the digitisation of work is dramatically changing the organisation of work, working conditions and the work requirements of employees in many service sectors and in industrial production (Industry 4.0). In view of this development the TAB has been commissioned by the Committee for Education, Research and Technology Assessment to carry out a project titled »Opportunities and threats of mobile and digital communication in the workplace«.

Numerous research initiatives and projects already running on the subject of Industry 4.0 and Digital Work (High-Tech Strategy 2020, BMBF initiative Industry 4.0 etc.) are seeking solutions and flexible models for the challenges which take account of employers' and employees' interests: increased productivity in digitised, global competitive structures for the former, and security for the latter in the form of adequate labour law and health and safety provisions and a fair work/life balance.

Objectives and approach

The aim of the TA project is to illustrate the impacts of digitisation on the nature and quality of employment relationships and the associated potentials and problems for employees and companies in Germany. To provide a comprehensive analysis, the digitisation processes in four economic sectors (automotive, mechanical engineering, design and ICT) are to be highlighted as examples., The intention is also to examine what existing labour law take adequate account of the changed requirements in traditional work models and in the newly developed employment forms and whether there is a need to adapt legislation. In addition, a planned horizon scanning shall identify options and limits with regard to the digitisation of the working environment for knowledge-based small and medium sized companies (SMEs). The overall intention of the project is to identify what policy framework conditions and prerequisites have to be created in order to cope with the changes in the working world ahead of us.