Working world in the wake of the COVID 19 crisis
Wissenschaftszentrum Berlin für Sozialforschung (WZB)
The project investigates how the economic and social disruptions resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic will affect the digitization of the working world in the short and medium term, and whether they will even act as a catalyst for a digitization push. The project's methodology aims to identify profound structural changes that will outlast the immediate economic shock. In doing so, we assume that the impact of the crisis can be shaped by institutional frameworks and policy interventions related to employment, social security systems, social partnerships and investment programs.
The analysis therefore also aims to identify policy design options that can mitigate or prevent negative consequences for employees. In addition, we focus on approaches that aim to use the crisis as an opportunity for a socially balanced and inclusive transformation of the world of work.
The research includes five sets of questions:
- Is the crisis causing greater investment in automation technologies, such as robotics, software, or artificial intelligence? Does this push promote substitution of labor in industrial and service occupations?
- Is there an accelerated introduction of digital technologies aimed at changes in business models, production models and work organization? Are occupational profiles, qualifications and working conditions changing as a result?
- Expansion of mobile working through digital tools: Are companies' efforts to make work less location-dependent a lasting phenomenon? How does it affect forms of collaboration, work-life balance, and gender-based inequalities?
- Reshoring: does the COVID-19 crisis encourage geographic restructuring of value chains, e.g., through regional integration and consolidation of capacities?
- Platform work: are there changes in the quantity and quality of nonstandard forms of employment mediated through digital platforms?
The study is both qualitative and quantitative in design. The qualitative work package comprises detailed case studies in six selected sectors (automotive, mechanical engineering, chemicals, finance, healthcare, retail logistics), which provide insights into the motivations and the long-term goals and visions of the actors from six selected sectors. These are complemented by an analysis of secondary sources such as company reports and media reports. Quantitative surveys will be used to gather additional information on the frequency and distribution of automation and digitization strategies among different sectors and company groups.
The qualitative studies will be used to develop standardized indicators and refine the methodology for the quantitative survey in the same six sectors. Through the mixed-methods approach, we gain insights into the motivations, long-term goals, and visions of actors at the micro level as well as comprehensive data on the general trends of digital transformation in the sectors studied.