New WorkFlexible work, agile processes, modern leadership

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What sounds like a new lifestyle trend is actually a paradigm-shifting concept for the workplace. New Work is digital, flexible, and democratic. Job applicants and employees are demanding more freedom in terms of where, when, and how much they work. And the New Normal paves the way for more self-determination and self-realization, driven by the digital transformation and smart working models.

Megatrend New Work

Arriving at the office at 9 a.m. sharp, working through e-mails, calls and appointments, and finishing work at 5 p.m. – any tasks coming in after that point will simply have to wait until tomorrow. The same job, in the same office, for your entire career. Those were the old days.

When it comes to the future of work, you can’t miss the concept of New Work. Due to the digitalization having made significant progress over the last few years, employees have been given new opportunities to shape their everyday working lives. Those who work creatively or manage projects usually only need two things: a laptop and a stable internet connection. They virtually collaborate with their colleagues and customers by using digital tools to communicate in a quick, concise, and goal-oriented way. Being physically present is rarely necessary. Instead, it’s all about new ways of working. Matters that used to be constrained to a certain time or place can now be taken care of at anytime, anywhere.

Back in the 1980s, philosopher Frithjof Bergmann coined the term “New Work” to refer to a new way of organizing work: he saw alternative working time models as the key to preserving jobs in the rise of automation, and offering new perspectives as a way of unleashing creative potential. Forty years later, his predictions have turned into reality.

Two young men in a light office space talking in a relaxed atmosphere.

New Work is more digital, flexible, and agile. The focus lies on developing each employee’s potential.

More freedom through New Work?

New Work is rapidly transforming the working environment. New requirements and responsibilities are emerging for both companies and employees - on the one hand, employees are aiming for a healthy work-life balance, on the other hand, working flexibly creates a fluid transition between their private and professional lives, also known as work-life blending. That is why both parties are deciding on how to divide working hours and free time together.

Lucas Kohlmann, Global Head of HR Strategy, Leadership, Talent Management and Diversity & Inclusion at Henkel

Performance is no longer synonymous with being physically present at the office. We promote a work environment based on trust and we are evolving past the culture of physical presence in many areas.

While the values of New Work may seem unusual or strange to some older employees, they are a deciding factor for many younger people when choosing a job. Younger generations have different priorities compared to their parents. Scientists draw the line at Generation Y, those born after 1980. They were brought up more democratically and freely than the generations before them and are confident in standing up for their interests. They have been spared real hardship but have also experienced how stable systems can be thrown off balance and stretched to the breaking point – be it through terrorism, economic crises or climate change. At the same time, they have seen the power of digitalization at first-hand and have grown up alongside it.

Moreover, Generation Z, those born after 2000, has now entered the workforce. Gen Z is confident, decisive, and political. Unlike previous generations, its members are Digital Natives  and digitally savvy from an early age - thanks to social media. As with Generation Y, meaningful work and fulfillment in their careers are top priorities. This leads to complex expectations, different structures, and a new social etiquette.

A woman sitting at a desk participating in a virtual call via tablet.

For Generations Y and Z, innovative and flexible New Work concepts are often a decisive factor when choosing a job.

The New Normal describes the newly established status quo after a social or economic crisis. It includes a change in existing thought and behavior patterns, which is fostered by the use of new technologies. Working from home, for example, has been the New Normal for many employees in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Without digitalization, there would be no fourth industrial revolution and no New Work movement. The introduction of new information and communication technologies has fundamentally changed the way we work and has created the need for new professional qualifications.

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The future of work opts for the automation of processes, for example in the field of production. Machines can be controlled centrally via computer systems and run independently. However, Industry 4.0 cannot function without people. Studies predict that human resources will continue to be important in fields such as controlling functions.

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The boundary between the work and private life is blurred due to flexible working models. Many employees are available for work outside of normal business hours, and colleagues spend their free time together. Mindfulness in both areas is all the more important in order to stay focused.

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Self-realization through New Work

New Work is less about age than about experience with technology and a certain attitude. A crucial factor, however, is that Generation Y and Z are smaller than the Baby Boomer generation. Highly skilled employees have never been in a more privileged position. The War for Talents  has changed the power structures on the labor market. For applicants, a job has to do more than just earning them a secure living. It also needs to enrich their lives and make them proud, but not at the expense of their free time.

Digital natives have grown up with technology and are therefore familiar with many digital tools. This makes it easier for them to find their way in the working world of the future.

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Generation Y


“Generation Y is looking for fulfilment, self-realization and a sort of meaning of life through their jobs. In this regard, they are radical utopians.”

   
Klaus Hurrelmann, Sociologist and Generational Researcher


Generation Z


"When Generation Z enters the workforce, their primary concern is job security, but meaningful tasks and general fulfillment are almost equally important to them. This results in complex expectations and aspirations, but also in dynamic structures and a new social etiquette."

   
Klaus Hurrelmann, Sociologist and Generational Researcher

Companies should therefore represent clear values employees can identify with. “We talk to potential employees about our corporate values the very first time we meet them,” says Kohlmann. “This allows both sides to make sure we’re on the same page from the get-go.” In addition, a great culture of innovation also plays a huge role. It shows applicants that their creative ideas are welcome and encourages employees to be pioneers that create added value for society. Moreover, it is important to accommodate employees who would like to redistribute their working time: flexible working hours are already the norm, and sabbaticals and job-sharing models are increasingly in demand.

The demographic change and the shortage of skilled workers have fueled a battle for the best talent between companies. In the war for talents, companies are competing for qualified and motivated junior staff, the so-called high potentials.

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Shaping the future of work through digitalization

Even experts don’t know how we will be working 10 or 20 years from now. What we do know is that the concept of New Work won’t get old. Meanwhile, new developments are taking place all around us. The Digital Backbone and Artificial Intelligence aren’t just setting new benchmarks in the industrial sector. Knowledge-based work is also changing, as bots take over tasks that people are carrying out today. At the same time, new jobs and career profiles are emerging on a daily basis. There is no way around it: we have to change our mindset, try out and accept new things. Following a “Lifelong Learning” approach, companies like Henkel aim to familiarizes employees with new technologies, processes and ways of thinking. And with advanced trainings as part of the “Digital Upskilling” initiative, Henkel is getting everyone on board for the working world of the future.

Many organizations are also trying out agile working  processes that break up hierarchies: short sprints are replacing long-winded, static processes. Sooner or later, employees will have to bid farewell to workspaces with designated desks. Employers, big or small, are slowly replacing them with open-space concepts in which teams can come together in new set-ups every day. In line with this development, Henkel has introduced its Smart Work concept which offers employees flexibility regarding space and time.

The classic 9-to-5 model is outdated: Flexible working models such as flextime, home office or job sharing are already an integral part of many companies.

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