Rapid technological innovation, coupled with the rise of the service-based economy, is fundamentally changing the way we work. Work in the digital era is becoming less restricted by time and place, as companies seek to keep both employees and customers happy by offering flexibility in working arrangements and services. In this new blog series, we take a look at the changing nature of work in the digital era – starting with a brief history of work.
From Manufacturing to Services
Economies in the English-speaking world have come a long way in just a few short centuries. Technological advances and major structural economic shifts have historically gone hand in hand. Three general economic phases can be identified when looking into the history:
The agricultural revolution in Britain between the mid-17th and 19th centuries sparked the decline of employment in the agricultural sector, as both labour and land became more productive. The industrial revolution of the mid-18th to late 19th centuries saw the rise of the manufacturing sector and increasing urbanisation, as people chased employment in rapidly growing cities.
Industrial sectors in the west have become far less labor intensive resulting in higher efficiency. This is largely a result of technology. In the west, technology in the manufacturing industry has resulted in a sharp decline in low-skilled jobs but has forced labor markets to develop high skilled jobs to run, develop, repair and organize said technology. The impact that this has had on the western economies has been profound. In 1939, (USA) the ratio of employment in service industries to manufacturing was just over 2-to-1. By 2014, that same ratio was over 6-to-1, illustrating the shift away from work on the factory floor.
The Digital Era and Further Innovations
Digital innovations are changing the way we work. The proliferation of high-speed internet and cutting-edge software have allowed people to communicate like never before. Ideas have spread faster than ever and cross-platform, international collaboration efforts are helping us develop better technology more efficiently.
Indeed in our lifetimes, we have seen the advent of communications technology so reliable that many service-based jobs don’t require workers to always be physically present in the office. You may, for example, be working for the most secure online voting software company based in Germany, but find yourself writing a blog post about flexible working arrangements overlooking a beach in Sri Lanka. Such is work in the digital era.
Stay tuned for more posts in this series which take a closer look at the nature of work in the digital era.