New Work: Definition, background, methods, and best practices

Frau in der New Work



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.

Historical background

The term "New Work" was coined as early as the 1970s by the social philosopher Frithjof Bergmann. It is, therefore, not a new term, but it is gaining importance, especially today. In 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, he refers to the work that has been taking place since the industrial revolution: The working person carries out a concrete task, such as a work step in a production line. Thus the person functions merely as a means to an end. The worker is nothing more than a "tool."

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.

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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.

New Leadership

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, besteht eine Holacracy aus Kreisen, Einheiten oder Gruppen, die auf vier Eckpfeilern beruhen. Ein Eckpfeiler sind  doppelte Verbindungen. Bestimmte Mitarbeitende innerhalb eines Kreises sind demnach für den klaren Informationsaustausch mit ähnlichen Mitarbeitenden einer anderen Gruppierung zuständig. Ein weiterer Eckpfeiler ist die integrative Entscheidungsfindung: Entscheidungen werden durch den Input von Beteiligten oder Stakeholdern getroffen. Die Trennung zwischen taktischen und operativen Konferenzen und die Fokussierung von Rollen bilden die letzten Eckpfeiler. Es gibt zwar keine Hierarchie mehr, aber es existieren immer noch Rollen mit jeweils eigenen Aufgaben.

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.

Mixed Teams

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.

Job crafting

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.

Work-life blending

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

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.

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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.