"Work in a digital world" at the 4th International Strategy Conference in Dresden 21.-24.3.2016

Around 50 conference delegates joined Topic 5 in order to discuss how digitalization will change the way we will work and live in the future.

In her keynote for the “Vision” perspective, Sabina Jeschke, professor at RWTH Aachen University, gave an overview of the digital reality in which we already live and an outlook into developments in the future. “Everybody and everything is networked and digitalization is coming faster than even experts expected.” Machines no longer just process and execute predefined algorithms, but they actually learn like humans with trial and error approach. Starting at zero brain, they ultimately achieve results that are however well beyond what humans can do.

With these thoughts in mind, the participants discussed in small groups in what ways work will be changed by digitalization. The nextmoderator® tool with interconnected laptops allowed for a very lively brainstorming process in which everybody could directly see the contributions of others, rate them and comment on them. Changes in the way, time and places we work were considered to constitute the greatest change regarding work in the future. Different skills will be needed in order to face this greater flexibility.

“What conditions must be met to ensure that the digital world of work is humane?” was the question discussed in the second perspective, “Mission”. The most important issue raised by the participants was a high and safe standard of data protection. Aïda Ponce from the European Trade Union Institute emphasized that new forms of flexible work require transparency and an adapted regulatory framework in OSH with clearly assigned responsibilities in order not to end up in a regulatory no-man’s land. In her video statement, German Labour Minister Andrea Nahles is however optimistic that “in the end, there will be a good solution for everything.”

In the “Operative goals” session, topic facilitator Michael Beilfuß provided some first-hand insight into the process of digitalization within his own company, the IDG Media Group. The focus has shifted from producing news to filtering the enormous overflow of information. Digitalization requires leaders to be courageous and try new things instead of defending successful models for too long without adapting them. Digitalization means that certain business models simply no longer exist and companies do completely new things. Another change at IDG was that the number of permanent journalists has decreased by half over the past ten years, and more tasks are fulfilled by freelancers. The brainstorming results confirmed that leadership is considered to be a key factor in the digitalization process. With a growing numbers of cloudworkers, this also includes the task of taking freelancers into account regarding OSH activities.

In the last perspective, several digital “Tools” were presented: A smart firefighter jacket equipped with sensors that monitor body functions or ambient conditions communicates with external persons who can provide assistance in an emergency . Smart glasses that give instructions to the wearer for certain tasks can also be used to display the relevant OSH rules for every step (e.g. wearing of personal protective equipment). Nao, a humanoid robot, is being used by the German Federal Institute of Occupational Health for research into the effects of robotic behaviour upon human behaviour and associated ethical, social and legal questions. The key result of the brainstorming was that participants wish for smart products which provide relevant information for the problem at hand on-site and in real time.

At the beginning of the first breakout session, participants were asked how strongly occupational safety and health will be influenced by digitalization in the next five years. The result was very clear: the average score on a scale from one (not at all) to seven (very much) was 5.6. When the same question was asked again at the end of the last session, the result changed only marginally to an average of 6.0. This shows that the OSH community is already very aware of the transition to the digital age and well prepared to tackle the challenges that lie ahead.

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