Digitisation in Europe - How the pandemic is driving the digital world of work

The Covid-19 pandemic is turning the working world upside down. Recent weeks and months have seen radical changes to the way that work is conceived and organized in companies, associations, trade unions and other institutions. What was previously unthinkable is now a part of everyday digital working: Virtual meetings, home office, digital conferences and online polls. In this article, we explore the effects of this radical change, how big the change is, and the opportunities that come with the push for digitalization.

Companies rethink

The pandemic has turbo-charged digitalization and, as we see, change can happen very quickly. Not long ago, companies had reservations about IT security, occupational safety and employee productivity, and this has prevented them from making progress with digitalization and allowing employees to work from home.

Now that many companies have no choice but to make the digital change practically overnight, it has become clear how quick change can be. And this although many companies were not prepared for such a crisis and first had to create the technical prerequisites to enable their employees to work securely from home. The top priority was to prevent employees from becoming infected and ensuring that they were capable of working. Even where home working was previously prohibited, the home office has now become essential and technologies such as cloud services, online communication tools and software as a service (SaaS) are now regularly in use.

Virtual meetings

Meeting culture also changed rapidly. For example, the EU summit was conducted by video conference. The trade union federations in Brussels voiced recommendations for works councils and SE works councils. Online meetings were to be allowed under certain conditions with well-defined rules. A guideline with a template was created for this purpose. However, the online meetings are not intended to be a substitute for regular plenary sessions in 2020.

Find out how meetings with polls are conducted digitally >

There is currently no equivalent for European works councils. In the EU’s opinion, the pandemic should not serve as a pretext to completely digitalize the meeting culture in works councils. For difficult topics, such as mass layoffs or all-day conferencing, experts advise against holding meetings virtually.

Fast-forward to digital transformation

All in all, one can speak of a huge digital leap when millions of people and many thousands of companies are suddenly working digitally due to the pandemic. Since the outbreak of the corona virus in Germany, the question is no longer whether, but how video conferences should be run, and which online tools are needed for employees to structure their work when working alone and in a team, and to keep things transparent. Also for polls at general meetings, the question now is how to implement these digitally. Read more about it here >

How did the digitalization map of Europe look before the pandemic?

In June 2019, the EU Commission published a ranking of European countries in terms of their degree of digitalization in the Digital Economy and Society Index (DESI). The index reflects the progress of European member states in terms of competitiveness as well as the overall EU-wide performance in the field of digitalization.

To determine the degree of digitalization of individual EU countries, factors are compared such as digitalization in companies, digital public services, digital skills on the Internet and digital connectivity of the EU countries with one another. The highest ratings in DESI 2019 were received by Finland, Sweden, the Netherlands and Denmark. Germany is in the midfield.

Digital democracy in the EU

Estonia is a prime example of digital democracy in Europe. Online voting has been held at national level since 2007, making Estonia a pioneer in e-governance.

Read our interview with Prof. Robert Krimmer—expert for e-governance and e-voting at the Tallin University of Technology—in which he discusses the hurdles still to be overcome in Europe in order for political elections to be held online.

Advantages and opportunities of digital working

Even if the end of the pandemic sees business trips resumed and conferences and meetings being held as usual: The leap in development of digitalization in many areas of life and work is unlikely to be easily reversed. The crisis undoubtedly presents considerable disadvantages for some organizations but, in many institutions and companies, the advantages of digital working will not be forgotten even after the pandemic has receded. Implemented software and digital work processes are likely to continue to be used. To what extent jobs will be redefined and a digital economy established after the crisis remains to be seen.

However, we can be certain that virtual meetings, online polling, nominations and elections as well as digital data processing are effective ways of making work more efficient, low-cost and environmentally friendly.

Learn more about the possibilities of digital democracy >