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New Work: “ask yourself what you can do for your employees”

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W orking in a home office is a lived reality for many people in the lockdown at the beginning of 2021. For many people, “home” and “office” have merged over the past twelve months; futurologists now speak of the “Hoffice.” The most valuable insight of the Corona pandemic for many executives is: “It works!”. In the future, many employees can imagine doing at least part of their work outside the office. The first companies have announced that they will permanently reduce their office space.
Since Adam Smith developed the idea of division of labor at the end of the 18th century, the organization of companies and value chains has become increasingly productive. The negative consequence was that people were increasingly perceived as a production factor. With the possible decoupling of work from space and time, the focus is once again shifting to people. People should work where they are most productive. With the help of digital technology, communication hurdles are overcome and, thanks to motivated employees*, productivity is further increased.
Since the Corona-related lockdown, fixed structures have been broken for many people in Germany. Overnight, managers had to learn to trade control for trust, and the cherished business trips and countless face-to-face meetings were replaced by video conferences.
My vision is that we will no longer return to the “old world”, but will in future consider very carefully for which form of work a face-to-face meeting is still necessary and which can be replaced by online formats. The future for events lies in hybrid formats, and with ever-improving technology, virtual meeting experiences are becoming more and more real. The basis for this development is a corporate culture that builds on the strong digital skills of its employees and in which openness, willingness to cooperate and personal responsibility are of particular importance.

Everything digital, or what?

Working remotely (so-called “remote work”) already poses challenges for many companies, but it is not a real change on its own. The digital technologies used are necessary, but only as a means to an end. Companies must now carefully analyze and take advantage of the opportunities opened up by the lockdown. Only those companies that are prepared to take the next step of cultural change now can remain fit for the future. The future clearly lies in the digital design of processes and workflows.
The basis for this is the values that are lived in the company. In many companies, I still experience rigid silo thinking and hierarchies that bundle responsibility at the top like a pyramid. These values no longer fit into a working environment of tomorrow, in which success depends to a large extent on how employees are motivated through their own responsibility. Initial studies show that employees who are able to choose their own workplace on their own responsibility perform up to 20% better. The change in the working environment goes hand in hand with the adaptation of lifestyles to a smart society. In my view, the development is sustainable simply because the change in needs encompasses all areas of life and is not just focused on work.
For companies, the challenge is to develop the existing rule-based organization into a value-based organization in the future. A very important value here is an unconditional willingness to cooperate. I firmly believe that in an increasingly dynamic world, the experience and knowledge of an individual are no longer sufficient to react quickly to changes. Companies can therefore only move forward if there is interdisciplinary and, in some cases, cross-organizational cooperation.
In line with the value framework that has been developed, companies must invest in the competencies of their employees. The numerous studies that deal with the necessary competencies in a digital working world differ only marginally in their results. In addition to the aforementioned cooperation skills, these include basic digital skills, the ability to self-organize and self-reflect, as well as strong communication skills and a great willingness to change and openness to new things.
This value framework is only stable if it is lived out through a new form of leadership. Leaders must also take the defined values and rules into account and should ask themselves what they can do for their employees instead of waiting to see what the employees have to do for them or the company. Leaders in a digital work environment thus become enablers and supporters, and the company is managed against clearly defined performance targets and work results. Old forms of performance monitoring, such as time tracking, become completely irrelevant.
Let’s note the first important point for the world of New Work: In the future, the perception of corporate responsibility will be expressed first and foremost toward people, and thus especially toward the company’s own employees.

Where do we work then?

The much-cited kitchen table is only rarely the dream workplace when we talk about “remote work. Many people have created a workplace in their home in the meantime and use the change of place specifically to concentrate on work or the next video call with as little disruption as possible.
I myself have lived working in different places for many years and find it inspiring. I am firmly convinced that in the future there should not only be the option of being able to work from home or another location. Rather, the office buildings of the future should also be designed in such a way that different workspaces become a varied, innovative and inspiring working environment. The key here is not only to create spaces for working, but above all to plan in places for meeting and working together. In the future, creative collaboration – along with the arguments of social gathering – will be the only real reason why people should meet for work.
Just as the value framework is critical to a good organizational culture, the workspaces and, more importantly, the technology that works for collaboration are the necessary foundation for a system that works. Companies must also fulfill their responsibilities in the areas that lie outside the factory premises and provide employees* with functioning technology. At the same time, there are other interesting places between the kitchen table and the office building, for example in co-working spaces. There, employees* have the opportunity to work in a professional-social environment without just staying at home. At the same time, they get to know people from other organizations and perhaps save many hours of their lives by eliminating commuting.

Let’s note the second important point for a functioning New Work: Create a people-friendly work environment in which people like to work and perform great. This can be home (first place), a coworking space, a bakery or a hotel (second place) or even your own office (third place). Perhaps in the future it will be possible to work entirely in a virtual space, this “fourth place” would be the logical further development.

What will you start with tomorrow?

The challenges of creating a “new work culture” in companies now seem very great to many, but the goal can be achieved in individual steps. The only important thing is that you develop a clear objective for your company. Then you can start implementing it tomorrow:

  • Start the strategy development together with your employees. In a joint workshop at team level, you can record how the experiences from the lockdown period have changed the way people work. Key questions: What was good and should be retained? Where is there a need for improvement? What would you like to try out?
  • Start an (anonymous) survey for managers and employees: Are the conditions in terms of workspaces, hardware and software equipment in place for smooth working and best productivity?
  • In addition to project meetings, plan regular virtual meetings in which employees can exchange information on their own topics; in doing so, train communication skills in particular.
  • As a supervisor or team colleague, agree on very clear work packages and milestones against which work is measured; the introduction of a project management tool can be a valuable support here and at the same time help to reduce e-mail traffic.
  • Measure organizational development against competency strength. Use it to show how the value framework and competencies are developing within the organization and discuss the results with your employees.
    You should not tackle the issues mentioned above alone within the company. There are many pitfalls and points that are not obvious to you from within the organization. Do you have questions or are you looking for support? Then feel free to send me an e-mail directly.