The terms work 4.0, digital leadership and agility are on everyone’s mind and occupy the German business landscape, which is characterized especially by small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), which are an important pillar of the German economy. In doing so, they have years of experience and innovative strength. However, it is important to note that this success is not necessarily guaranteed for the next decades.

Digital change in German companies

For example, many companies are striving for a digital transformation and creating the conditions for these terms, i.e. more flexible and self-determined work, which should increase the innovative strength and attractiveness of skilled workers.

On the one hand, mobile devices such as laptops and smartphones are introduced and on the other hand, cloud software for mobile and time-flexible work is introduced. In addition, there are new working models and agile teams. However, there are still many unanswered questions in this area of tension, which are to be dealt with in the roundtable. The following lists the participants.

Position Article Number of MA
Board of Management IT (employees) Union 120,000 members
IT Director Media 600
Head of IT E-commerce 20
Agile Coach IT service providers 7000
Head of Marketing IT service providers 400
Head of Marketing IT service providers 120
Supervisory board Mechanical engineering 120
Managing director IT service providers 100

Preliminary study in the course of the Roundtable

This roundtable builds on the knowledge of all studies and previous roundtables. In addition to four other roundtables, there is also a survey of 30 companies and a survey of 72 executives on the three topics (work, leadership, organisation) in the roundtable. The aim was to discuss the results together.

Software and hardware in companies

The survey of companies showed that technology is being introduced exponentially even in the smallest companies. In addition to mobile devices such as smartphones and laptops, mobile software such as cloud services will also be introduced. This is a prerequisite for more mobile work. Remote work and distributed teams are also increasing month-to-month, and first SMEs are also testing distributed teams. This has been the case in corporations for some time. Thus, the prerequisites for mobile and virtual work have already been created.

Reading tip: What about the digital world of work

Virtualizing work in business

The managers in the survey showed that many employees are already in the home office or in mobile work. Cross-site work is also widespread and managers increasingly have to lead at a distance. This is done using virtual tools and well-known methods such as e-mail and phone. A distinction must also be made between online and offline (media breakage). However, according to the executives, working with digital tools requires coaching. This is one of the main tasks of a leader. The results of the roundtable can be found below.

Reading Tip: What is Digital Leadership

Work 4.0

The increasing digitization of work offers the opportunity to work with distributed teams or at “distance”. Mobile work and home office are also only available through mobile technologies such as   a. Laptops and smartphones possible. The participants agree that virtual and remote work is increasingly finding their way into German companies. This is no longer sustainable in the consensus of the participants and one “should not build walls”.

Employees in companies that do not participate in virtual meetings will increasingly be closed off the information chain and will therefore hardly be able to work efficiently. The union’s board also notes that shaping New Work’s vision in particular is currently the top priority in its environment.

Work 4.0
There is a shift between the classical world of work with a fixed place, time and structures towards flexible work (Own presentation based on Petry 2016, p. 103)

Local and time-flexible work

Participants believe that new forms of work are a great opportunity, especially for SMEs, and can attract skilled workers. For example, The participants of SMEs expect that many individual employment contracts and models will be necessary. The MARKETING director of the IT service provider also notes that a high legal hurdle is associated with home office and sees this as a previous obstacle in addition to the lack of technology.

There is no point in saying “You have flexible working hours, but please be there at 8:30 a.m.” (Agile coach – IT group)

New work models focus on increased work-life balance and flexibility in work execution. The participants believe this too, but this calls for a higher self-organization, which can lead to overload and stress. According to the participants, this must be trained and trained.

Fit for the market

According to the participants, this new flexibility in the exercise of work also increases competitiveness. Work can be carried out more flexibly and freely, which increases motivation and innovation. It is also possible to react much more flexibly to customer requests. For example, an employee who is, for example,   For example, you have to pick up your child from school during the day, and in the evening you are happy to complete an important presentation for the customer, according to the managing director of the IT service provider. However, the flexibility also increases fluctuation. Work at a distance allows for a higher willingness to change, according to the participants. It is the task of leading companies to prevent this. In the next paragraph, therefore, leadership is dealt with under the term Digital Leadership.

Reading tip: what is work 4.0

Digital Leadership

“I’m steering over goals,” says the media company’s IT director. “I set frames and lead, but I don’t lead anymore.” However, it still recommends being present by being sufficient as mobile work for 1-2 days a week.

The question that arises for the participants is how to deal with employees who need to be on site, such   as B. Employees in classic marketing. There is also an increasing need to lead a team, especially with increasing digitalization. All participants are currently testing this through Trial and Error. However, one of the biggest challenges for the participants right now is to lead a group.

The dynamics of a group can have such a high force that it is a Herculean task as a leader to lead it (IT manager of the e-commerce service provider)

Letting go of employees

According to the participants, “leave” is the word that is equated with distance guidance. As the media company’s IT director finds: “You have to live with the fact that you don’t know where an employee is and when he starts working.” However, it is important to give everyone a home, i.e. an affiliation to the project or company. Otherwise, the employee could lose touch with the company.

Optimum team size at a distance

One point was the optimal team size. On the one hand, one participant prefers 20-25, another to 10 and another no more than 7 (scrum team) people. There is therefore no agreement on this. On the one hand, a small team size promotes individual leadership and on the other hand, a higher team size promotes the self-control of employees.

Digital maturity levels

But how do I lead people with different levels of digital maturity? Some deny technology and others want it, according to the consensus of the participants. On the one hand, participants with a digital transformation notice a fluctuation of employees, which must be accepted. However, according to the participants, different departments and projects must be created in which employees with low and high maturity levels can work. However, according to all participants, a certain openness to technology will always be required, but also consideration of digital natives against less tech-savvy employees.

A leader must maintain presence despite distance! (IT Director of the Media Company)

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

Guided tour of the Holacracy

A few years ago, the marketing manager of the IT service provider organized a part of his company holistically. He notes that there is always a voluntary leader that is accepted by everyone. However, this changes relatively often and roles are flexibly reassigned again and again. Of course, he limits that there must always be a project manager especially in front of the customer, because he expects a contact person. However, he also sees it as difficult to lead a group and master group dynamics and looks forward to how the holacracy is developing in his company.

In summary, good leadership for the participants is on the one hand the letting go and on the other hand the exercise of control. A manager should master a wide range of methods and apply them according to digital maturity. This is the consensus of the participants:

Leadership becomes more agile, but not completely agile (IT manager of the e-commerce service provider)

Agile organization

Organizations are becoming more “unstable,” participants agree. According to the participants, there will be significantly fewer units, but not only small independent teams, but also large units. Nevertheless, the participants agree that organizations have always changed and changed permanently, but now a new circumstance is that participants feel a higher level of instability. The pursuit of solid and clear units (silos) is steadily decreasing. The question for the participants, however, is:

How unstable do I make my organization so that it stays strong? (Marketing Manager of the IT Service Provider)

No bimodal companies

The participants do not believe that there will be a company of two speeds such as   for example, an “old” and “new world”. They believe that each unit will have its own speed and therefore there will be many speeds. For example, it is criticized that an HR certainly does not always have to be as fast as a sales department or that this is also the case the other way around, depending on the company. Also, departments will always remain hybrid and all participants are sure to continue to use notes and pens from time to time or to paint on a flipchart.

Reading tip: what is agile?

Start-ups in companies

The problem with small units is that the small autonomous teams (fast boats) often cannot be integrated meaningfully into the organization and the distance to this one increases over time. The focus must be on changing the current core business sensibly and slowly. However, even one or the other speedboat is always useful for a specific project, according to the consensus of the participants.

Agile organization
A company as a molecule. Participants use the metaphor from physics to form a model for evolutionary enterprises.


At the end of the Roundtable, the participants noticed that we are facing a fundamental social change. The findings encouraged each participant to reflect and reflect. It was only through the Roundtable that the scope and the many open areas of tension that arise from the increasing digitalization became clear.

Since this was the last roundtable in the course of my doctoral thesis, I would like to thank all participants and look forward to the final evaluation of all my research results!

Reading Tip: What is Digital Transformation


In the course of research, I have examined the three topics and would now like to deduce from this how increasing digitalization is changing a company. On the one hand, there are plenty of opportunities, but also many unanswered questions, and it seems that fundamental values such as e.g.   b. change leadership and also work in execution as well as in the requirements for employees.

For a continuation, I would recommend to look at other areas and to deepen my results in order to differentiate this for individual industries and business forms. In any case, look at the reports of my other Roundtables.

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.

Falls es noch Fragen gibt, können Sie mich gerne anrufen. Hierzu einfach im Buchungssystem nach einen freien Termin schauen. Ich nehme mir jeden Monat einige Stunden Zeit um mit Lesern zu interagieren.

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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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