Beyond Digital: Planning for a Hybrid World Contents

Chapter 5: Work

The impact of the pandemic on the use of digital technology

141.Prior to the pandemic, we could already see a hybrid approach to work emerging, with some workers working remotely, alongside an increasing role for digital technology in the workplace, including automation and e-commerce. While the COVID pandemic dramatically accelerated these existing trends, it is important to remember than many workers—builders, delivery drivers, midwives—cannot undertake their work remotely. As such, the hybrid future of work will see some employees working entirely remotely, some working part of the week remotely and part in the workplace, and others still working entirely from their workplace.

142.A recent CBI survey found that over 60 per cent of firms have adopted new technologies or management practices since the onset of the pandemic, while a third have invested in new digital capabilities.157 Verity Davidge noted that in the manufacturing sector “we have definitely seen digital adoption accelerated through the pandemic”,158 with 80 per cent of companies now saying that the adoption of digital technologies will be a full reality in their business within the next four years. Verity went on to explain that:

“We have also seen a large number of companies move to what we call the revolution phase of digital adoption, which they are fully adopting, whether it is additive manufacturing, robotics or cobotics, the Internet of Things, or augmented and virtual reality.”159

143.The pandemic also necessitated a shift to home working for many people. Fabian Wallace-Stephens explained:

“in 2019, only around 5% of people mostly worked from home. Some of the most recent data suggests that, for the first half of January, 35% of people worked exclusively from home.”160

144.COVID has also forced a change in consumer behaviour, most notably e-commerce, and where people have found that to be a positive experience, it is likely to stick.161 The latest ONS statistics, from November 2020, show a 75 per cent growth in the value of online retail sales compared to the same period the year before.162 A recent survey by Waitrose found that 20 per cent of those doing their grocery shopping online had not considered it before. It found the biggest shift in shoppers over the age of 55; the number of regular online shoppers has nearly trebled in this age group and half say they will shop more for groceries online post-lockdown.163

145.Andrew Goodacre, Chief Executive Officer of the British Independent Retailers Association, stated that:

“Pre-Covid about 75% of our members had a website, and about half of those websites were transactional—they could do a sale over the internet. We did some research in October, which showed that the number of businesses with websites had risen to almost 90%, but, more importantly, the number of transactional websites was 80%.”164

146.Andrew also noted the large shift from offline to online shopping during the pandemic, with online shopping accounting for 50 per cent of non-food sales, compared to 20 per cent pre-COVID.165 Andrew explained that the changes towards online and digital sales that were happening pre-pandemic have been accelerated by a timescale of four or five years, and that this shift was unlikely to fall back,166 showing that online shopping is here to stay.

What jobs will be available in the hybrid world?

147.This inquiry set out to examine the impact of accelerated digitalisation, driven by the pandemic, on our long-term wellbeing. When it comes to considering how the number and types of jobs available in different sectors will change, it is impossible to separate the digitalisation that was happening pre-COVID, from the acceleration that has taken place during the pandemic and the wider impact that the pandemic has had on the labour market and the economy (and which is likely to continue for some time).

148.It is clear, however, that these factors combined are resulting in significant changes, and that there is much more to come. The retail sector, for example, saw nearly 180,000 jobs lost in 2020167 and the Centre for Retail Research has estimated there could be up to 200,000 jobs lost in 2021.168 Andrew Goodacre told us that some of the workforce could be retargeted and relocated, with some jobs moving from front of house to back of house—to packing, to creating the product ready for delivery, perhaps in some cases moving into delivery itself. However, not all jobs will be reallocated:

“Currently there are 2.5 million people employed in retail. In two to five years’ time, it will probably fall below 2 million within that timescale, as shops close and businesses change, and pivot to a more back-of-house emphasis, which is arguably more efficient than the front-of-house emphasis we have seen over the years from a retail perspective.”169

149.Fabian Wallace-Stephens noted that there has already been a shift from customer service roles towards warehousing and logistics jobs, noting that over the last decade, approximately 100,000 jobs were lost in customer service and about 40,000 jobs were created in warehousing and logistics.170 Fabian explained that this might be an appropriate way to think about how jobs will be created and lost in response to COVID. Fabian went on to describe how this change might significantly change the gender profile of jobs towards more male employment:

“We have seen food delivery platforms such as Deliveroo being such a lifeblood to restaurants during lockdown. This would further increase demand for male-dominated roles such as delivery workers, while reducing the need for waiting staff, who are more likely to be women.”171

150.Josh Abey also emphasised the potential impact on retail and hospitality, stating that in the next two to five years:

“We are worried about the retail and hospitality sectors, precisely because of this double whammy from Covid—furlough rates and jobs being lost to unemployment, and the high feasibility of automation in some of those sectors.”172

151.Josh went on to explain that some subcategories in the hospitality sector—food and beverage service activities, restaurant work, bar work—have seen an incredibly high number of furloughs.173 Moreover, according to an ONS analysis of the feasibility of automation of tasks in certain jobs and sectors, that subsector is at the highest risk of automation.174 Josh noted that those two things interacting together raise serious concerns about the number of jobs in those industries over the next few years.175

152.While sharing these concerns, Andrew Goodacre also noted that shopping can change, and retailers may use the increasing role for digital technology as an opportunity to change the shopping experience:

“Retailers will move the shopping experience more into an online environment, using technology such as Zoom. There is no reason why a virtual sales assistant could not connect with a customer, even in a pre-set appointment, to talk through their clothing range or what they are looking for, for a wedding or for whatever it may be.”176

153.Even with the opportunities offered by digital technology for changing the online shopping experience, and creating more warehouse and distribution roles, Andrew Goodacre stated that the job creation that comes from digital technology will not fully equate to the job losses from the closure of shops and the loss of shop floor staff. There will be an imbalance and a net loss of jobs on the high street.177

154.These job losses are likely to hit some communities particularly hard. The ONS estimates that of the 1.5 million people in England in jobs most vulnerable to automation, 70 per cent are women and 99 per cent do not have higher education degrees; workers aged 55 to 64 are more than twice as likely to be at risk than those in their 30s, and younger workers (aged 16–24) more than eight times as likely.178 Jobs most at risk are also concentrated in already economically disadvantaged areas: mainly rural, coastal or ex-industrial towns.179 But even this analysis is not straightforward. Those in the sectors least at risk of automation (such as health and education) are also more likely to be women, for example.180

155.In response, a number of witnesses spoke about the need for greater investment in skills and training. Fabian Wallace-Stephens recommended that the Government should explore how personal learning accounts could future-proof roles most at risk.181 The personal learning account would give all workers an annual training allowance to spend on different courses. On the other hand, Josh Abey noted that one of the Fabian Society’s most pressing recommendations to deal with the fallout from the COVID crisis and the interaction with the potential automation of lots of jobs would be to start with furloughed workers, some of whom will have been without work and technically unemployed for a year.182 Josh suggested that those on furlough should be provided with training, whether it is via employers or further education colleges, using the Union Learning Fund or Jobcentre Plus.183 Josh then went on to recommend the overhaul of the adult skills system to introduce a culture of constant lifelong learning and reskilling in the UK.184

156.In the medium term, the Fabian Society would like to see the introduction of an integrated adult skills system, including a digital portal for every worker so that they can see what is on offer for them in terms of training and reskilling, their current career options given the skills they currently have, and what they might need to do to acquire new skills and advance along a career path.185

157.The combination of the pandemic and increases in automation and other digital trends is radically changing the number and types of jobs available in different sectors. It is too soon to know how many people will lose their jobs and be unable to quickly gain new ones but it is clear that a very great number of people will need both financial support whilst unemployed and access to training to enable them to obtain new skills fit for the digital/AI era and employment.

158.There will clearly need to be significant action from the Government to tackle future increases in unemployment. We fully endorse the recommendations of the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee’s report Employment and COVID-19: Time for a New Deal.

159.The extent to which significant levels of home working remains a trend in the long-term is unclear. A number of surveys suggest many of those who began working from home during the pandemic as a necessity would like to continue to do so, at least in part, in the long-term186 and a survey of just under 1,000 businesses by the Institute of Directors showed that 74 per cent plan on maintaining the increase in home working and more than half planned on reducing their long-term use of workplaces.187 However, Kate Bell, Head of Rights, International, Social and Economics at the TUC, drew our attention to a survey of businesses by the ONS which found that only 14 per cent of businesses say that they will be increasing home working in the future.188

160.If many people continue to work from home in future, this will have a number of implications. We heard that there would be a knock-on impact for those employed in other sectors, such as those cafes, shops and other businesses that depend on custom from commuters, with Josh Abey stating that:

“City centres have been a large source of concern over the pandemic because of service jobs that served commuters no longer being needed.”189

161.We intend to further explore the potential for remote working to reshape towns and cities in a further inquiry.

162.Professor Abigail Marks, Principle Investigator with the Working@home Project, explained that in the future it will be important to emphasise that remote working does not necessarily mean home working. Professor Marks discussed the potential for establishing community hubs that can allow people who do not have the infrastructure at home to work away from the organisation.190 Professor Marks went on to recommend that the idea of community hubs should be supported, as some workers lack the space or ability to work from home. They suggested that community hubs could be particularly suitable for young people who may not be getting socialisation within the organisation, with community hubs being the next best thing.191

163.Others raised concerns about the potential for remote working to increase inequalities. Many people work in jobs that cannot be done remotely, and there is concern that those who are likely to benefit most are those who already enjoy higher levels of job quality, thus deepening inequalities in how people experience work.192

164.The Sutton Trust noted that there is a risk that a growth in home working could result in young people missing out on vital networking opportunities and experience of the office environment, which are major development opportunities for disadvantaged students in particular who have fewer pre-existing connections and opportunities for work experience.193 To prevent this from happening, it suggested that employers should ensure there are plenty of online opportunities for employees to connect and, where possible, meet in person.

165.Others highlighted the potential for remote working to remove barriers to employment for some people, with the British Psychological Society stating that “the key point” is that remote working provides flexibility, so that those with conditions that make it difficult to travel, to be around people, or to sit at a desk for seven hours without rest will see the barriers to their employment lifted.194 It also highlighted the importance of flexibility for those with caring responsibilities, who could use remote working to combine a job with the unpredictable nature of care responsibilities.

166.Just as with other aspects of the increasing reliance on digital technology, remote working has the potential to bring both benefits and risks and will impact different people in different ways. If the Government is committed to improving people’s wellbeing, it should consider how to ensure those who would benefit from the continued ability to work more flexibly, including remotely, are enabled to do so. It should also ensure that the tax system does not create barriers to remote working. Employers will also need to consider how to mitigate the risks of any increases in remote working exacerbating inequalities, including the particular impact on women and younger people.

167.The Government should work with employers and trade unions to ensure that decisions about job locations are equality impact assessed, so that people are not excluded from employment opportunities because of their living situation.

What we have learned

168.As noted above, the pandemic has given many individuals and businesses experience of remote working for the first time. In common with the other aspects of life considered in this report, this was found to work for some and not for others.

169.Professor Abigail Marks et al told us that for women in particular, there is a fine line between the advantages and disadvantages of home-based work.195 They explained that women appreciate the flexibility of home working but as women still take most of the responsibility for unpaid labour, women working from home—particularly when a partner and children are at home—are faced with an increased domestic burden. Women are also less likely to have dedicated workspace and more likely to share a workspace than men, with 51 per cent of women reporting that they have a dedicated room compared to 65 per cent of men.

Box 8: The hybrid world and gender inequality

All the evidence we heard suggests that women have born a disproportionate burden during the pandemic, often having to combine working online from home with primary responsibility for home schooling of their children and doing the majority of the housework. Women are also over-represented in the employment sectors hardest hit by the pandemic. The Government’s approach to the hybrid world will need to be mindful of this, and include a strong focus on addressing gender inequalities in work and childcare.

170.Other witnesses emphasised the different experiences of different socio-economic groups. Working Families referred to analysis by the Resolution Foundation, for example, which found that more than 80 per cent of workers in the top earnings quintile worked from home some or all of the time during the pandemic, compared to less than half in the bottom quintile. Professor Alan Felstead, from Cardiff University, emphasised that while home working grew across all occupational groups during lockdown, it grew particularly rapidly among the higher skilled occupational groups. For example, during the initial lockdown a majority of those working as managers, professionals, associate professionals (e.g. computer assistants, buyers and estate agents), and administrative and secretarial staff (e.g. personal assistants, office clerks and book-keepers) reported that they did all of their work at home. This was up from 5–9 per cent before lockdown. However, workers operating in lower skilled occupations continued to use the factory or office as their workplace with more than four out of five operatives and elementary workers (e.g. machine operators, assemblers and labourers) reported that none of their work was carried out at home in lockdown.196

171.The Employment Lawyers’ Association (ELA) suggested that for some younger workers, the shift to home working has affected a more traditional career paradigm of moving to big cities, commuting to work and perhaps living in shared accommodation with friends or housemates, as opposed to staying at home with their parents.197 Meanwhile, the Sutton Trust raised concerns about young people sharing space with people at home or not having a dedicated space to work in shared accommodation.198 It stated that if young people are working in the family home or living in shared housing after graduating, it is likely that these issues will continue to affect this group as they enter employment.

172.In discussing the additional costs of working from home, Jon Boys, Labour Market Economist at the CIPD, noted that “it is mostly the employees who are paying for working from home at the moment.”199 Jon explained that any decision about who should pay the costs of future home working will be difficult as:

“There are costs and benefits for both sides. Working from home we save a lot on commuting, et cetera, but we have the bills. In the office they are not paying for lots of rented space. It will be interesting to see how it pans out and where the balance of costs and benefits lies.”200

173.Professor Marks agreed, stating that in considering the additional costs of home working, “the key question, if those are all additional costs to the employee, is the extent to which organisations will be made responsible.”201

Box 9: Resources for home working

Going forward it is important that organisations are made accountable for the home-working space, both the physical provision of chairs and desks as well as the provision of technology, and perhaps financial support to optimise broadband, domestic heating, et cetera. There should be allowances for home working if that is the direction of travel.

Source: Q 100 (Professor Abigail Marks)

174.Many people’s experience of working life has changed significantly in the last year—with many people working from home and others on furlough or working reduced hours. Many others have lost their jobs entirely and there are many more job losses expected in the months and years ahead.

Reducing barriers for disabled people

175.Any increasing reliance on digital technology may have negative consequences for disabled employees, as Scope’s research found that disabled people are more likely to be in lower-paid work sectors which are most vulnerable to technological changes.202 It believed that increasing digitalisation poses a big risk to the employment prospects of disabled people as these low-paid, low-skilled jobs are increasingly replaced by roles requiring workers to use digital technology, or to move online. Only 38 per cent of disabled people have the digital skills for work,203 compared to the UK average of 52 per cent, and disabled people are 40 per cent less likely to have received digital skills support from their workplace.204

176.Scope highlighted some of the advantages of increasing reliance on digital technology, in supporting some disabled people to work from home, facilitating more flexible working patterns, and reducing the issues and the stresses associated with physical inaccessibility on transport and in offices.205 It noted that working from home has helped some disabled workers’ mental health and wellbeing, giving them more time to manage their disability or condition around their work, and has ultimately helped them stay in work. Home working has also given some disabled young people access to more job opportunities, as the number of employers advertising home-based roles has increased, allowing young disabled applicants to no longer worry about their disability or condition being a concern in a workplace setting. Professor Abigail Marks et al also suggested that an increase in home working has brought some benefits to disabled people, as 73 per cent of disabled workers report being more, or equally, productive whilst working from home due to better pain management and ability to adjust working times to better suit their lives.206

177.Moreover, the Access to Work programme can be used to provide disabled people with the technology needed to overcome some of those barriers to employment. To improve the long-term employment prospects of disabled people, James Taylor, Executive Director of Strategy, Impact and Social Change at Scope, recommended that the Government’s Access to Work programme, which provides funding for employers and disabled people to get kit and equipment, should be promoted better to employers and disabled people, as there are still far too many people who do not know about it.207 James went further in recommending that the Department for Work and Pensions should upskill employers much more coherently and cohesively than it does at the moment, perhaps through an online information portal or hub where employers can go to get the information they need.208 In addition to Access to Work, James told us that some employers do not know that they need to make reasonable adjustments for disabled people under equality legislation, and that there is a definite gap in the amount of information for employers and in their development of that knowledge.209

178.Lastly, James noted that some particular groups, such as those who are deaf, hard of hearing or have a visual impairment, have found that when they interact with the Access to Work scheme those assessing their needs are not always up to speed with the latest support or the latest assistive technology that could benefit that person in the workplace.210 James emphasised that there is not only a need to promote the scheme better to employers and disabled people, but also to upskill assessors on exactly what technology is available so that disabled people do not receive equipment that is unusable.

179.The Government should work with disabled people’s organisations to develop a campaign to increase awareness of the Access to Work scheme amongst both employers and disabled people, and ensure that Access to Work assessors have the skills and knowledge required to offer the most appropriate solutions for increasingly digitalised workplaces.

Potential future uses of technology and preparing for the hybrid world

180.We held several evidence sessions which explored how different digital trends were reshaping the world of work, and the impact that might have on our wellbeing. Three issues that arose repeatedly were:

181.Each of these will have implications for the employment rights needed in the hybrid world.

Platform working

Box 10: What is platform and gig work?

The European Observatory of Working Life defines platform work as an employment form in which organisations or individuals use an online platform to access other organisations or individuals to solve specific problems or to provide specific services in exchange for payment. 211

The UK Government has used the following definition of the gig economy—the gig economy involves exchange of labour for money between individuals or companies via digital platforms that actively facilitate matching between providers and customers, on a short-term and payment by task basis.212

182.In September 2020, the Fairwork Project published a report exploring the relationship between platform working and the COVID-19 pandemic.213 The report suggested that half of gig workers had lost their jobs, and those still working had on average lost two-thirds of their income. However, Dr Kelle Howson, a researcher at Fairwork , suggested that any future increase in unemployment will also lead to an increased supply of platform workers.214 The Fairwork Project’s report also argued that as those platform workers who continued to work performed functions essential to society, the pandemic deepened the fracture lines of inequality by placing additional pressures on the women, migrants, and minority ethnic groups who form a core part of the platform workforce. Dr Howson noted that as platform work has relatively low barriers to entry, compared with other sectors of the labour market, it is performed disproportionately by people who experience high barriers in other areas:

“Migrant workers, for example, may not have transferrable certificates and qualifications in their background professions. We also know that Black and minority ethnic minority communities have been overrepresented in more precarious and lower-paid work. Women who are more likely to have domestic care duties and need flexible working arrangements are more likely to turn to the gig economy.”215

183.Dr Jamie Woodcock, a Senior Lecturer at the Open University, explained that platform working, and its practices, are spreading to other sectors:

“We often think of platform work as being predominantly male—delivery drivers, taxi drivers and so on—but the largest growth area for platform work is health and social care. Arguably, more people work on platforms in this sector than elsewhere. The stress on the health service through the pandemic is likely to exacerbate the platformisation of parts of health and social care, which will have a hugely detrimental impact on predominantly women workers, and BAME women workers, post pandemic.”216

184.Dr Howson noted that many platform workers have faced income loss during the COVID-19 pandemic, as a result of lockdown restrictions and an inability to work.217 Dr Howson explained that as platform workers do not have basic employment rights and protections, such as sick pay, the only way of improving their circumstances is through regulatory reform. Dr Howson advocated for a review of the current legislative framework serving platform workers, and argued that there is a need for clarity about employment status and, potentially, a review of the definition of workers to include platform workers. Dr Woodcock suggested that the existing regulation should be effective as it is, as long as all workers, including platform workers, are classified correctly as having employed status, worker status or self-employed status.218 Dr Howson agreed, stating that platforms have the ability to misclassify their workers as self-employed, and that steps should be undertaken to address misclassification, possibly by placing the onus on firms to prove self-employment instead of workers proving that they are misclassified.219 When asked what steps they would like to see taken to tackle misclassification, Dr Howson stated that “in the short to medium term, simply better enforcement of existing legislation.”220

Box 11: The regulation of gig work

Most gig workers fall into a regulatory blind spot. Their conditions do not necessarily resemble what we would traditionally think of as self-employed workers. They tend to be quite dependent on platforms for their livelihood. Generally, they do not have an ability to set rates of payment for their work, and, while there is a promise of flexibility and autonomy, often what we see in practice is quite sophisticated and elaborate systems of incentives and penalties that govern the work of gig workers. We advocate a review of the current legislative framework serving gig workers. We think there is much more need for clarity about employment status and, potentially, reviewing the definition of workers to include platform workers, who are generally dependent on platforms for their security and for their livelihood.

Source: Q 103 (Dr Kelle Howson)

185.Since our oral evidence sessions discussing platform working, the UK Supreme Court has ruled that Uber drivers are workers, rather than self-employed.221 Following this judgment, Uber has announced that it will guarantee its UK drivers a minimum wage, holiday pay and pension.222

186.At present, it is difficult to anticipate the exact implications of the recent UK Supreme Court judgment in relation to Uber drivers —whether it will lead to voluntary improvements in the working conditions of platform workers, whether those working for other platforms will bring similar court cases, or whether the Government will now enforce existing legislation, or introduce new legislation to protect the employment rights of platform workers. However, we welcome the UK Supreme Court’s judgment as a first step towards ensuring employment rights certainty for platform workers.

187.The Government should introduce new legislation to provide platform workers with defined and enhanced employment rights.

Digital monitoring and surveillance

188.Louise Marston, Director of Ventures at the Resolution Foundation, noted that there is a risk that employers may try to bridge the management gap created by increased remote working with technological tools.223 Employers may decide to observe what employees are doing and try to monitor productivity remotely. This may lead to tracking what people are working on and how many things they are doing, in quite an instrumental, transactional way that does not necessarily capture the quality of their work.224 There are already reports of some companies introducing increased monitoring and surveillance for staff working from home.225 Louise noted that workplace surveillance and monitoring has already been in place for some workers for some time:

“Call centres have had very close monitoring in place, whether you were at home or in the call centre. Lots of surveillance tools have been developed over the last few years and used in warehouses and call centres, and even for care workers moving between jobs and driving between houses.”226

189.Louise explained that with the adoption of remote working, workplace monitoring has become more visible and is now affecting workers on higher incomes in more professional workplaces, and referred to a survey which found that one in five firms has already implemented such software or is considering it.227 Kate Bell noted that a TUC survey had found that 22 per cent of workers said they had experience of artificial intelligence technology for absence management, 15 per cent said they had been rated by technology, and 14 per cent said they had experience of these technologies for work allocation.228

190.Louise told us that without consultation and discussion with staff about which data are being used, and how they should be used to support people, such technology can be a very blunt tool and can cause people considerable anxiety about whether it is monitoring things that are actually relevant.229 Kate Bell suggested that new legislation is required to ensure stronger rights for workers to be informed of the use of this type of technology at work, stronger rights to collective decision-making over the use of this type of technology, and stronger rights to privacy and anti-discrimination.230

191.The ELA agreed, noting that whilst the UK’s data privacy and employment laws limit what employers can do in this regard, with appropriate policies and data security in place a significant degree of employee surveillance and monitoring may be permissible.231 It suggested that such action presents particular issues in the context of remote working and a worker’s right to respect for private and family life. The ELA recommended that guidance should be prepared to deal with employee monitoring, a view shared by Anna Thomas, who raised concerns about the lack of guidance about the application of data protection regimes to workplace monitoring, and suggested that there are “real gaps” in the legal protection of workers.232 Anna suggested that it is important not only to understand and apply existing rights under the data protection regime, but also to increase workers’ rights to be involved in the process of workplace monitoring.

192.Louise Marston explained that employee’s data could be used to improve their working lives and, in suggesting potential recommendations for the Committee, discussed making that data more accessible to individual workers.233 Louise suggested that, in some cases, workers could take the data with them to another job to prove the level of competence they have achieved in the role: a delivery driver could share their rating from an app with a future employer, for example, or individuals could use data to document the workplace skills they have acquired.

Technology as an enabler of an ‘always on call’ culture

193.Concern around work-life balance as a result of increasing remote working was a common theme among witnesses, with the British Psychological Society stating that work-life balance can be threatened when it is difficult to maintain physical and psychological boundaries between work and personal life.234 Carnegie UK Trust also emphasised that for those working remotely, working almost exclusively via digital platforms during the pandemic, it has brought new strains and expectations, isolation from co-workers and an often unhealthy blurring of boundaries between home and work.235 There is also evidence to suggest that people are working longer hours (one study suggested an eight per cent rise in working hours),236 which could be detrimental to wellbeing.

194.Professor Abigail Marks explained that employees are increasingly aware of the emails and messages they receive telling them how long they spend online.237 As a result of these messages, employees feel that they are being monitored, and feel the need to spend more time online and undertaking work in their own time. Professor Marks noted that they had found an increase of between 20 per cent and 25 per cent in people’s working hours, in response to a real or perceived pressure to be online, and to be seen to be online. In response to such concerns, some have proposed a ‘right to disconnect’, which would enshrine in law a worker’s right to not be contacted by their employer outside of working hours. This type of legislation already exists in a number of countries, including France, Italy and the Philippines.238 Kate Bell noted that the TUC supports a ‘right to switch-off’, explaining that such a right would require management to have a conversation with its workforce to negotiate policies about when workers can switch-off.239 Kate explained:

“It is not a regulation that says that nobody must be emailed after 5 o’clock, but it is a regulation that says that you have to have that conversation with your staff, and you have to set safe limits.”240

195.Kate recommended that a similar policy should be introduced in the UK, with the requirement for collective consultation and a collective discussion about working practices.241

196.Beyond recommending a right to switch-off, some witnesses suggested that there is a need to introduce new digital rights for employers to reflect our hybrid world. In relation to digital monitoring, for example, Kate Bell stated that:

“This is an area where we will need new legislation … we certainly think we will need stronger rights to information over the use of this kind of technology at work, stronger rights to collective decision-making over the use of this kind of technology and stronger rights to privacy and antidiscrimination.”242

197.Our growing reliance on digital technology has caused, and will continue to cause, a huge shift in the nature of work, which, in turn, will change the nature of our relationship with our employers. For example, the growth of platform working, digital monitoring and ‘epresenteeism’ poses significant risks for our wellbeing in work. However, it seems clear that employment practice, policy and legislation have failed to catch up with the hybrid reality of today’s workplace. As a result, we believe that the Government must intervene to introduce new employment policies and regulation to deal with the current, and future, changes to our working conditions, and the relationship between employee and employer. We do not believe we can rely on existing legislation, even if more forcibly implemented, or on individual legal initiatives such as the Uber court case.

198.We believe that, alongside its new hybrid strategy, the Government should consult on strengthening the current legislative framework for employment rights, to ensure it is suitable for the digital age (including consideration of a right to switch-off, responsibilities for meeting the costs of remote working, rights for platform workers, the use of workplace monitoring and surveillance, and giving workers a right to access data about their performance).

157 Centre for Economic Performance, The business response to Covid-19: The CEP-CBI survey on technology adoption (September 2020): [accessed 11 February 2021]

158 Q 82 (Verity Davidge)

159 Ibid.

160 Q 82 (Fabian Wallace-Stephen)

161 RSA, Who is at risk? Work and automation in the time of Covid-19 (October 2020): [accessed 11 February 2021]

162 Office for National Statistics, ‘Retail sales, Great Britain’ (November 2020): [accessed 11 February 2021]

164 Q 82 (Andrew Goodacre)

165 Ibid.

166 Ibid.

167 BBC News, ‘Worst year for High Street job losses in 25 years’ (1 January 2020): [accessed 11 February 2021]

168 Ibid.

169 Q 83 (Andrew Goodacre)

170 Q 83 (Fabian Wallace-Stephens)

171 Ibid.

172 Q 83 (Josh Abey)

173 Ibid.

174 Ibid.

175 Ibid.

176 Q 87 (Andrew Goodacre)

177 Ibid.

178 Community and Fabian Society, Sharing the Future—workers and technology in the 2020s (December 2020): [accessed 11 February 2021]

179 Ibid.

180 RSA, Who is at risk? Work and automation in the time of Covid-19 (October 2020): [accessed 11 February 2021]

181 90 (Fabian Wallace-Stephens)

182 Q 90 (Josh Abey)

183 Ibid.

184 Q 88 (Josh Abey)

185 Ibid.

186 YouGov, Most workers want to work from home after COVID-19: [accessed 12 February 2021]

187 Institute of Directors, Home-working Here to Stay, New IoD Figures Suggest (October 2020): [accessed 12 February 2021]

188 Q 103 (Kate Bell)

189 Q 83 (Josh Abey)

190 Q 94 (Professor Abigail Marks)

191 Q 100 (Professor Abigail Marks)

192 Carnegie UK Trust, ‘Good Work for Wellbeing in the Coronavirus Economy’ (5 October 2020): [accessed 12 February 2021]

193 Ibid.

194 Written evidence from the British Psychological Society (LOL0044)

195 Written evidence from Professor Abigail Marks et al (LOL0070)

196 Written evidence from Professor Alan Felstead (LOL0034)

197 Written evidence from the Employment Lawyers’ Association (LOL0076)

198 Written evidence from The Sutton Trust (LOL0048)

199 Q 111 (Jon Boys)

200 Ibid.

201 Q 101 (Professor Abigail Marks)

202 Written evidence from Scope (LOL0094)

203 Ibid.

204 Q 92 (James Taylor)

205 Written evidence from Scope (LOL0094)

206 Written evidence from Professor Abigail Marks et al (LOL0070)

207 Q 94 (James Taylor)

208 Q 100 (James Taylor)

209 Ibid.

210 Ibid.

211 Eurofound, ‘Eurwork: European Observatory of Working Life’ (25 June 2018) [accessed 12 April 2021]

212 Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy, The Characteristics of those in the Gig Economy (February 2018): [accessed 12 April 2021]

213 The Fairwork Project, The Gig Economy and COVID-19: Looking Ahead (September 2020): [accessed 12 February 2021]

214 Q 108 (Dr Kelle Howson)

215 Ibid.

216 Q 108 (Dr Jamie Woodcock)

217 Q 103 (Dr Kelle Howson)

218 Q 103 (Dr Jamie Woodcock)

219 Q 104 (Dr Kelle Howson)

220 Ibid.

221 UK Supreme Court, Uber BV and others v Aslam and others, [2021] UKSC 5 (19 Feb 2021)

222 ‘Uber to pay UK drivers minimum wage, holiday pay and pension’, The Guardian (16 March 2021): [accessed 22 March 2021]

223 Q 94 (Louise Marston)

224 Ibid.

225 ‘Call centre staff to be monitored via webcam for home-working infractions’, The Guardian (26 March 2021): [accessed 29 March 2021]

226 Q 96 (Louise Marston)

227 Ibid.

228 Q 103 (Kate Bell)

229 Q 96 (Louise Marston)

230 Q 103 (Kate Bell)

231 Written evidence from the Employment Lawyers’ Association (LOL0076)

232 Q 96 (Anna Thomas)

233 Q 100 (Louise Marston)

234 Written evidence from British Psychological Society (LOL0044)

235 Written evidence from the Carnegie UK Trust (LOL0096)

236 Andy Haldane, Chief Economist Bank of England, Speech on is home working good for you,
14 October 2020: [accessed 12 February 2021]

237 Q 96 (Professor Abigail Marks)

238 Autonomy, The New Normal: A blueprint for remote working (October 2020): [accessed 13 April 2021]

239 Q 103 (Kate Bell)

240 Ibid.

241 Ibid.

242 Ibid.

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