By surveying 5,278 employees and 3,654 decision makers at European companies about the future of work, the Handelsblatt Research Institute has revealed a surprising rift. The results show that individual countries within Europe have starkly contrasting views on the tech and trends that will shape employment in years to come. [By Matt Bulow]
The Handelsblatt Research Institute surveyed both employees and managers across 10 countries to find out what they think about technology and the future of the workplace. Surprisingly, some of the most powerful economies in Europe are not among those that embrace technology at work the most.
Find out more about people’s opinions and assumptions regarding digital communication platforms, artificial intelligence, augmented reality, cybersecurity, autonomous robots, and more in this breakdown of the report’s major findings.
Which Technologies Do People Think Will Make a Difference?
Over two-thirds of employees across all countries feel that cybersecurity will shape their work in the future. Digital platforms as well as digital communication and collaboration software followed closely at 63 percent and 60 percent, respectively. Workers assign less relevance to the following technologies:
- Autonomous vehicles
- Additive manufacturing
- Augmented, mixed, and virtual reality
Unsurprisingly, more office employees see technology as having relevance to their future work than non-office workers do.
The European Divide
If you live in one of the 10 countries surveyed (Denmark, Germany, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Sweden, Spain, and the United Kingdom), perhaps you will not be surprised to learn of the survey results for your country.
Otherwise, you might expect, for instance, the biggest European economies to have the highest expectations regarding digital workplace developments. Not so. According to the Handelsblatt report, Italy, Poland, and Spain assign the most importance to the influence of future technologies. Workers in Germany, France, and the Netherlands attach a below-average level of importance to digital tech for their future professional lives. Germany is below average in terms of both the current use of innovative technology by companies and the openness of employees to this technology in their own jobs.
The Status Quo According to the Decision Makers
When asked about the current situation, corporate decision makers reported exceptional progress with the following technologies:
- Digital platforms
- Digital communications
- Collaboration software
- Cloud computing
Many of these businesses, however, do not plan to deploy autonomous vehicles, autonomous robots, or additive manufacturing anytime soon. The companies already using future tech are mostly large organizations, signaling that adoption likely depends on sufficient financial resources. Smaller businesses, in contrast, frequently reject new technologies such as blockchain.
How Workers Think Technology Will Affect Their Jobs
The study demonstrated that employees across Europe are very open to new technologies that may prove useful in their own professions. Yet, a majority also claim new technologies will not have a noticeable effect on their jobs. That’s because they believe it’s not possible to automate the work they do. This applies more to non-office workers (56 percent) than office workers (48 percent). Employees in the UK and Germany are particularly convinced of this. Industrial workers are more inclined to recognize that technology could affect their employment situations, but many still do not think this will happen.
This contrasts with the views of their managers, who are more likely to recognize the potential of technology to handle jobs humans hold today.
How Managers Think Technology Will Change the Workplace
Most managers expect their staff to be freed from time-consuming routine tasks, so they can concentrate on other things (68 percent) or dangerous work (65 percent). Managers are also far more aware of the possibility of job losses due to digitization than workers are. Almost half expect new technology to take over most tasks that are currently being performed by humans.
Zooming out to the business case, decision-makers widely agree on the following four major benefits of digital technology.
- Improved quality of products or services
- Cost savings
- Processes are less error-prone
- Increased customer satisfaction
Repercussions for Jobs and Training
Technological progress will drastically change requirements for employees and job applicants in the future. Managers see the need for additional training as the biggest hurdle standing in the way of digital technology adoption. That’s closely followed by data protection considerations and potential resistance from some parts of the workforce.
We can see common ground between employers and employees here: the vast majority of workers also feel that the need for additional training will be a big challenge in the future. Luckily, nearly 50 percent of both workers and employers are prepared to accept that new qualifications will be necessary in the future.
Employers and employees alike feel these skills will be in greater demand:
- Awareness of IT security and data protection
- Adaptability and ability to change
- Digital learning
- Data literacy
- Planning and organizational skills / independence
- Online skills
- Awareness of continuous improvement and lifelong learning
Only one-fifth (19 percent) of companies say that they will meet the need for future qualifications by recruiting from the external job market. The large majority (51 percent) stated that they will meet the need for new/additional qualifications in the future by providing current employees with additional training. Employees mostly recognize the importance of training and are willing to participate. The companies where they work either expect investments in training to remain at current levels or increase.
A Willingness to Innovate, Including the “Where” of Work
Both employees and employers expressed a clear expectation that the future of work will involve a hybrid approach to remote vs. on-site work. Yet, there is also recognition that not all business processes will support remote work.
A willingness to innovate correlated with an acceptance of remote work, with 33 percent of companies that embrace innovation expecting remote working to be the norm in the future. In contrast, only 13 percent of companies that do not see themselves as willing to innovate shared this perspective.
While attitudes among employees range widely regarding remote work, a 37 percent majority of those who support it would prefer two or three days a week remote. This preference is particularly distinct among workers in Spain and the United Kingdom. The proportion of respondents who prefer this option is 41 percent in each of these countries.
The second-strongest preference (22 percent) is for occasionally working outside company premises. And only 17 percent of workers would prefer to no longer work on-site at all in future. Again, this preference is particularly distinct among workers in the United Kingdom (29 percent) and Spain (25 percent).
Only 15 percent of European employees would welcome a complete return to the office after the coronavirus pandemic. Workers in Denmark (19 percent) and Germany and Italy (18 percent each) would most readily do so. Only a small minority (4 percent) of the surveyed workers fully reject remote working.
Lockdowns required businesses to implement remote work as quickly as possible. Besides the ad-hoc solutions necessary in the beginning, investments are now being made to facilitate remote working. Companies are most actively investing in furnishings for home offices, IT equipment, IT infrastructure, software, and IT security.
The Pros and Cons of Remote Work
Of the many benefits associated with remote work, employees, and employers (perhaps predictably) emphasize different aspects.
For employees, the following items represent the biggest advantages:
- Time saved from not having to commute
- No travel costs
- More flexibility with time
- Smaller environmental impact because of the reduction in commuting
- Better work-life balance
Decision-makers reported these main benefits:
- Lower overheads (e.g. office space, energy, materials, travel expenses)
- Smaller environmental impact due to the reduction in commuting
- Family-friendly image due to the improved work-life balance
- Higher employee satisfaction and loyalty
- Fewer sick days
Here as well, there is common ground between managers and those they supervise: both groups most commonly cited the lack of daily social contact as the major disadvantage of remote working.
A few employers still feel employees get less done when they work from home. The pandemic, however, appears to have proven this prejudice incorrect for most, since most work was performed just as well during lockdowns.
Conclusions: Are Workers Fully Aware of the Implications of Digitization?
The Handelsblatt report draws some conclusions that, if correct, would have considerable significance for the future of work and the global economy.
On the one hand, the survey results suggest that corporate decision makers believe new technologies will have a large effect on existing occupational profiles. Yet, a majority of workers in Europe do not expect technology to change their daily working lives. This may be because many employees are not yet fully aware of the implications. Both workers and executives are more conscious of technologies which have already achieved widespread market penetration.
The higher levels of the corporate hierarchy are more active in fostering digitization, making a top-down change process more likely. If digitization is to succeed, however, workers must also be brought on board — this will be even more crucial considering the current gap in awareness.
The source of regional differences across Europe regarding the acceptance of advanced technologies, although perhaps surprising, is an interesting aspect of the study which may warrant further investigation. Are more developed economies less optimistic about the role technology will play, simply because they have been exposed to more of it in their daily lives and are therefore more acclimated to it? Or do these results reflect a more conservative attitude? Download the entire report below, so you can pour over all the charts and data and draw your own conclusions.
Work 4.0: How Will We Work in the Future?
In this 50-page report, you gain valuable insights into how leaders and employees in 10 European countries perceive future technologies and digital trends on new ways of working.