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Future work - so what can we do?

02/06/2021 2021/06

Lobbying on this is already beginning, with the Federation of German Industry calling for the end of the home office obligation, as this would disrupt "normal" business operations. According to a study by the ifo Institute, however, 54% of companies want to strengthen home office work. At the same time, the ifo study states that 56% of employees in Germany could work from home in relation to their job. In turn, only half of them could take advantage of this. This is also contrasted by the increased search queries, e.g. via LinkedIn, for jobs advertised for work in the home office. 

That doesn't sound very much like the "new normal" to us. That's why we want to take a closer look at the topic of work of the future with different focal points. In the coming articles, we will shed light on various manifestations. From the 4-day week to Meaningful Work or even the half-life of existing hierarchy models.

In our view, however, the work of the future is more than digital platforms and collaboration solutions from the home office. For us, what exactly is involved has been cast into three components: 

  • What do companies need for the future world of work?
  • What models already exist?
  • Which competencies do we need for this in a new or even more pronounced way?

What do companies already need today for the organization of the future?

As with any topic, there are a wide variety of views on this. Some say the "organization of the future is a circle". Others claim it works as responsibility ownership, i.e. when the company does not belong to any shareholder, but to itself and thus to all those who currently work in it. Still others create a whole new operating system in their organization and turn everything around. People mainly work together in roles, such as in Holacracy. Regardless of which camp the individual tends toward, there are commonalities that are critical to the future of the organization.

First and foremost, the organization's view of people plays a crucial role in whether it is future-oriented or caught in old thinking traps. Put simply, do we live in the thinking pattern more Type X or Type Y?

Thinking pattern type X: The human being is an avoider, he is by nature work-shy by nature, refuses to take on responsibility. There must always be someone who permanently instructs him or her, controls, forces and disciplines him or her. All this in order to get an adequate work performance. In line with Taylor's conviction - "What is not controlled, is not executed". 

Thinking pattern type Y: Here, the image of man is characterized by positivity and optimism. The basic attitude towards people attributes to them that they naturally like to perform, take responsibility, but also search for meaning, self-fulfillment and self-realization in their work. Beyond that, they approach the goals to which they feel attached with self-discipline and self-control.

In our view, Type Y is the basis for sustainable further development. This is because it is the attitude toward employees that makes it possible to build a culture of trust in the first place. Really trusting people to do things and not tying decisions to hierarchies, titles or statuses. Instead, an eye level is created that promotes constructive discourse, which prevents stagnation. This also enables an atmosphere in which the organization can meet any challenge, no matter how sudden, with flexibility and adaptability. Responsibility no longer rests solely on the shoulders of individual executives, but is placed where it belongs through solidarity and identification with the common goal. This brings two other essential points to bear. The courage to admit it and the communication about how to deal with the challenges as well as the courage.

What can our work look like in the future?
In our view, however, the work of the future is more than digital platform and collaboration solutions from the home office.
In our view, however, the work of the future is more than digital platform and collaboration solutions from the home office.

What we learn from the already existing models for future work?

In recent years, we have heard about many possibilities or witnessed the first practical implementations in companies through field reports. It has become clear that no solution in one company is the same as another. The individuality of the organization leads to the fact that there are the most different variants. Be it the 4-day week, the 5- or 6-hour day, or job-sharing that regulates working hours. In addition, there are models that focus on the place of work, or designate it as a place of trust, since it does not matter whether the work is done in the office, in the home office or mobile on the other side of the world. In contrast, there are variants that focus on leisure time, e.g., in the form of unlimited vacation or sabbaticals. If we then look again at the design, we find differences quite quickly. Therefore, from our point of view, there is no one solution, but it is always a variation individualized to the organization, the employees and the business field.

The movement around the topic of "New Work" - "Future Work" shows one thing above all: it is about making work more flexible, whether in terms of time, space or the organization of work itself. The human being and his or her individual needs are clearly in focus. Due to the current situation, which forced many companies into the home office, completely different topics were in focus. However, this revealed new points that will be crucial when dealing with the topic of work in the future. Especially when it comes to remote working, home office or mobile working, employers would do well to get even closer to their employees. They should also focus on the issue of loyalty and satisfaction in order to remain the employer of choice in the future. Trust and appreciation continue to be cornerstones for us, and the current developments have brought them even more into focus. At the same time, these two factors are already part of a future-oriented way of working for us. In particular, they help us meet the challenges that come with increasing flexibility. After all, this not only provides relief, but in the negative case can also lead to psychological stress. As we are currently seeing in many places and reading out from statistics on the basis of requests for psychological care. 

What (indispensable) competence do we need for the work of the future?

Not least the previous reference to the increased numbers of psychological stress points out that we cannot simply flip a switch and then work differently or then everything will be fine. This is also a process in which we are allowed to further develop ourselves, the teams and companies, as well as learn. Even the Federal Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs has pointed out with the INQA - Initiative for a New Quality of Work - that the need for development is immense. In the current focus, resilience in times of crisis is high on the development agenda. From our point of view, this is not a competence that we only need now. Both managers and employees benefit from this ability. 

In the often conjured up VUKA world, it becomes a success factor for everyone. It helps us not only in uncertain times, but also in stressful moments, in situations where we may not be able or willing to separate professional and private life. Resilience helps us to stay in our creativity and flexibility. It is also a competence that helps organizations as a whole to manage crises, to build flexible work structures when it comes to going home from one day to the next, or to find quick, creative solutions to everyday customer demands. Change is no longer perceived as a threat, but as an opportunity. We can take better care of our mental health, still maintain our performance and take personal responsibility. 

And what's next?

We cannot yet grasp THE work of the future. What we can do, however, is orient ourselves to what we need as a basis for a new work culture and work design. It is factors such as an optimistic, positive view of people, values and attitudes in organizations that pave the way. Our conclusion is therefore - in order to develop the world of work into a place of strength, what is needed above all, in addition to technologies, is courage, a willingness to change, trust, communication and mindfulness, which together enable a trusting culture and promote transformation toward the "new work".

About the Author
Nadia Döhler | Organisational & HR Consulting
Nadia Neumann
HR Consultant (HR Development)

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