Digitisation is taking great strides and is overcoming both the private and professional environment with a new culture. Every day, German and international companies roll out new tools to create a completely new working environment within digitized structures.

Technology supports us today at every step we take – we can hardly ignore this development. Privately, perhaps, if we don’t use the latest SmartWatch or the latest fitness tracker – but in a professional context, the company usually dictates which tool is used to achieve the goals set.

But how does this digital transformation have a concrete impact on the workplace and the workforce? After all, in traditional occupations, we are on average 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, 20 days per month and 8 months per year at this workplace. In this special roundtable on the “digital workplace”, managers and project managers from SMEs and corporations have come together to discuss the concrete impact of digital change on our workplace in Tübingen.

Participants of this roundtable:

Company Position Article Number of MA
Logistics Team leader PMO Group 30.000
Finance Team leader PMO Group 188.000
IT service providers Consultant PMO Smes 100
Retailers Project managers Smes 500
Retailers Project managers Smes 500
Logistics Portfolio Managers Group 65.000
Textile industry Team leader PMO Group 14.000

1) Status Quo digital change

After the obligatory meeting and the welcome, the participants were presented with a study carried out in advance of the roundtable. In this survey, 24 small and medium-sized enterprises in the Dresden area were asked about the current status quo in terms of digitalization.

The results of the survey clearly show that mobile technologies such as laptops and smartphones are not only already part of everyday life in companies, but that the tools are to become even more mobile. There is a desire to connect employees even more using technology and move processes to the cloud to make work more accessible and faster. CRM, document management and ERP systems are also standard in many of the companies surveyed. Only in places are costs, complexity, a lack of know-how and legal uncertainty that have yet to be overcome.

2) Impact on work in the digital age

After Block 1, the participants discussed their own opinions on the advancing digitalization, against the background of how work is changing and what characteristics work has in the digital age.

Current sentiment in companies

Of course, all participants are aware that we are in the midst of digital change. There is also a consensus that this change is a one-way street and therefore unstoppable. All are actively engaged in this change and are trying to shape the associated methods in their companies. Basically, all participants show an immense curiosity about the digital changes to come.

Current characteristics of the work

According to the participants, companies are already working in a highly networked manner. As a result, work is already faster, more short-cycle, communicative and more flexible than in earlier times, when digital change was not so pronounced. These attributes also increase agility, according to participants’ feelings.

Local flexibility of work

In addition, all participants agree that work becomes and must become more mobile. Through indentation technologies and networking, work in the home office and on the go is possible. The main chance here, according to the participants, is that work that requires high concentration can be done independently in one’s own four walls, the communicative and creative work takes place instead in the premises of the company. Modern IT is, so to speak, the “enabler” for mobile working methods.

Speed of work

The fact that the speed of work is increasing is first of all aware of all participants in the discussion as a positive development. In the course of the dialogue, however, the opinion developed that problems may arise at this point, which all of us already know personally.

One participant’s quote: “We used to write letters and wait for a response for over 2 weeks. That was OK! We are now expected to respond immediately and within seconds.”

Instead of waiting up to several weeks for feedback by post, a two-day-old e-mail is often no longer relevant nowadays. Instead, it is expected to be available 24 hours a day and to use this accessibility for feedback. The concrete problem for the participants is that in this “faster is better” culture, there are sometimes significant declines in quality. Instead of formulating a proper e-mail, which does not require any requests at all, several mails are typed at the same time.

Focusing as a key-to-keyskill

A solution to the problem, the dialogue participants see in an optimized time management. With the immense number of tasks communicated in real time, it will become even more crucial in the future to create space for these tasks to be dealt with in a focused manner. Unanimity prevails on the fact that, despite digitization, working with flipchart, paper, pen and paper is more creative than that with digital tools. According to the participants, these are not yet mature enough to meet the creative demands of work.

3) Digitization, Agility and Distance: Opportunities through Digitization

Almost all participants of the roundtable work in their business environment with or in agilely distributed teams. One of the participants even works with a distributed scrum team and says:

“Working with someone you’ve never seen before only works if tasks are specified.”

Blind trust is not enough, because one can still not assess and understand each other enough. Here, the participants also agree and rely more on personal meetings especially at the beginning of a project.

Confidence and agility

The tenor among the roundtable participants is consistently:

The closer people work together, the more trust there is with each other.

Agile work could not and cannot still work over a physical distance, despite the tools currently available. However, the better these technologies become in the context of digitalization, the more conceivable a possible distance in agile work in companies becomes.

New ways to work over distance

For example, with distributed teams, there is a chance that digital technologies will allow you to meet in other places, such as the cafe around the corner, and discuss processes. The popular video chat via Skype and Co also creates closeness despite the distance. Nevertheless, the participants agree that these technologies do not yet replace the direct face-to-face meeting on site in the company.

A participant’s quote: “Trust arises from person to person, not from screen to screen.”

4) Risks from digitalisation in the workplace: technostress and permanent networking

After the third block of the conversation already had many negative consequences of digitalization that still exist, we discussed the risks separately.

Constructive digitization

At present, the full potential of digitalisation is not yet being applied sensibly in all places. Technology should, above all, simplify things, but not hinder the concentrated processing of tasks. This starts, for example, with extensive login processes, which are still partially necessary before you can use the respective tools. Here, digital helpers need to become even faster and more intuitive.

Factor human and technostress

All dialogue participants agree: the human factor must not be neglected in the future. The now standard expectation that workers can be reached anytime, anywhere, must be scaled back or adjusted in order to mitigate negative consequences for humans. The participants themselves also read mails on holiday and after work.

One participant says: “You’re actually annoyed about it afterwards and you barely recover on holiday.”

Instead of demanding that they be available on holiday, the manager could also admonish the employee when answering emails on holiday. On the other hand, the employees are of course also responsible for themselves on holiday. If an employee wants to answer business emails within his spare time, he should be allowed to do so. The group’s views were divided. Only the fact that the compulsion would no longer exist was unanimously clear to the participants.

Irritation flooding via various tools

“I come to the office in the morning and have 40 unread mails. At the same time, when I answer them, I get more messages via Skype, HipChat, etc.”

With this statement, one participant illustrates the prevailing status quo and thus also the problem in everyday work. Unlike networked IT systems, people have limited “memory.” The progressive growth in the digital environment cannot and must not be transferred to man one-to-one, since his competences (philosophically) are completely different from those of machines. In the future, therefore, the main task will be to link the human factor with the possibilities of digitalization correctly and sustainably.

5) Closing word

After the joint and individual discussions at this roundtable, it became clear that one should be open to digital change and look forward to the improvements and developments of current technologies. After all, digitalisation in the workplace creates a more agile environment in the company and a better work-life balance in the private sector.

A quote from a participant, which illustrates the quintessence quite well:

“Digitalization must serve people and must not become the end of a company that simply wants to follow the hype.”

At the end of the day, I would like to thank the TU Dresden for the great cooperation and the provision of the study results! In addition, the 7 participants of the Roundtable are very grateful for their commitment and IT design for the great organization.

VIEW TO THE 5th ROUNDTABLE

In this roundtable, we discussed the impact of digitalization on work in companies, 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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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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