It is current developments in the economy and society that are forcing companies to deal with new forms of work. Numerous new models are found in the minds of German managers – models that have often already been tested in other companies. Remote Work and Open Spaces are two of these examples that promote a new kind of leadership.

Together with 5 representatives and a representative of company management, we tried in the third roundtable on agility in companies to find answers to the questions about how work in companies is changing in concrete terms and what new requirements these changes place on managers. Since a core theme of the roundtable included new office and building concepts, a guided tour was carried out during the roundtable with one of the responsible architects, who was instrumental in the design of the building in which the third roundtable took place.

Procedure and participants

Like every roundtable, the third one began with a short get-together, a first meeting of the participants. After the welcome, we discussed the results of the previous meeting in order to make them present to all participants.

The third roundtable focused on work and leadership in the digital age, as already described in the introduction. The participants were an Agile Coach, a representative of a large sports company, an HR manager, the IT board of a trade union, an IT department manager and a supervisory board of a production company.

Work 4.0, Agility and Digital Transformation

As a term, “Work 4.0” deals with the future of work in the digital age. The main reason for this is the problems (but also opportunities) that are causing a progressive technicalisation in the labour market and the general structures of enterprises.

In this roundtable block, we primarily discussed the terms around the topic and conducted an open dialogue on novel office concepts.

In this dialogue, it was made clear to the participants that these new working concepts also serve as USP of companies and thus, in addition to increased agility, can also contribute to the attractiveness of the company among customers and independent viewers.

Other conclusions that emerged in this bloc are:

  • Work 4.0 must be agile!
  • Agility needs freedom!
  • Good work is based on voluntary work!
  • The concept of “leadership” must give way to a “guide”!
  • Work will become more dynamic and short-cycle in the future!
  • Work 4.0 is supported digitally!

In concrete terms, these conclusions in everyday business life mean that employees have to face tasks themselves. However, this can only be successful if employees have sufficient insight into all areas through transparency and the employees are given sufficient freedom by the manager. Which tools the team uses in the implementation of the (self-imposed) tasks is also available. The manager plays the role of a person who assists in the event of problems and supports the employee. When asked about the connection between Work 4.0 and digital transformation, the consensus of the participants was that many tools are currently being rolled out in the company. The goal is to provide employees with a large number of tools to freely choose which to use and, most importantly, how they want to use it. On the thesis of voluntary action, the participants said that the pull principle was very important for the organizations. Tasks should therefore be drawn by the respective employee himself. In Scrum, this simply means choosing a task from the backlog.

NewWork – The Future of Work

NewWork’s problem is often countered by a simple answer: “Work when, where, and with whom you want!” However, because agility also requires solid teams and closeness, such a simple answer is not effective in this case. Together, the participants of the Roundtable discussed ways to better implement New Work.

The general tenor was that although external frames have to be loosened slowly, certain cornerstones are still necessary in the future. In addition, the participants consider the mindset of the employees to be decisive, but the tools available are secondary – even the technology is not the decisive driver.

According to the participants, fully implementing NewWork’s vision is not an alternative. However, the consensus is that with new office concepts and home office, the place, i.e. the “where you want”, is increasingly disintegrating. At the same time, the participants determine that this will affect the “when you want”. As a result, the structure will also increasingly have to change. However, there is still the tension between team proximity and location independence, which will be discussed in more detail in the next roundtable.

newwork
Idea of Newwork (own presentation according to the idea of Petry 2016)

Activity based working and new office concepts

In order to become more specific on the topic of “new office concepts”, the participants discussed a concept that had already been tried out in the pilot. A total of 120 employees were involved in this project. Each individual was allowed to work completely independently and voluntarily. It was interesting that this new concept, despite the voluntary nature of the project, first met with rejection or resistance with more freedom. The roundtable also identified the problem with the fact that while service providers are agile, customers are not. This is a fact that makes it difficult to put new working concepts into practice.

Because agile teams are characterized primarily by teamwork, agility is not compatible with the simple answers of New Work. Agility can only be implemented sustainably by seeing each other on site and having a real closeness to each other.

The optimal solution that resonated in the dialogue was, about two days a week firmly in the company and thus on site, to be mobile for one day and to remain flexible for the other two days of the week to work either on site, mobile or from home. No conclusive answers were found to the question of whether Scrum or Remote Work would result in an uncontrollable overload on employees. The roundtable was rounded off at the end with a guided tour of the company’s modern “Activity based working concept”, in which the roundtable took place. In this way, the dialogue could be experienced first-hand.
The two participants of the companies both use this concept and have designed state-of-the-art buildings accordingly. They noticed that so-called “team corners” form and that each employee is generally looking for a preferred place in his current team. Management also does not want the teams to be changed at any time. However, in order to ensure a healthy and lasting reorientation in the long term, the participant of the IT group presented the concept of “Jump Day”. An example in which the procedure of asking all employees to change jobs and the team annually has been tested. One participant by analogy:

“On the first jump day, I thought it would take weeks for the teams to develop. But shortly after lunch it was as if there had never been another concept.”

futurework
Activity-based work (own representation according to an idea by Detecon)

Digital Leadership – what is good leadership?

In the first step, the participants were discussed about the ideas of good leadership. By consensus, 4 dimensions were defined, which are reminiscent of the model of Buhse (2014). Good leadership therefore promotes the following dimensions:

  • Openness
  • Participation
  • Agility
  • Networking

Digital Leadership in the Hybrid Field of Tension

Furthermore, the participants of the Roundtable exchanged views on how good leadership can look in concrete terms in the modern world of work.

There was consensus on the fact that the leadership must be with the team and leadership cannot function in a delimited way. Control and autonomy must be applied together. The challenge for the manager is to master this balancing act with sensitivity.

So you could say that employees become co-entrepreneurs and management is an active part of the team that does not lead within a rigid structure, but leads flexible, leaves room for manoeuvre and merely dictates the rough rules of the game and framework conditions. Targeted incentives and challenges must also increase motivation in the team. However, it was important to the participants that agility is not used as a means of exerting pressure, but that the mindset and values are in the foreground.

On the one hand, the managers want to give employees more freedom and on the other hand, a minimum of control is needed to avoid anarchy!

Overall, the participants agree that a leader must find a healthy balance here. Above all, it is important that a leader is close to the team, according to the participants.

Digital Leadership
Dimensions and Fields of Tension of Digital Leadership (Lindner & Greff 2017)

The digital leadership in the field of tension between generations – the conclusions of the participants:

Generation X employees

Employees of this generation are fundamentally sceptical about new work models. This is particularly pronounced at the beginning. Over time, however, they adapt the models and willingly move along.

Leadership (instructions) requires an understanding of the initial doubts of these employees.

Employees from Generation Y

Generation Y willingly confronts new models, such as working from the home office or working in open spaces. But often employees of this generation were already in old structures, which, like Generation X, can lead to initial doubts about new things.

This generation needs a high degree of structure in which it can develop freely. If there is not a sufficient framework, motivation can suffer.

Generation Z employees

Generation Z employees are characterized by a strong digital imprint. The high level of activity, the savvy handling of digitality and the “virginity” in terms of working models make this generation an interested, very fast-learning employee in the context of new work models.

At the moment, however, this generation is only just entering the labour market. Therefore, it is not yet clear how to make practical experiences with this generation. It remains to be seen how this generation will come to terms with the new working models.

Participants noted by consensus:

No matter what generation it is, people want change, just not to be changed themselves.

Conclusion: Implement new working concepts – right now!

The need for novel concepts and models to meet the challenges of Work 4.0 has been there for some time. But it is only today that the framework conditions have been created to actually implement these changes. Laptops, tablets, smartphones and co are cheaper than ever. In addition, Generation Y, but especially the employees of the future born after 1995 (Generation Z), are so familiar with digitality and the resulting freedom that freer, agile working models can also be implemented in practice, without the need for a great deal of persuasion or the need for a lot of training.

View of the 4th Roundtable

In this third roundtable, we discussed the impact of digitalization on corporate leadership and work, and the fourth meeting will discuss the impact of digital methods such as remote work, clickworking, crowdworkers on leadership and work, as well as the hybrid tension between analogue and digital models.

Genderhinweis: Ich habe zur leichteren Lesbarkeit die männliche Form verwendet. Sofern keine explizite Unterscheidung getroffen wird, sind daher stets sowohl Frauen, Diverse als auch Männer sowie Menschen jeder Herkunft und Nation gemeint. Lesen Sie mehr dazu.

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Verwendete Quellen anzeigen

Buhse, W. (2014). Management by Internet: New management models for companies in times of digital transformation. Kulmbach: Stock exchange media.

Detecon: http://www.detecon.com/sites/default/files/1_DMR_blue_Transformation_Neue_Arbeitswelten_D_02_2015_0.pdf

Lindner, D. & Greff, T. (2017). Hybrid Digital Leadership in SMEs – Implement agility in a practical and generation-oriented way.

Petry, T. (2016).
Digital Leadership: Successful leadership in times of the digital economy
. Munich: Haufe Verlag.

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I blog about the impact of digitalization on our working environment. For this purpose, I present content from science in a practical way and show helpful tips from my everyday work. I am a manager in an SME myself and I wrote my doctoral thesis at the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg at the chair of IT Management.

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