Tech and equality leaders make demands for future of work

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The government must ensure the legacy of the pandemic ‘isn’t just more working from home’, a committee of MPs heard yesterday.

The Work and Pensions Committee sat on Wednesday, 25 November as part of an inquiry into the Department for Work and Pension’s preparations for changes in the world of work. The first evidence sessions began in May.

Hector Minto, Senior Technology Evangelist for Accessibility at Microsoft, spoke about how, more than any other disability, mental health has risen up the agenda this year because people feel they are not performing at work, or they are feeling insecure about their roles. “They are almost self-managing themselves more than they’ve ever been doing before. We are hearing that message loud and clear from global employers.”

Julia Waltham: "This addiction employers have to all jobs being 37 and a half hours a week needs to be addressed."

Microsoft has responded by re-designing its technology to be more inclusive and helpful for home workers. He explained that Microsoft Teams will soon have the option to put users in a ‘virtual’ meeting room: “As if you’re in a room, so, not just faces flashing up on a screen.”

“This idea that we can suddenly become independent digital workers, without any side effects, is unrealistic,” he stated.  

He added that Microsoft Outlook will start being able to give home workers ‘personal guidance’ on issues such as creating focus time, creating a virtual commute, and ‘thinking time’.

Siobhan Baillie, Conservative MP, asked how the government can get more women into work in the context of a more automated society, including the rise of robots, AI, data and the rise of digital platforms.

Carys Roberts, executive director at the Institute for Public Policy Research, said: “We know these changes will affect men and women differently, as they have different jobs in the labour market.” She said that more women have jobs at risk of automation than men (9 per cent compared to 4 per cent according to their own findings).

“We should be making sure the gains of technology are shared,” she emphasised.

Both Roberts and Julia Waltham, Head of Policy and Influencing at Working Families argued that working days should be shorter to allow more equality in the workplace.

Most flexible and part time jobs are ‘low paid, poor quality and insecure’, which women are forced into taking because they are desperate to get work to fit around childcare, she said. 

Waltham is pushing for government to make good its promise made in the 2019 Queen’s speech to make all jobs ‘flexible by default’: “We want the government to require employers to advertise jobs to be part time and flexibly as the norm.”

“It’s not just about women, it’s also about progression in work. This addiction employers have to all jobs being 37 and a half hours a week needs to be addressed,” she said.

“Government intervening around flexible working at this point will ensure the legacy of this pandemic isn’t just more working from home, but that it really engenders flexibility in all its forms – opening up more roles to women and others.”

DWP's preparations for changes in the world of work Inquiry: here 


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