Tomorrow’s working environments: Visions for digital transformation

How can employees use digital innovations to make companies more democratic? And what can they learn from cooperatives in this process? Henceforth, ITAS will address these questions on behalf of the Hans Böckler Foundation.
Illustration zu digitaler Transformation. Menschen mit Laptops, Taschenrechnern und anderem.
The new ITAS project aims to use visionary approaches for the further development of traditional co-determination in companies. (Photo: Shutterstock)

Algorithms steer delivery drivers through city centers, logistics centers force a tight workload upon their employees. Digital technologies, often in combination with artificial intelligence, are increasingly shaping today’s working environments. The speed and scope of these changes are posing significant challenges to the companies’ staff.

“Employees and labor unions are definitely not at the mercy of these developments. They can face the challenges of digitalization and improve their capacity to act by building up their own design competencies and feeding them into corporate innovation processes,” believes Linda Nierling, head of the ITAS research group “Digital Technologies and Societal Change.”

Investigation of “Alternative innovation regimes”

In a new project funded by the Hans Böckler Foundation until 2024, Linda Nierling and ITAS scientist Philipp Frey will look into the further development of trade union practice. The two researchers will first examine how the introduction of new technologies is organized in democratic enterprises such as cooperatives: what distinguishes the innovation regime in newly founded platform cooperatives from platform corporations that rely on algorithmic management? And what innovation ecosystem has been developed by the Mondrágon cooperative in the Basque country, which has been extremely successful for many decades? How does technology design change when employees are allowed to make their own decisions?

In a second step, the researchers will try to find out how these visionary approaches can also be used for the further development of traditional co-determination in companies. “We want to know where employees are already developing and living visions for better participation and democratization in their companies,” explains Philipp Frey. To this end, they will identify “best cases” of digital technology design together with stakeholders from companies and trade unions, i.e., use cases in which digital technologies are already being developed and deployed in German companies in cooperation with works councils and employees.

At the end of the project, the researchers want to develop a guideline for action. This is intended to support companies, employees, and trade unions in implementing visionary strategies.

The project is part of the research cluster “Digital Transformation” of the Hans Böckler Foundation and is located at ITAS in the research group “Digital Technologies and Societal Change”. (11.02.2022)

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