"For me, New Work is about the intelligent combination of work and collaboration"
– Ann-Kathrin Müller, Director Business Development at ASC Technologies AG
Digitization brings about a reorganization of work as we know it along with its hierarchies. New Work Transformation calls for new approaches. In this interview, Ann-Kathrin Müller explains opportunities, chances, and challenges.
Where is work in the digital age headed?
For me, digitization is the retreat of analog data and its traditional use in favor of virtual information being processed. This evolution will change our working environment in several ways. In addition to the emergence of new business models and competitive structures, the content of work and the organization of working and production processes will also change significantly. For me, this means above all more independence in work. Since data can be accessed virtually from anywhere, processes will most likely evolve towards greater freedom of action as well as temporal, spatial, and organizational flexibility. This is what is commonly known as New Work or Work 4.0.
And what is New Work for you personally?
The term New Work is used today in many different contexts and, in my opinion, can be very broadly defined. Based on the original idea of Frithjof Bergmann, New Work is a lot more than just giving employees access to new technologies by equipping them with tablets and smartphones. New Work begins with asking what we want to achieve and is the result a long process. People should have the opportunity to express their personality in their work. The well-being of the employees is just as important as new forms of cooperation and communication.
What exactly does this imply for the transformation of work?
Modern technologies make it possible to collaborate in a different way. Therefore, key words like collaboration, location-independent working, work-life balance and agility are on everyone’s lips when it comes to talking about New Work. For collaboration, new collaboration tools are used. And it is also about how to organize teams across different locations. Today, professional life does no longer exclusively take place within the classic office confines. Employees and teams are distributed around the globe and can only be contacted by means of e-mail, smartphone or other mobile communication channels. Concepts like working from home, mobile as well as shared workspaces are becoming more and more important. And especially the younger generation is setting increasingly store by an even work-life balance. The catchword agility refers to acting flexibly and, beyond that, proactively in anticipation of changes.
For me, New Work is about the intelligent combination of work and collaboration. As a company, you have to make up your mind about what the best options may be for you and initiate changes accordingly.
Who in the company has to promote or at least initiate New Work Transformation?
Employer and employee alike can trigger the impulse. For long-term success, it is crucial, though, that both parties are equally enthusiastic about promoting the topic. Employer and employees must be prepared to embrace changes. But ultimately, the serious intent to address the topic and change things must come from the management. Employees have to get out of their comfort zone, abandon their often rigid working habits and open up to new things. The same applies to the management.
Where do you start to change something in the spirit of the New Work approach?
For me, there are three major factors: people, spaces, technologies. When it comes to people, things revolve around the underlying values as well as the working and leadership culture. With regards to technologies, tools to facilitate communication and to transfer and share knowledge are at the focus. Spaces are basically infrastructures that allow activities to take place in different scenarios - within or outside the office depending on the individual requirements.
How can such a transformation be implemented?
In the first phase of the digital transformation, it is usually about accelerating, improving and streamlining existing processes. In the next step, you tend to come up with new solutions, scenarios, and attitudes. It is important to take a close look at one’s own corporate culture first considering the strategy and the way that the company wants to stand out from the crowd of competitors. Accordingly, transformation must be closely coordinated with the corporate strategy and development. Consequently, it is essential to follow a specific plan and to thoroughly reflect all consequences.
Which consequences does this transformation have? How does New Work change the leadership and the corporate culture and what does this mean for employees?
Today, new technologies allow for more autonomy. We are more independent and mobile. Being more flexible does not only bring advantages for the employees. At the same time, this transformation gives rise to a culture characterized by more personal responsibility. This cultural change helps to motivate employees and spark their creativity. They have to act instead of just react. In return, more confidence is placed in them. For example, the employer must be able to trust employees working from home to complete their tasks. But actually, this is not really a concern for me. Many studies have indicated that employees who have received a credit of trust are more than committed to pay it back.
On the other hand, these new work concepts can also open up a gap that slows the development of a corporate culture. When everyone works from home or exclusively communicates via tools when at office, there’s no personal interaction anymore and no bonds can be created as would be the case when employees see each other in person. However, I am convinced that a corporate culture can also develop across a distance. But then, attendance dates or events should be introduced.
What are the challenges that companies are facing?
One of the challenges that a company must expect to meet are the different expectations that employees have in their employer. This makes it increasingly difficult to adapt measures to specific generations of employees. Further challenges are new requirements with regard to one’s own strategy development, innovation requirements, and customer processes.
I believe it is important not to rush into the transition to New Work but to think long-term. Not only the advantages but also the risks and consequences must be gauged. Furthermore, employee management must be designed on a personal level so that all employees - whether working from home, in another country or in the office next door - always have their goals in mind. All these are major challenges that must not be underestimated.
What tools are there to modernize, accelerate, and improve work?
A major topic is the cloud, of course. Thanks to the cloud, you can work anytime, anywhere and from any device. As a result, work has not only become independent from the location but also from the devices. This allows us to concentrate on the content. In addition, there are mobile workstations, smartphones, document management systems, customer relationship management systems, chat platforms, collaboration tools and much more.
But regardless of the different tools that are available for “modern work”, companies must become aware that an enterprise cannot be run from the office alone. They must understand that, basically, the office is just one collaboration tool among many.
What makes a good tool for you?
A good tool works without any delay. That includes a simple interface that can be used intuitively. This makes work independent from the device - and from location and office hours. On top of that, the possibility to integrate it into a network with other programs is a must. Additionally, regular updates should be available to avoid bugs and to keep it up to date. And eventually, a broad acceptance of the tool is key; after all, even the greatest tool is useless, if there is no community that uses it.
Do you have a favorite tool?
For sure: Microsoft Teams! Teams tremendously facilitate work as different areas of work can be distinguished at first sight. And the user interface is appealing. For me as new mother it is of particular advantage that I can use Teams from home for my work. I always have access to all data and can easily use all Office applications that are linked to Teams.
But above all, it is the straightforward way to call in meetings and to share documents that facilitate work. Our interview is the perfect example: We talk via Teams, look at the same documents at the same time from two different locations, share them, work on them together, and record our conversation. That is New Work for me!