Although we are amid rapid change enabled by disruptive digital technologies, "New Work" remains conceptually unexplored. Therefore, establishing a New Work definition and analyzing its nature is the focus of this article.
Digitization, along with its new technologies and the development of artificial intelligence, is radically changing our working world. Processes that used to require manual labor now run automatically. Employees are digitally networked and can work together regardless of location. New professions are emerging that require the learning of new skills.
These developments demand our working world to adapt structurally. As a result, many different alternative work models and forms have emerged in recent years. Today, we summarize them under the collective term of New Work.
The term "New Work" was coined as early as the 1970s by the social philosopher Frithjof Bergmann. Thus, it is not a newly created term but only recently gaining significant importance. During his time, Bergmann was concerned with the philosophical question of human freedom. He comes to the radical conclusion: Nothing makes a man more unfree than work. Here Berhmann referred to that work carried out under the framework of the industrial revolution: The working man carries out a concrete task, such as a work step on a treadmill. Thus he functions merely as a means to an end. He is not much more than a “tool”.
Work is not just a means of making a living, but also self-fulfillment.Frithjof Bergmann
With his concept of New Work, Bergmann redefines work in the context of the new era of information. He attempts to reverse the relationship between workers and work. The worker should no longer be a means to an end. Instead, work becomes the means for people to self-actualize themselves as free individuals. In other words, in Bergmann's principle of New Work, work moves out of the center, and people move in. It is about self-realization, freedom, and independence of employees.
Present definition and scope of New Work
Every company should and must deal with "New Work" today. Only those companies who take it seriously will be fit for the future in the long term. One reason for this is that companies that do not practice New Work will be overtaken and left behind in terms of productivity and success by others that do.
On the other hand, it is evident that people today, especially Generation Y, are looking for employers who offer them opportunities for further development and fulfillment of their potential. Wages and status alone in return for work are no longer sufficient.
However, there is no single way of implementing the New Work in companies. Ultimately, each company decides this individually, based on its needs. The decisive factors are the company's product or service, its customers and employees, and the competition.
Strictly hierarchical working models are a thing of the past. In the New Work culture, managers and employees meet at eye level. It is no longer relevant for a manager to constantly demonstrate more competence and expertise to employees. Instead, it is the task of managers today to exemplify a clear vision and thus demonstrate orientation. They do not control their employees but show them trust and empathy. They also establish an open error culture in which mistakes are allowed as an opportunity to learn.
The leadership style or attitude brewing within New Work got phrased as New Leadership. In 2020, a study conducted by the consulting firm Accenture identified five core tenants of New Leadership, hailing it as the best approach for the coming decade. Such tenants include emotion and intuition (creativity flourished in an open and empathetic environment), mission and goal setting (achieving goals gets easier through a shared and sustainable vision), technology and innovation (new organizational and social values emerge through the use of technology), intellect and knowledge (path to success lies on continuous learning and regular exchange of ideas), and stakeholder inclusion (involving stakeholders in decision-making processes boosts trust and a sense of belonging).
Elements of New Work
Here, we highlight the main methods, elements, and examples of New Work across current markets.
One of New Work's most innovative forms of organization is holacracy. This system strives to ensure maximum openness and requires contribution from all personnel. A holacracy also does away with traditional hierarchies, administration, and designations. According to Urban Sports Club, , the organizational arrangement is composed of circles, units, or groups based on four cornerstones: double connections (specific staff members within one circle are responsible for exchanging lucid information with similar employees from a different grouping), integrative decision-making (arriving at decisions through input from involved parties or stakeholders), segregation between tactical and operational conferences, and focus on roles (despite there being no hierarchy, roles still exist, each with its distinct duties).
Commitment and development of potential
Employees are encouraged to contribute their creative ideas. Their talents are more in demand than ever. That is because companies today recognize that employees in the role of intrapreneurs, who are passionately committed and demonstrate personal responsibility, significantly advance the company.
Commitment and development of potential is a crucial element of New Work because it aligns with the values and principles of this modern approach to work. New Work focuses on creating a more humane and fulfilling workplace for employees. Thus, employees can be more productive, creative, valuable, and supportive. By prioritizing the commitment and development of potential employees, companies can create an environment where personal and professional growth is encouraged. That aligns with New Work principles emphasizing the importance of learning and continuous upskilling and re-skilling.
Diversity in teams is becoming increasingly important. According to a study published in Economic Geography in 2013, teams consisting of members with different expertise and background offer significantly greater innovative power than homogenous teams. Also, mixed teams develop a higher degree of check-and-balance, constructive criticism, and precision. Fresh perspectives from heterogeneous groups are worth their weight in gold.
Diversity in teams can also improve employee morale and increase job satisfaction. Employees are more eager to engage in their work and contribute to team success when they feel appreciated for their unique backgrounds and valued for their perspectives. Furthermore, having a diverse team can improve a company's reputation in the eyes of customers, clients, and partners, demonstrating a commitment to inclusivity and openness. Finally, embracing diversity can also help companies to tap into new markets and better understand their customers' needs, leading to improved products and services.
Job crafting is about taking control of the working environment as a staff member. Rather than just adhering to an assigned role or job description, this involves claiming possession for forming a position dependent on personal needs and ambitions - all while still maintaining meaningful activity from the entrepreneurial perspective. A few ideas of successful job crafting include a marketing worker who writes articles for the company blog, a co-worker who teaches art classes as additional education, or employees offering yoga sessions to other colleagues before beginning work.
It should be possible to combine work with private life. We already perceive this idea through the term work-life balance. But in the New Work culture, work should also be in harmony with the employees' interests, values, and convictions. It requires freedom in the corporate culture. Ideally, employees should be able to make their own decisions about working hours and location. Home offices, co-working spaces, and the switch to a 30-hour week are examples of how such freedom can thrive.
Agile methods include approaches such as design thinking (fueling product development through induced trial and error), scrum (helping set up teams that will expand a customer-oriented project iteratively in the shortest possible time), and lean startup (turning a prototype into the best possible product for customers through directly launching in the market a beta version).
Any company can come up with unique agile methods, as long as those fulfill all the four following criteria: focus on people and communication rather than procedures and tools, priority on functional products over extensive paperwork, precedence on collaboration with customers over transactions with them, and reacting to change without obsessing over initial plan.
The case of Audi
Audi is one of the biggest companies committed to implementing a New Work culture through home offices, agile teams, flat hierarchies, and greater flexibility. The automotive giant values New Work as the answer to new expectations in the job market. Drawing on a study from Randstad, Audi postulated that 74% of employees in Germany seek meaning in their work. However, only 52% of such employees find meaning, leaving the other half detached from their employer.
Audi turned to a New Work approach to adhere to such new expectations (especially among the young generation). The company will set hybrid work as its new standard through the Better Normal project. A focus on ergonomics will lead to newly designed offices and equipment sets and a desk-sharing concept for on-site work. Other benefits include mobile working, widespread digitization, health care, and data privacy protections. Furthermore, on-site employees who cannot work from home will leverage flexible working hours to enhance work-life balance.
As the world of work continues to evolve, businesses must commit to the New Work principles if they want to stay ahead of their competition. Companies that embrace New Work principles, such as employee development, team diversity, and flexible working models, will be best positioned to weather the current economic storm. By allowing employees to take ownership of their work and fostering an environment of collaboration, businesses can ensure they remain successful today and well into the future.
FAQ: New Work
Who came up with the concept of New Work?
Prof. Dr. Frithjof Bergmann was the one who first coined the term New Work in the early 1970s to highlight the beginning of a new age of work where employees would concentrate on non-routine activities and automate or robotize routine tasks.
What are the claims against the New Work?
Some arguments against New Work include forced restructurings, employees being overwhelmed by many changes, added workload, and increased stress levels across employees.
Is the home office considered New Work?
It depends. Not all forms of home office follow all the New Work principles. But the home office is one of the frameworks companies can use to implement New Work principles. The effectiveness of home office solutions within an organization may determine the success of its New Work culture.