21 Nov 2023

Where Matters: the role of place in the future of work | techUK event round-up

Catch up with insights from our webinar with Zoom, HP, Purple Beard and the Institute for the Future of Work where we discussed the significance of place.

On 9 November 2023, techUK hosted a webinar panel titled “Where Matters: the role of place in the future of work”. For the session, we were joined by speakers from across the tech and policy landscape to discuss the future of work through the lens of 'place'.

The panel, hosted by Jake Wall, Policy Manager, Skills and Future of Work, at techUK, included speakers:

  • Ileana Lupsa, Programme Manager, Local Public Services and Nations and Regions, techUK
  • Professor James Hayton, Senior Fellow, Institute for the Future of Work
  • Dimple Khagram, Founder, Purple Beard
  • Drew Smith, Head of Government Relations UKI, Zoom
  • Tijs Broeke, Director, Government Affairs & Public Policy, HP

You can watch the full webinar here, or read our summary of the key insights below:

Please note that below is a summary of the event, and readers are encouraged to watch the webinar to understand the full details of the discussion.

Introductory remarks from each panellist:

Ileana Lupsa - techUK:

Opened by highlighting the importance of techUK's Nations and Regions programme and discussed how the team has created the Local Digital Index, an annual report that seeks to be used as a guide for fostering development across the country. The index ranks regions based on digital infrastructure and other key metrics, on infrastructure noting the West Midlands as second due to strong 5G connectivity and widespread gigabit broadband. This information set the stage for the ongoing conversation.

Professor James Hayton - Institute for the Future of Work:

Prof Hayton discussed the Pissarides Review, a collaborative project with researchers from Imperial, LSE, and UCL, funded by the Nuffield Strategic Fund. The review aims to understand the impact of new technology adoption on work and well-being in the UK, including a nationwide survey of 1000 companies. Key findings highlight the crucial role of place, as regions with advanced technology infrastructure and human capital exhibit more positive outcomes, including increased job creation and job quality.

Dimple Khagram – Purple Beard Training:

Khagram discusses insights she has gained from reading the Digital Index Report and how Purple Beard is working on some of the regional issues identified - emphasising their focus on delivering digital skills through boot camps and apprenticeships in various regions, including the East Midlands and the North East. Dimple also points out the need for tailored skills development in different regions, as different skills will be required for different regions.

Drew Smith - Zoom:

Drew discussed the transformation of work dynamics, emphasising the decoupling of living location from job opportunities due to the rise of hybrid working. With Zoom having collaborated with the CIPD and others as part of the Hybrid Work Commission, he explored the potential of hybrid work to address national challenges. Three key trends were highlighted: attracting skilled workers to non-urban areas, enabling professionals to live farther from their workplace, and regional towns seizing opportunities to attract talent. Drew further emphasised the benefits of the new work dynamic such as stopping brain drain, revitalising local communities, and providing non-central urban employers greater access to talent.

Tijs Broeke - HP:

Tijs started by acknowledging the need to recognise that hybrid working is here to stay. He recognised place matters but challenged the importance of location in that, with the right equipment, these work models can benefit everyone all parts of the UK. He also highlighted a recent HP work relation survey, interviewing 15,000 people across 12 countries. Notably, 70% of respondents expressed a desire for technology facilitating active participation from any location, emphasising the crucial role of tools and set-up in ensuring a healthy work relationship.

The discussion:

The panel broke into discussion, in particular looking at national strategy:

The panel explored remote work strategies in the Republic of Ireland and the UK, underscoring Ireland's proactive stance with a national strategy, tax breaks, and co-working space incentives. This approach has led to more remote workers, economic gains in rural areas, and diminished pay gaps. Speakers also discussed the necessity of a holistic UK strategy addressing both home and office work settings. Furthermore, the significance of regional digital readiness was highlighted, indicating that supportive infrastructure, skills, and investment play crucial roles in effective digital transformations.

The conversation continues into the topic of technology adoption for businesses:

Discussing the influence of regional factors on digital innovation adoption, the speakers explored whether automation can free up people to do more meaningful work. There is noted a significant finding in the IFOW data: while the size of an organisation typically determines the adoption of physical technologies, the adoption of AI doesn't seem to have a size effect. However, this depends on your definition of AI - with other research finding a size effect - and reflects the integration of AI into a growing number of digital tools, but does suggest that disruptive forces from AI are impacting a wider proportion of the workforce than is typical for new technology.

The panel turns to SMEs and the digital skills gap that they face:

Turning to the skills aspect, the panellists discussed the need to reallocate funds, especially from the apprenticeship levy, to better support SMEs. Further speakers spoke about the need for a more collaborative and streamlined approach in skills programmes to avoid unnecessary bureaucracy. The conversation expanded to the digital preparedness of SMEs, emphasising that many lack even basic digital tools and have low levels of digital knowledge. The challenges SMEs face in adopting technology underscore the urgency of optimising their resources, including those for talent development and addressing knowledge and skills gaps.

The final part of the panel discussion looked at the topic of tackling inequalities:

The panel moved on to the need for comprehensive strategies to address workplace inequalities and boost social mobility. The importance of flexibility was pointed out in relation to inequalities, with research showing that workers themselves desire more flexibility in how and where they work. The speakers spoke about potential remedies; updating and renewing apprenticeships and skills, creating an online digital skills toolkit, and implementing national and regional digital inclusion strategies. Best practices from Manchester City Council and Wolverhampton highlight the significance of local initiatives in addressing inequalities and fostering social mobility. Additionally, insights from a report published by the Hybrid Working Commission reveal the positive impact of hybrid working on recruiting employees from diverse regions and increasing female labour market participation, showcasing the potential for workplace innovations to drive positive social change.

The wrap up:

The session concluded with a couple questions from the audience on how to support hybrid workers to be more efficient, and the role of local government in mitigating negative impacts of technology.

Oliver Alderson

Oliver Alderson

Policy and Public Affairs - Team Assistant, techUK

Jake Wall

Jake Wall

Policy Manager, Skills and Future of Work, techUK

Nimmi Patel

Nimmi Patel

Head of Skills, Talent and Diversity, techUK

Future of Work

The future of work is changing. Technology is powering a growth in flexible work across the economy, whilst emerging technologies such as robotics and AI are set to become common place. techUK believes the UK must consider the implications of digital transformation in the world of work now, equipping people and businesses across the country with the skills and conditions needed to take advantage of the opportunities presented by the 4IR.

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