Last Update: June 08, 2022. This article was originally published as a guest article on the blog of Porsche Digital.
New Work, Work 4.0 or Future of Work currently seem to be the most hyped buzzwords in HR. You can find New Work in almost every headline of events, blogs and social media groups that target an audience interested in workforce and organizational issues. New Work attracts curious people from universities, start-ups, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) as well as large companies. They gather to share their thoughts on outdated working methods and praise their views on how we should work nowadays or in the near future.
Five reasons why everybody talks about New Work
I’m not writing this in an unfavorable tone. But as a matter of fact, most people who start to talk about New Work in some way really don’t get the big picture of all the topic it covers. In other words, if you ask ten corporate HR managers about the possibilities and fields of actions that are related to New Work, you will get ten different answers. Interestingly, their underlying motivations to somehow change the way how employees work in their company are always consistent and contain either one or more of these goals:
- attract, engage and retain talent
- adapt to an increasingly connected environment and the demands of (younger) people that shape it
- enable quicker reactions to changes on the market and foster innovation
- reduce overhead and administrative tasks
- increase efficiency
Honestly, when the term New Work first came up to my attention a couple of years ago, I felt a little lost due to the great variety of subordinate aspects that deserve to be considered. Don’t worry if you might feel the same.
What is “New Work”?
If you are completely new to the topic, you may wonder where this buzzword comes from and what it actually means. The term New Work was coined by the social philosopher and author Frithjof Bergmann and describes a counter model to the classical capitalism. Bergmann defines self-reliance, freedom and participation in the community as values of New Work. This system of values and the established theses of Bergmann have been picked up and developed by other enthusiasts over the years. With globalization and the war for talent, the issue has become increasingly popular with employers. The term New Work can be seen today as a superordinate category of various approaches and models that serve to implement Bergmann’s original values.
25+ topics that make up New Work
In 2017, Friederike Euwens, Thomas Klein and I (Richard Schentke) decided to found the New Work Berlin Meetup group with the aim to uncover everything that is related to New Work. Our mission is to help our growing community of enthusiasts to pick the best approaches that are already out there. Every month, we therefore invite experts who introduce a new topic that relates to changing working environments. Our guests openly discuss different views and own experiences, which leaves everybody with a new impression of what already works in different companies and what might be adopted or modified. Lots of them connect there to intensify the exchange afterwards, some even start their own event series with a focus on one special method.
We organized 30 different monthly meetups so far and count around 3,100 local members in Berlin. Below you will find a list that gives you an overview about all the topics that we’ve already covered or will talk about in the future. We chose the following categories:
New Work in a Micro Context
Models promoting increased Self-Organization
- Relationships and Incentive Systems
- Thought Models
New Work in a Macro Context
Please use it to get a feeling about the scope of New Work. If you want to go in-depth, I will gladly connect you to experts in every field.
New Work in a Micro Context:
So when you think about approaches that will change the way you work inside of a company, you should inform yourself about:
Models promoting increased Self-Organization
Holacracy is a decentralized organizational and control structure that replaces traditional hierarchies, titles and departmental structures. Instead, the organization is seen as a dynamic organism that evolves in a decentralized way. The term was developed and made public in 2007 by the American entrepreneur and consultant Brian Robertson. Holacracy is based on a fixed set of rules and is characterized by task-based work in circles and roles, maximum transparency, participatory involvement opportunities and decentralized leadership. Strategic corporate decisions are made by representatives of the working groups.
Sociocracy is also a circle organization and functions as the prototype of holacracy. The two forms of organization differ in questions of detail.
In the case of collegial management , also known as agile leadership, the organization is shaped by the employees themselves. Management tasks are distributed among as many people as possible. A formal hierarchy and the associated exercise of power by individual management positions play virtually no role. Instead, the temporary and task-related management responsibility lies with individuals or small groups, in which the respective rights and duties are defined and agreed upon.
Different approaches are being used to test how democratic structures in companies can lead to greater participation and self-organization. Many of the over 25 approaches listed here are combined.
Networked Organizations and Swarm Organizations
For many people and companies, project structures are the future of their working and organizational form. The basic idea here is that every person is an expert and possesses various skills that enable him/her to handle different tasks from different areas. There is a shift away from fixed jobs and entrenched silo structures. Instead, every expert is like a free radical and by taking on a project role, he/she commits him/herself where he/she is most needed and has competences. Thus, people from different disciplines can come together for projects, form a cross-functional team for a certain period of time, and then fill a new role in a new team within the organization. This type of organization can be managed in many different ways, for example by a Project Management Office, democratically or with formal leadership. To learn more about how cross-functional networking and agile project collaboration can be implemented in an organization, get in touch or try it out yourself.
If this much-used word falls, then we are talking generally about the application of agile methodologies (e.g. Kanban, SCRUM) within a company, as well as the adherence to agile values and principles when using these methods. If these methods are applied consistently and holistically across all areas of an organization, we speak of an agile organization.
Agility in management essentially has six dimensions:
- Agile objectives
- Customer-oriented organizational structure
- Iterative process landscapes
- Employee-centered management understanding
- Agile personnel and management instruments and
- Agile organizational culture
The concept draws on iterative process models and lightweight development models in software engineering. In 2001, the Manifesto for Agile Software Development was published, which defines values of agility. Today, agile concepts are also applied to projects outside this area.
This is a very central demand of the New Work movement: companies should meet the needs of their employees. Inspired by the findings of User Experience, human-centric organizations are now focusing on the Employee Experience. This involves analyzing all processes from the perspective of the workforce in order to then derive measures for more humanity in collaboration and to trigger transformations.
Relationships and Incentive Systems
The recognition of achievements and personal commitment is an effective means of combating frustration and inner resignation in the workplace. With the help of simple measures, the work culture can be improved for the benefit of an entire organization.
More than ever before, people in organizations differ according to factors such as ethnicity, age, gender, sexual orientation, disability or religion. This diversity can be seen as an opportunity and should be valued. For example, different team members can look at an issue from different angles in order to design solutions.
How and how often do we tell each other in our company what we value about each other, where things are going well and where we see potential for improvement? How open do we want to be? How should we deal with feedback in order to learn from it? These are the questions that the topic of feedback culture is all about.
In line with the topic of feedback, the question naturally arises as to how to deal with errors or failure. Many companies and people are ashamed of their mistakes or try to cover them up. This is countered by a healthy failure culture that takes away the fear of talking about errors and instead emphasizes the learning potential for all involved.
The issue of salary plays an important role in working life. Ultimately, it is not all that all-important, but it can decide everything – a hygiene factor, after all! If we gear our working environment more towards employees with the New Work approach, then the question also arises as to what the remuneration systems of the future might look like. Bonus systems are now said to have a counterproductive effect. Alternative compensation methods can be diverse and compensate work performance fairly through time, material or emotional elements.
Unlike traditional part-time work, where the employer divides a full-time job into two part-time jobs, in job sharing several employees share the tasks and responsibilities of a common job. The best-known variants of this workplace model are called job splitting, job pairing and top sharing. One of the biggest advantages is that the manpower and expertise of several people are combined in one position.
Skills and Personality in the New Working World
Many people want more collaboration, autonomy and transparency in their work. The half-life of knowledge is decreasing faster and faster in our networked world. At the same time, the desire for individual development and attainable goals is increasing. We are therefore faced with the challenge of finding suitable measures to implement new forms of work, to enable continuous learning and to generate economic success. To do this, new workers need digital and social skills.
Modern HR Development
There are many different and innovative approaches to the question of how employees can be developed within the company. The reasons for this are manifold: employees’ needs are more individual, professional careers are more flexible, opportunities on the labour market are more versatile, formal knowledge is more available and thus more quickly applicable. Through increased self-organization and transparency, much more attention is now paid to personality development within companies. There are many good reasons to invest in an agile approach to personnel development: personal and professional qualifications are improved, motivation and team spirit increase, and fluctuation plus the associated costs are likely to decrease.
Due to the highly dynamic labour market and the increasing flexibility of tasks, lifelong learning has become the key to professional success. The employability of each person is promoted by the employee’s own initiative and employability management on the part of the employer. Learning new skills leads to greater chances of success within the organisation and on the job market.
Work-Life Balance / Integration
Work-Life Balance is now advertised in almost every job advertisement and on many career websites. Since our professional and private lives are actually merging more and more instead of coexisting in parallel, the term balance is being questioned. Instead of seeing work and life as opposites, more and more people are advocating the integration of work and career.
Working Out Loud
Working out Loud – or WOL for short – is a method that promotes self-organized cooperation, builds networks, supports the achievement of personal goals and creates visibility for your own work. The core idea of WOL is to use meaningful networks to achieve individual goals by reflecting and changing one’s habits. The concept is based on five principles:
- Visible Work
- Purposeful Discovery
- Growth Mindset
Another part of the concept is that four to five people come together in a circle, which meets for 1 hour per week over 12 weeks. During this time, exercises are carried out together using the Circle Guide to achieve collaborative goals.
The culture in modern organizations is characterized by close and harmonious relationships. However, conflicts will continue to play a role in the new world of work because they are human. Indeed, a professional culture of conflict can be a driver of innovation in modern organizations. However, this requires a strong awareness of other people’s needs. The model of non-violent communication offers the chance to perceive the feelings and needs of other people in a more structured way. Conflicts can thus be better recognised and dealt with in a more differentiated way.
Many young talents are looking for more flexibility. New working models, including flexwork, can have a very positive impact on companies and employees. Here, a dynamic concept of different workplaces goes hand in hand with individual working hours .
The creation and design of the working environment has an impact on the human mind, thoughts, mood, motivation and performance. Light, sound levels, colours, materials, technical equipment and room layout all play an important role. Office space should offer the possibility to work on different types of tasks in different settings. Teams need a different room for interactive work as opposed to people who want to make phone calls in silence. The trend from individual offices to open workspaces with Flex Desks requires a rethinking of the room layout: isolation is replaced with community space.
The performance capabilities of people are significantly influenced by the working conditions. Our health can be positively supported and even promoted by ergonomic measures. Back pain is a well-known problem for many people who work in the office every day. This problem can be avoided by different seating arrangements and height-adjustable tables.
Interaction between Humans and Technology
Artificial intelligence and machines already complement human work in many areas today. Routine tasks, the processing of large amounts of data, but also dangerous activities can be carried out by them more quickly and safely. To take advantage of technological developments, we must understand, master and influence the interactions with it. Many experts already assume that technology will not only lead to the abolition of certain jobs, but also to the creation of new ones.
In contrast to the classic culture of being present and working together in a physical office, more and more companies are allowing their employees to work wherever they want. In doing so, even time zones and continents are surpassed. This gives employers the advantage of being able to access a global talent pool. Collaboration in remote cultures and in distributed teams takes place using digital tools: Meetings are held via video chat, information is distributed in chat groups, tasks and results are distributed and recorded in task management software.
The world is becoming increasingly fast moving and complex. Things that were once considered immovable are now being questioned. Forecasts about the future are often imprecise. Entrepreneurs in particular have to deal with this, but still look ahead positively and make the best of it. Many employees today are also expected to think in this entrepreneurial way. It can actually be learned – with effectuation. This scientifically based and very pragmatic approach is based on the assumption that everything you can take into your own hands can be controlled. So even with limited resources, outstanding and innovative results can be achieved.
Who does not know it: We do not make progress with an important decision or feel uncomfortable with the known alternatives. We postpone the decision. Perhaps we demand more data and analyses or the recommendations of experts. Collaborative decisions can help here. This involves the constructive harmonization of decisions and the joint search for solutions. To do this, decision-making powers and roles must be clearly defined at various levels of the company as well as in the various divisions. The ability and speed of collaborative decision making should also always be balanced. To this end, procedures for consensus decision-making, participation roles and participation procedures can be used.
To remain successful in the marketplace, companies must be innovative. For this, the pure ability to learn alone is not enough. Only when events and errors result in actions that are actually adapted to the situation can we speak of a learning organization. Many new work approaches such as purpose, design methods, feedback, failure culture, communication, democracy, self-organization, modern personnel development and self-management play an important role in this. In summary, 5 concrete mechanisms influence the learning organization: individual growth, mental models, common vision, learning in teams, thinking in systems.
People with a growth mindset assume that they can always develop and learn everything if they put in enough work. Even failure is a step towards success. This way of thinking can actually be learned. Even the knowledge about growth mindset leads to people tackling challenges more openly, making more effort and being demonstrably more successful. But growth mindset plays an important role not only on an individual level. It also promotes innovation and commitment within the entire organization.
Many organizations have problems due to demotivated employees, dysfunctional groups and wasted ideas. The reason for this is inhibiting or too slack structures that prevent real involvement and commitment of all those involved. Liberating structures are 33 structuring methods that promote teamwork. With little effort they can be integrated into everyday life and create a trusting relationship.
Open Book Management
You can share all the financial data in the world with your employees, but the questions will always be: Will they understand? And what will they do with it? Open Book Management (also known as The Great Game of Business) is a way of running a business where everyone – at all levels of the business – is as informed, involved and engaged as the owner. It’s about fully involving employees by teaching them how the company works and what they can contribute to its success.
The world of work is undergoing unstoppable changes. For this reason, mental strength and flexibility of employees and managers receives much more attention in many companies. In the same way, the focus is more strongly directed towards a healthy inner attitude. A conscious perception in everyday working life is one of the most relevant issues in times of New Work. Especially in a digital world, we need to be mindful about the usage of digital tools to prevent digital overload. With the help of special mindfulness and a strong awareness, working methods and business processes can be optimized; with the aim of improving the motivation, satisfaction and resilience of managers and employees.
New Work in a Macro Context:
Our economic system and society have a large impact on the way we work together. Here are topics that relate to the big picture and are worth researching:
Our working world and business models are changing faster than ever due to technological progress. New conditions are constantly arising for companies and employees. VUCA is an acronym and describes the four characteristics of our world on the basis of which decisions must now be made and actions taken: volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity. It becomes easier to navigate through the VUCA world with skills from the field of improvisation.
The first book about conscious capitalism was published in 2012. In it the two authors describe the four principles on the basis of which Whole Foods is developing into the healthiest organic food chain in the USA and has been listed in the 100 Best Companies to Work For for 20 years. Many other companies act in a similar way or have joined the idea. The four principles are: Sense-oriented / conscious management (profit is not the purpose but a side effect), win-win for all those involved in the process, thoughtfulness on the part of managers and an overall appreciative, conscious corporate culture. In contrast to many other techniques and methods discussed in New Work, these four principles provide a framework that every company (or team) can design for itself without having to adapt to it completely.
Before introducing new forms of organization, distributed management tasks, alternative forms of compensation, flexible working places or times, the legal framework should be examined and observed in each case. This creates transparency for all those involved about the legal rights and obligations on which the New Work measures are based.
With reference to the desire to pay everyone a fair wage, politicians, scientists and experts have been discussing the topic of basic income a lot in recent years. The idea is over 500 years old. Today, it is considered a humanistic answer to technological progress and an alternative to social bureaucracy. More than ever before, people are thinking about the impact a basic income has on human work performance and psychology, the economy and society.
Common Good Economy
The common good economy is an economic model in which a good life for all should be the ultimate goal. The core of this approach is that companies take stock of how humane, supportive and fair, ecological and sustainable, democratic and transparent they operate. These criteria are evaluated using predefined measures. Member companies communicate the results transparently to the outside world.
This list does not claim to be complete and therefore is always subject to revision and addition. Probably, you will notice that some items relate to each other or overlap. This is not a coincidence as the pioneers, e.g. of organizational models, identified the same main issues and had the same goals in mind. Some built up on existing ideas, some developed a new approach from scratch. But I hope it is a great starting point for you to zoom into different aspects that might be relevant to you.
Now, click on the links I provided or start your search engine. Please feel free to add topics, pose comments or share your insights. And to all German readers, I highly recommend to download the New Work Map designed by my friends at AllesRoger, including definitions and more food for thought. This article can also be found in German right here.