New Work – Agility, Empowerment or Holocracy?

New Work is the answer to many challenges of tomorrow’s working world

How do we want to work in tomorrow’s digital world? How can we keep up with an ever increasing dynamic of change?

New Work shapes tomorrow’s working world according to new principles, which open spaces for mindful and effective collaboration. So, in the future, think outside of rigid organisational diagram and silos. Instead, we implement agile and project-based forms of organisation, e.g. holocracy or sociocracy. Such forms of cooperation organise work, not people. At the same time, they distribute authority and use e.g. collective intelligence of communities. This will make tomorrow’s working world more democratic, more human and, in many ways, more adaptable.

In order to let something really decisive happen in these new structures, people need to be the centre of attention. New work is good for the employee and good for the entrepreneur. Therefore the historically grown, opposing positions can dissolve. 100 years ago, people achieved a change from a power relationship to a legal relationship in bloody battles, i.e. parliament passed the Works Constitution Act. Here and now, democracy itself moves into companies. Is this a step from “shareholder capitalism” to “stakeholder capitalism”?

Link to “stakeholder capitalism” by WORLD ECONOMIC FORUM

Today’s employees have at least the chance to use their influence to promote sustainable business within companies. Because with the long-term orientation towards the interests of all stakeholders – environment, social affairs and corporate governance (ESG) – their daily activities are given a deeper meaning. Employees see their own goals anchored within the company, which they can track independently.

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Foto ID 73334843 | © Choat Boonyakiat | Dreamstime.com

Popular myths about new work in companies

Do labour law rules prevent new forms of work? How big is the scope for new work? Is work part of a meaningful life?

If you do NOT believe the following popular myths about new work in companies, you can skip this paragraph.

• German labour law and existing collective agreements prevent many new work approaches.

• New work is primarily an issue for young companies. In mature structures, these concepts are of little use.

• New work concepts are based on very fundamental questions of the importance of work for participation in society and for individual, personal development.

The findings of a practical study by the Fraunhofer Institute are partly surprising, partly soothing.

First, the existing legal framework offers enough scope if everyone involved wants it seriously. Rigid working rules – charming like a couple of handcuffs – have long been overcome. The flexibility in terms of time and place by means of free choice of working hours, self-organised shift planning and home office are solid proof of this.

Second, the scope for new work is very large! This is proven both with a view to the large number of different companies as well as regarding the broad workforce. The fact is: agile or project-based forms of organisation are already common in a third of companies.

Third, work is – of course – part of a meaningful life even in the distant future. People want to make an important contribution with work e.g. for society or for the company. However, what exactly makes sense, the ideas are heterogeneous: dedication to the cause, self-actualisation, community or (…).

Learning and adapting is good, when it is worthwhile for people

What are key requirements for new work? Which meta-competence is the focus? How does an effective cultural change succeed?

Learning and adapting is only good, if it is worthwhile for people, is an old saying. In order for this collective process to happen, the fit of employees to the organisation is a key success factor. This applies to shared values as well as culturally. Since no fixed organisational principles will offer security in the future, a target culture is needed in which employees can adapt well and actively. Especially, in highly changing times, it offers an orientation framework for daily work.

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Foto ID 46797608 | © Jakub JirsÃik | Dreamstime.com

New work is not a goal state, but an ongoing process of transformation and reflection. For this reason, the ability to change will be the most important meta-competence in the future – both individually and organisationally. The logical consequence is permanent learning and adaptation – a process that never stops. Values and culture of the new work movement create a clear goal. Before you jump off, you should know where to go. What does the new look like? Change is only good, if it is worthwhile.

New work approaches in particular, which change the basic principles of hierarchical organisations, require a consistent and consequent approach from “above”: cultural change does not take place without the top management team. In addition, a high degree of employee participation in the collective process proves to be a brilliant way. In this way, trust and transparency are conveyed.

Simultaneousness of today’s efficiency and tomorrow’s new work

What are the risks associated with new work approaches? Are today’s managers a real obstacle or disadvantaged?

The requirement to achieve simultaneousness of today’s efficiency and tomorrow’s new work is easy to set up and incredibly difficult to meet. Simultaneously manage areas within an organisation at different speeds – also known as ambidextrous – is a solution to this challenge. This way efficiency in day-to-day business as well as cultural change, e.g. in pilot projects, take place in the company.

On the other hand, new work as a bluff package opens the door for digital Taylorism (control mania) and for self-exploitation (blurring of living environments). The resulting danger of “not being able to switch off” has a negative impact on the health of employees. Therefore, we urgently need employee participation in the design of good work.

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Foto iPhone | © Frank Eckhoff | bog area in the forest of Grunewald (Berlin)

I don’t think new work is an illusion with today’s leaders. Nevertheless, my practical experience shows me, that some managers have firmly rooted the control mania in their professional role. This leadership culture, which has been established for a long time, is “withdrawing”. Therefore, it takes a long effort to implement demanding new work concepts. 

Executives who see many disadvantages behind new work can be a real obstacle. It is therefore essential to ensure that the change is also worthwhile for managers. Either they are intrinsic motivated or the company carefully involves them in the process and prepares them for the modern leadership role.

The path to a suitable new work concept

Is there a simple, ideal path that leads to tomorrow’s working world? What are the first steps?

Yes, there are some key success factors on the path to a suitable new work concept for your company: e.g. a consistent and consequent approach from “above” or the fit of employees to the target culture.

And, no, there is no simple ideal milestone plan with actions that leads to the target culture. Because people and companies are so unique and complex that there can only be original solutions. The solution is within the system. What works excellently in an engineering office does not necessarily have to lead to success in a dental laboratory with the same number of employees.

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Foto ID 144794080 | © Chic2view | Dreamstime.com

It depends on your influence. Can you give new work meaning in your company’s target culture? Do you find allies, who want to work with you to find a suitable new work concept, because it is just as worthwhile for them?

It is your turn to use your skills – primarily ability to change. You choose what the first steps are for you and the company. Look into new work together with your fellows. Keep working on it, because:

The future of work has already started!


Simultaneousness of today’s efficiency and tomorrow’s new work

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