New Work

The term ‘new work’ refers to the change in the world of work that is taking place in the context of globalization and digitalization. This development is moving away from the classic wage earner, who carries out his or her professional activity according to the strict specifications of an employer, and toward alternative, more flexible approaches that give employees greater decision-making options, more flexibility and enhanced personal development opportunities. Buzzwords related to new work include open-desk offices, agile teams, coworking and a culture of trust.

What principles does new work embody?

New work relies on increased personal responsibility and developing the potential of employees who want to be involved in corporate decisions much more than in the past. Merely acting on a supervisor's instructions is being replaced by employees’ own creativity. Classic decision-making criteria such as salaries and working hours are becoming less important than flat hierarchies, family friendliness and personal development opportunities. By the same token, the emerging concept of new leadership is replacing hierarchical leadership structure with a culture of trust and empathy.

What forms of work fall under the concept of new work?

All concepts that enable employees to organize their lives as flexibly as possible are significant. These include working from home, coworking spaces, flexitime and sabbaticals. Strict professional separation of work groups is being replaced by mixed teams, and the allocation of fixed workplaces is likewise losing importance. Desk sharing, on the other hand, is becoming increasingly popular, allowing employees to freely choose their workplace in the company on a daily basis.

What structures must a company create for its employees?

The basic requirement for successfully establishing new work in a company is an awareness that there is no contradiction between work and personal freedom. New work consciously seeks to combine professional development with personal fulfilment. Companies should always keep this principle in mind when creating structures for the new work model.

1. IT infrastructure

To enable employees to work independently in space and time, a suitable IT infrastructure must first be provided. It goes without saying that each employee needs his or her own laptop and, where necessary, a company mobile phone. Yet thought should also be given to appropriate tools that enable digital conferences, as well as a uniform work interface and an accessible company network. Also, if internal company data and systems are accessible from everywhere, appropriate IT security measures must be taken to ward off hacker attacks and protect sensitive data.

2. Employee qualifications

The switch to remote work compels employees to familiarize themselves with the IT infrastructure of their own company. Companies must therefore properly train their employees in the use of the required hardware and software.

3. Smart office concepts

If employees have the option of working independently of a given location, office space is only required on demand. Companies should therefore consider whether it still makes sense to pay continuous rent, or whether it might make more sense to rent what are known as coworking spaces on a flexible basis. In the latter case, payment is made only when employees want to meet in a team in one place.

4. Labor law and occupational health

Companies planning to introduce work from home should pay attention to specific regulations regarding the requirements for and the design of the home office activity. This also means providing employees with work equipment such as laptops, company mobile phones, writing materials and furniture.

5. Appropriate management style

New work is based on flat hierarchies and the freedom to organize work around the needs and wishes of the individual. Traditional leadership styles, where the employer tells the employee what to do and the employee has little or no say in decisions, are unsuitable for new work concepts. Rather, it is important that managers act as coaches, inspiring and motivating their staff. In this context, a change of mindset is required among managers so that new work can function successfully in the company.

6. Agile working methods

In line with the change of leadership style, companies should ideally also switch to an agile way of working. Here, responsibility filters down from management to work teams themselves. Project teams thus take responsibility for their own actions, with management providing advice. In this way, project teams can act more quickly and flexibly, while employees also feel valued, motivated and ready to make a difference in their own company. 

How can the concept of new work be implemented and integrated in the company?

Changes in companies usually lead to uncertainty among the workforce. To curb fears at an early stage and gain acceptance of the concept of new work, the changes should be communicated to all employees at an early stage. Transparency is particularly important in this context. Accordingly, staff should be made aware of the numerous advantages but also the challenges that the new working model entails. Employees can then prepare for the coming changes right from the start. To ensure that the new working model is lived out in practice, new work should become part of the corporate culture. This can be achieved by anchoring the concept in the company’s guidelines and actively involving staff in the entire development. It should be noted that new work cannot be implemented overnight. It is by no means enough to simply rely on changing office furnishings and handing out laptops to employees. Some structural changes, such as moving into open-plan offices, can be done group by group. This has the advantage that volunteers can make the move first and report back to colleagues. Elements such as a culture of trust, empathy and new leadership, on the other hand, can only be successfully established together with the whole team. 

 

Why should companies take the concept of new work on board?

New work can generate competitive advantages, especially in the recruitment of skilled workers. At a time when skilled workers are in short supply, a good salary is often no longer enough to attract highly qualified employees. On the other hand, flat hierarchies, working from home, flexitime and further training opportunities give a company the attractiveness they need to convince top talents. At the same time, the degree of connectivity and digitalization associated with new work generates further benefits in a globalized labor market.

 

What are the advantages and disadvantages of new work?

 

Advantages

Employees who can flexibly apportion their working hours usually benefit from a better work-life balance. In particular, employees with children derive huge benefits from this arrangement and can better reconcile their professional career with their family life. Those who also have the option of working from a home office can adapt their home workplace to their own needs and save themselves long journeys. But even just the flexible choice of workplace in the company itself also yields advantages. Networking with team colleagues and cross-departmental cooperation can be much easier. Moreover, flat hierarchies and the freedom to make one's own decisions also boost employees’ motivation and create room for creativity, innovation and productivity.

Disadvantages

On the downside, this concept also harbors some dangers for employers and employees. If companies plan to introduce new forms of work, everyone involved must rethink their approach to work. If the new working model is introduced too quickly, the hoped-for increase in productivity and innovation can be reversed. Mobile working also requires minimum standards in terms of technology and labor law compliance. For flexible local working, an appropriate IT infrastructure must be ensured as well as a workplace that meets the minimum standards prescribed by occupational health and safety legislation. Compliance with relevant data protection guidelines must also be ensured. Employees too face challenges in this context. For those who are not good at time management and self-management, the new work arrangements can quickly become a vicious circle. Overtime hours, the feeling of having to be available around the clock and the lack of a clear spatial separation between work and private life can be a source of discontent. Another issue is that digital and location-independent work presuppose certain technical skills on the part of many employees. Older generations in particular may quickly reach their limits in this regard.