New joint university research centre to investigate ‘future of work’

The £8m Digital Futures at Work Research Centre will open in January and seek to provide 'compelling evidence on the contemporary transformation of work'

As digital technologies become increasingly embedded in our everyday lives, a major new research facility is set to explore exactly how they’re changing the world of work.

Slated to open on New Year’s Day, and based in the business schools of the universities of Sussex and Leeds, the Digital Futures at Work Research Centre (Digit Centre) will look to reach beyond the speculative to offer policy makers hard evidence as to the impact of new tech on jobs and workers.

“We know that some firms are at the forefront of digital transformations, whilst others are lagging behind,” said Jacqueline O’Reilly, centre co-director and professor of comparative human resource management at the University of Sussex Business School. “We know that we have some of the best qualified STEM graduates in the UK, while other lack basic digital skills. And we know that countries vary in their ability to effectively take up some of these challenges.

“But we don’t always know why these gaps are appearing and what can be done to ensure that digital transformation is inclusive. The Digital Futures at Work Research Centre will have some of these questions at the heart of its investigations to understand what is happening in the UK, how this compares internationally, and what needs to be done.”

The centre has secured £8m in funding from the Economic and Social Research Council, to be awarded over a five-year period, and will look to make good on the following objectives:

  • Development an analytical framework around the concept of the ‘connected worker’ and the ‘connected economy’ by maximising knowledge exchange and co-produced research with relevant communities
  • Establish a new data observatory as a one-platform library of national and international resources for decision-makers, connecting with UK industrial strategy and welfare policy
  • Initiate a £500,000 innovation fund providing financial support for new research initiatives and methodological approaches, enabling international exchanges and extensive dissemination
  • Provide a strong career development programme for mid- and early-career researchers via mentoring and staff development, internships and summer schools
  • Ensure the long-term sustainability of the centre by developing an MSc in people analytics, informed by Digit research

From the archive: Harnessing the power of digital strategy


“Over the next five years, the centre will embark on an agenda-setting programme of research that will provide compelling evidence on the contemporary transformation of work,” said co-director, Mark Stuart. “The centre will act as a focal point for all those interested in the future of work, providing a much needed space to bring together academic researchers, policy makers and practitioners to interrogate contemporary developments within an historical, international and comparative perspective.”

Initial knowledge exchange partners and advisory board members include Eversheds Sutherland, Marks and Spencer, Ernst and Young, Walmart US and the Department for Work and Pensions.