One of the clearest trends in the economy is the growth of the share of Digital Work, i.e. the share of workers whose daily activities will be totally or predominantly carried out in the cloud.
In fact, some professions can already be carried out entirely remotely and, in general, the percentage of activities that do not require physical presence at the employer’s premises or at the client’s premises will increase significantly for each worker.
This is the case for two reasons: 1) some jobs will be carried out more easily by machines; 2) the object of the work will not be the production of a physical good, but an intangible good or a service whose “production” will not require or will only minimally require to be located somewhere in space.
This consideration entails quite a few changes in the way work will be regulated and organised.
The public debate today in Europe and Italy rightly focuses on certain jobs such as those of drivers and riders, who carry out a predominant part of their work in an absolutely traditional and ‘non-digital’ way, but seems to neglect instead that part of the work that lies at the origin of the business with which these traditional work platforms are built and managed.
This short-sightedness in the debate risks being very dangerous because instead of thinking only about the impact of digital work on traditional work, we should understand how to regulate, encourage and attract forms of digital work so as to be in a position to plan for the impact on traditional work without suffering it.
In fact, if in general the impact of technology on traditional work very often entails its erosion and replacement, digital work in itself represents a frontier of work in which services and intangible products can be developed almost without limit, with quite different dynamics of supply, competition and use.
The first point is therefore to clarify what is digital work and what is not.
Having said that, one can start to reason and discuss the nature of digital work and the impacts of this work.
It is a job whose demand is constantly growing, with a significant need for qualified skills, interacting in teams of multidisciplinary profiles, whose updating requires constant training both from a ‘theoretical’ and practical point of view, which provides unprecedented possibilities of flexibility and requires different services and working tools.
In short, it is a clean, high-quality job, with negligible risks compared to industrial work, which radically changes the very lifestyles and consumption habits of those who practice it.
It is a very important sector and development prospect.
Once the nature of this work and its “social desirability” and interest have been established, it is therefore necessary to consider how to create the conditions for it to develop properly.
Just as the manufacturing industry requires raw materials, skills and a specific regulatory framework in order to attract activities and avoid offshoring, so digital work requires precise regulation, services and skills.
On this point, too, it seems to me that the debate does not quite hit the mark. While connectivity, broadband and finance are the basis for building this new industry, the strategic factors for development are intangible infrastructure and the regulation of labour relations.
My idea is that a specific regulation is needed that does not confuse traditional and digital work (e.g. a dedicated national collective agreement).
A regulatory framework that makes it very easy to work for several clients, without a fixed place of work, with frequent changes in one’s professional position and in the way one is remunerated. I am thinking of work from abroad, of posting rules, of the flexibility of closing and opening work relationships with different parties, of the relationship between subordinate work and self-employment, and of digital work in the public administration.
Secondly, an ecosystem of assistance, training, welfare and insurance services is needed to make everything that revolves around work very simple and manageable.
Thirdly, as has been done for the attraction of investments and for the ecological transition, a subsidised taxation should be discussed immediately. Just as we think it is right to encourage the transition from coal or fossil fuels to renewable energy, so too we need to encourage the transition from often dirty, dangerous, unfair (think of the participation of young people and women) and unattractive forms of work to this new, clean, creative, cultural and free form of work.
Indeed, I believe that this step is fundamental and complementary, if not even preliminary, to energy change projects.
In addition to these main points, the legislation on intellectual property probably needs to be updated, as the creative and cultural know-how underpinning digital work needs to be specifically protected and safeguarded, and a ‘non-bureaucratic’ definition of the skills needed needs to be guaranteed. In the same way that attention is paid to how a vaccine is produced, attention should also be paid to the skills and know-how with which a platform is built.
Finally, we need to rethink the forms of open innovation and finance, adapting them to a digital competitive environment in which experimentation, the aggregation of complementary projects and the development of useful solutions is more important than what the market needs immediately in a fragmented manner.
This in itself is a delicate point when it comes to innovation, but indispensable when it comes to a sector of this magnitude if we do not want to always be one step behind.
The race for Digital Work began a few years ago and it may still be possible to build its future, provided that we have clear ideas and do not waste any more time.