Tomorrow's Economy

Measuring tomorrow’s work and economy

16 October 2019

Insights from 50 expert interviews in the UK, France and Germany

Florian Ranft
Barry Colfer

This paper is a study by Policy Network and Das Progressive Zentrum, and is supported by Dropbox.

Digital technology is so omnipresent in our daily lives both at work and at home that it is easy to forget how far we have come in only a short time. During the early days of the internet it was hard to imagine how profound its impact on society and on the economy would be, as the internet economy largely developed independently of the brick-and-mortar economy. The position began to change with the emergence of smartphones and cloud-computing in the 2000s, which rapidly accelerated the merging of the online and offline worlds. The impact on existing business models throughout the economy was transformational.

As a consequence, e-commerce platforms have moved into retail and traditional retailers have developed strong e-commerce brands. Software companies are largely no longer selling physical products, but have moved towards a flexible software-as-a-service model of doing business, based on the cloud, and industrial giants including the likes of Siemens now employ tens of thousands of software developers. Digital technologies are an integral part of successful companies and no longer simply a sector of the economy. All business is now digital.

In many cases, digital transformation has been an evolution rather than a revolution. The digital economy offers vast opportunities, and the chance for entrepreneurs to build new, efficient and innovative businesses that create jobs, growth and solid returns on investment. But in its impact on the economy and society, digital transformation has unquestionably been a double-edged sword, and new technologies have clearly had a disruptive impact. There is no aspect of industry, the workplace, or the local economies that has been left untouched by digitalisation. Structural changes have also created winners and losers in relation to the distribution of employment and wealth. As a result, there is the potential for a political backlash from those who are at risk of being “left behind”. Ensuring that this fundamental transformation of the economy is inclusive, and does not marginalise particular regions, individuals or even whole sections of society, is at the heart of the public policy challenge around digitalisation. For policy-makers, business and trade union leaders, as well as other labour rights advocates across the developed economies, managing the social and economic consequences of digitalisation has become of major concern. Until recently, it had been argued that governments have generally been slow off the mark.

It is this debate around how new technologies are impacting the shape of tomorrow’s work that frames this report. The future of work is too often narrowly defined as the “platformisation” of work in the gig economy, and the replacement of human labour with robots. Yet, the implications of new technologies for the workplace are more complex as digitalisation changes the very nature of the economy, the manner in which firms operate, and how people work and collaborate together. We will examine the different perspectives on each of these factors throughout this report, drawing on the views of some 50 senior voices from business, academia and public policy.