Smart Mobility – more than just the transformation of an industry
15. April 2019
Data, data, data – how to increase the value of digitization
20. May 2019

Colleague 4.0 – Towards hybrid forms of cooperation

I n the future, activities that can be standardized will be replaced by algorithms and robots, and numerous job profiles will change completely. On the other hand, employees can fully exploit their creative potential in their job. There will be completely new forms of collaboration between people and computers – a hybrid system in which people and machines cooperate. 

This positive vision actually seems quite plausible and has nothing to do with the frightening scenario of developing various job profiles in various studies and reports. However, this positive vision is often countered by frightening reports such as the current OECD study on possible job losses. For many people, it is hard to imagine that they can say goodbye to their job profile and work together more creatively in the future, with more personal responsibility and in cooperation with a computer. At the same time, such reports are more likely to fuel fears of loss than to point out the many new opportunities that can arise from digitising work.

For me, studying the figures presented by the OECD, which expects 18.4% of jobs to be threatened, the question is what happens to the remaining 81.6%? Can these people sit back and relax? Probably not, digitalisation affects every company and therefore every job – somehow.


The new understanding starts at the top

“Work 4.0” and “New Work” are the buzzwords behind which the most profound changes in our professional world are hidden. The changes are mainly driven by the fact that new technologies make it possible to use machines more extensively, but at the same time our communication behaviour is being completely redesigned with digitalisation. Of course, there have always been jobs in the past that have been lost due to new technologies, for example the ladies of the telephone exchange who had to plug together the appropriate lines to connect. But the fact that almost every job is directly affected by digitization presents us with completely different challenges.

It is not enough to adapt individual job descriptions to the new technological possibilities, but it is necessary to have completely new organisational structures in the companies. The new form of cooperation between people and machines means that people have to take on other responsibilities in the company. At the same time, the employees in companies will only support the change if the superior shows himself to be a pioneer of change and is prepared to do things differently in the future.

Cautiousness with a focus on the positive sides

The change to new systems naturally cannot “take place” overnight, but must be actively shaped by all participants. This means that communication does not focus on the dangers and those affected do not focus on the defensive battles. Each change brings some negative side effects, but also much good, if it is arranged in a positive sense.

In my opinion, this thinking of a positive basic attitude towards change is a key element for a successful transformation. This means above all for managers to invest a lot in their employees. Many things that are simple from a managerial perspective – such as the transfer of responsibility and decision-making competence – are not so easy for those affected to carry out, they are used to something completely different from decades of work in clear hierarchies.

Step-by-step and involving the employees are therefore essential, after all, not all activities are immediately eliminated by automation. It is therefore a process that must be thought of in the long term and does not focus on short-term efficiency gains.

Is the computer the new colleague 4.0?

The exciting question of how the hybrid work systems of the future will be designed remains unanswered. The greatest achievement of mankind is the form of cooperation and co-opration, based on close communication, hierarchies, etc. Even in primeval times, it was possible to hunt a big lion or kill an elephant for the physically inferior biped. If we follow the logic of the historian Yuval Noah Harari, it was later above all the “gossip” that solidified the social structures of humans and thus at some point made humans into the superior race on earth.

So can you imagine one day standing in the coffee kitchen with a robot from your department? Probably not. The good news is that there will always be people of flesh and blood in the distant future who are important not least for strengthening social cohesion in the company. But it is all the more important that the relationship between the machines is clearly defined in the cooperation.

In a recent publication, philosophy professor Lisa Herzog puts it in a nutshell: “Either the plan of the machine is pursued without taking human ideas into account, or the human being sets the plan. But in any constellation there would remain a superior/subordinate relationship – a real (kollegia-les) togetherness will not be possible.

Thus the computer cannot be the colleague at eye level, but a useful support, no matter in which form, as an executing device or sometimes perhaps also to take a decision with which one has difficulty. Despite all digitization, however, it will not be possible to do without collegial expertise in the sense of interpersonal exchange.

Where do you start tomorrow?

So let’s summarize, the change in the world of work will, according to my assumption, affect pretty much every job, but not in the sense that these jobs simply “drop out”, but they will change. This change should be a positive experience for the employee. The employee needs to know that digitization will make their job easier, open up new perspectives and allow them to reach their full creative potential. This process requires adjustments to the organisational structure. For you as an entrepreneur, this means that you should involve your employees at an early stage, not only in workplace design, but above all in the development of completely new job profiles:

  • Invite your employees to outline their image of the work of the future, encourage a collegial exchange and take the fantasies of your employees seriously at this point.
  • Together, think about how the spatial conditions should be adapted in order to create a future-oriented working environment.
  • Learn to transfer responsibility to the employees and at the same time to take increasing responsibility of the employees. This is based, among other things, on new cooperation techniques.
  • As a manager, be a role model yourself. Don’t just talk about digitalisation, but also exemplify it.

But the most important thing is to communicate the changes within the company POSITIVELY! Don’t look at the workplace that might be omitted, but at the relief that results from digitization. Give your employees time by not only accounting for efficiency gains from the increase in productivity for the company, but also giving your employees more time for their essential decision-making tasks.

#Make it easy