The world of work is talking about a paradigm shift. The megatrends “New Work” and “Work 4.0” are setting changes in motion that are making their presence felt in the corporate structure, in processes and in daily interactions.
As a result, every bakery, no matter how small, is dealing with new forms of work and questions of culture and agility. But what exactly is “New Work”? Is “Work 4.0” the same thing? Does a foosball table contribute to culture change? To what extent do digitalization, networking and other technical achievements play a role? Or is it more about finding meaning, self-fulfillment and flexibility? Are we talking about one trend or many trends that dovetail and potentially influence one another?
The history of modern work
The term “New Work” first appeared in the 80s when the Austro-American philosopher Frithjof Bergmann studied capitalism and developed the “New Work” movement as a sort of alternative model. The key values of his movement are independence, freedom and participation in the community. He sees “New Work” as mankind’s chance to free itself from the “shackles of wage labor”. Therefore, Bergmann’s theory describes a certain type of work, a work that is seen as meaningful. People want to do this work because it isn’t unpleasant for them but is a need. This understanding of pleasant, meaningful work has to some extent been transferred to today’s real world of work and influenced further by technological and economic developments.
The influence of media on modern work
A look at media development in recent years reveals that media has increased exponentially since the 90s. Whereas the LP, color TV, cassettes and CDs established themselves over a period of a good 40 years, cell phones, PCs, tablets and the internet were invented, developed further and integrated into our everyday life just a few years after each other.
Software, apps, new communications technologies, virtual worlds and the internet of things were especially able to arise because digitalization and virtualization are forcing their way into our world more and more radically and are contributing to changes to business models and therefore the world of work as well.
For the majority of people, work makes up a large proportion of their lives. Especially because the world of work is changing so much, many are asking themselves about the future of work. On the one hand, this question is about work in general and on the other hand, about individual ideas, wishes and expectations in particular.
The question about the future of an individual’s world of work is particularly raised when there is a change in the occupational situation. A change within the current employment relationship can raise this question just as much as a new challenge when switching employers.
In the discussions about the future of work, two concepts appear again and again that may view this future separate from one another but that discuss similar questions and draw similar conclusions. Both concepts are developing independently of each other even though they deal with the same areas for the most part. The terms in question are “New Work” and “Work 4.0”. What are these two concepts about?
“New Work” particularly looks at values, attitudes and anthropology to make the future of work successful. It primarily focuses on finding meaning, working at eye-level, culture change and new leadership concepts. As the motor of an organization, employees are at the heart of all decisions.
Companies realize that they can’t make any progress in the rapid digital age with outdated and strongly hierarchical structure. “New Work” assumes that the more people can get behind something, the more successful they are. It’s important to develop these individual interests, which motivate each employee to perform their best, and ideally to harness them meaningfully for the company.
Everything revolves around employees looking forward to going to work and doing something there that they value. If they do what they really want to do, then they are a person and no longer a human resource. This describes the key thoughts at the basis of “New Work”.
The discussions surrounding the concept “Work 4.0” are essentially about how companies can respond to changes due to digitalization, virtualization and mechanization. Under the umbrella term “Industry 4.0”, corporate groups, the Department of Labor, trade unions and the Federal Employment Agency are discussing subjects like digitalization, globalization, migration and shifts in values and expectations. In this context, advocates of this concept assume that the resulting areas of tension need to be answered with new ways of organizing working hours and of making them more flexible.
For example, basic ideas include flexible and autonomous working hours, good working conditions, high standards in employee privacy protection, a right to further training, codetermination and participation in corporate change and other core areas of organizational development.
New Work, Work 4.0, methods and technology
All phenomena described above occur coincidentally at the same time and influence and advance one another. It is very likely that the simultaneous existence of all perspectives and developments leads to the discussion about the future of work that we know today.
Despite all the inconsistency and the lack of a clear definition, the following characteristics of the future of work are certain irrespective of the theoretical concepts:
• Work should be fun and provide fulfillment
• Tasks should have meaning because meaning leads to identification and identification boosts motivation
• Adjustments to work organization and structure
• Creation of a pleasant work atmosphere
• Removal of unnecessary hierarchies
• Work with mutual respect and appreciation
• Participation in decisions or even in company leadership
• Individual skills are encouraged and utilized in the interest of the company
• Employees need to have diverse skills because they will cover diverse areas of work
“New Work” and “Work 4.0” describe a foundational transformation of the world of work that is evoked or at least facilitated by digitalization, connectivity, globalization and demographic change.
Certain occupations will soon become redundant. To some extent, automated processes and artificial intelligence are already taking over people’s assignments today. For some, technology is a curse and for others, a blessing. The classic “nine-to-five” job has already become a thing of the past in many companies. Working hours can be planned flexibly and thanks to the accomplishments of the internet, assignments don’t have to be completed in the office anymore. The future world of work is primarily flexible and project-based. The borders between work and free time blur just like those between each of the company departments. Provided knowledge is required to complete a project successfully, it doesn’t matter where it comes from. Collaboration will shift increasingly to the virtual world and office forms will move in the direction of co-working, co-spaces and co-places.
Rigid structures, hierarchies and error prevention are rather obstructive in a fast-paced digital world. Naturally, an agile way of working doesn’t mean that no one has to plan anymore. It simply means that employees are allowed to make decisions that are helpful and productive when it comes to solving problems quickly or performing projects agilely. Everybody can and should take responsibility.
Digitalization supports and relieves us from mindless routine tasks, improves communications and fosters creative processes. The innovation capacity of companies grows exponentially. When employees are allowed to play a role in shaping workplaces, a motivating sense of unity and a very agile form of collaboration develop quickly. In modern working worlds, managers are more responsible for successful relationship management and are happy to hand over responsibility in view of autonomous working.
Although “Work 4.0” is less based on finding meaning and personal fulfillment, it brings out very similar main points in view of technical progress. Using the example of a truck driver, the “Grünbuch Arbeit 4.0” (Work 4.0 Green Book) published by the Department of Labor describes which framework conditions need to be in place for the work of tomorrow. The example clearly shows that digital transformation has and will continue to have an impact on all areas of our world of work:
Will the truck driver of tomorrow still be sitting behind the wheel or will he be a pilot in the driver’s cab who simply monitors the work of electronic instruments? Will he soon have a position in the logistics center to control multiple self-driving trucks from afar? Can he maybe even do that from home? Will he have more free time than before and be able to live more healthily, see his family more often and share the work with his wife? Will he still feel connected to the company? Can he play a part and have a say in it? Will he feel like he and his colleagues are a team? Or will our driver feel redundant and be unable to find work?
Seize the opportunity
“Work 4.0” and “New Work” are still a utopian dream. However, both concepts can already be found to some extent in today’s reality. In the medium term, the ongoing development will ensure that more principles from “New Work” and “Work 4.0” will find their way into our world of work. Companies who squander the chance to address this trend today won’t have enough time for it in the future – neither to deal with the content nor to keep up with the agile forms of working of their competition.
Once the awareness of the required changes is there, a lot more changes tend to follow – not only in the heads of the employees but also especially in the planning of processes, structures and workplaces.
Maybe this new work will be met at first with rejection and uncertainty because the assumption of more responsibility needs to be processed and fears need to be relieved. Longstanding conditioning is often behind learned behavior. Change takes time.
Based on this new thinking and work, the spatial conditions will also need to be adjusted. In the office of the future, spaces will be more open and workplaces can be used flexibly irrespective of people, rooms, electricity and an internet connection.
The “clean desk” policy no longer merely ensures that sensitive customer data is handled properly but also facilitates a daily change of workplaces depending on the current project requirements. Meanwhile, there are desk solutions that can change location independently of rooms and cables. Under the motto “network instead of cable”, not only are people flexible but workplaces themselves can also be used changeably (such as outside on the company terrace).
Inspiring environments foster creative exchange. There are options both for withdrawing and for connecting with others in an open space. “New Work” companies are constantly striving for ergonomic and acoustically optimized working environments that positively influence motivation, health and the working atmosphere. However, it is up to the community to decide whether a foosball table improves the atmosphere, whether fruit and free drinks should be provided or whether other ideas would sustainably improve the working atmosphere. Therefore, modern work will stay individual in many cases because ultimately, no two companies are the same and each team has its own needs so that the members can work together successfully.
Guest article from Febrü Büromöbel Produktions- & Vertriebs GmbH
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Febrü Büromöbel Produktions- & Vertriebs GmbH