“Office work in German corporations is now organised like factory work. Monotony in the service of efficiency”, according to the Brand One in the issue “New Work“. The “Lean Office”, the slender office, has made its way into Germany, according to the magazine. I have thoroughly researched this new #Bürofabrik, looked at what is behind this term and considered whether these are really the dangers of the “digitalization of the world of work”.

Digitisation of the world of work – the #Bürofabrik

In addition to many opportunities, the digitalization of the world of work also carries risks. So I would like to give you a few examples that illustrate that the office can become a small factory with the highest efficiency.

Dealing with Lowperformer
Monotony in the sense of efficiency – risk of LeanOffice

The Lean Office…

The IG-Metall says: The new wave is affecting the office world. Lean office – sleek office – is the magic word that is supposed to make work more effective. Because the concept involves not only opportunities but also many risks, it is important that works councils are critical of this. Thus, the concepts from production are also introduced in the knowledge work. The following quote illustrates potential consequences:

“We are concerned about the whole administration. The human resources departments, purchasing, accounting. Work steps fall out, the work becomes more small-scale, you lose track of the big picture. This also has an impact on pay. The easier the job, the less it pays. In the meantime, for example, the testimonies are written centrally. In the past, the human resources department did this on site. Now there are people who do nothing but write testimonies all day long. Beforehand, executives enter a few details online about how the employee was. And then text modules are cobbled together. They don’t know people at all.” — A clerk at Siemens in BrandEin.

The IG-Metal also finds some cases of problems here: Everything is standardized: name tags, the mail entry and exit concept, uniform labels for folders, tidy drawers and the use of roll containers. There is a list, which is part of the basic and additional equipment of a desk, personal items are only allowed to a small extent.

When transparency escalates…

Transparency can also escalate: When executives can invite retrospectives and monitor everything through digital technologies, caution is required. Otherwise, a possible over-optimization could even be negative for the company.

“We now meet every morning on a whiteboard and have to report whether someone has had an accident at work – whether someone has stuck their thumb in the drawer, cut their finger on the paper or fallen over their office chair. Like in the production hall, it’s. And we have a more severe form, where near-accidents are reported. So things that could have led to an accident at work. And that in the office. I mean, what’s going to happen here?” — A clerk in the administration at Pentair in the Brand One

If Scrum is nuptifly agility…

Scrum is an agile method based on the agile manifesto that can add value to customers and increase employee job satisfaction. At least that’s the theory. But scrum can also lead to frustration, demotivation and the exercise of strong control through incorrect application.

“Just five years ago, we programmers were relatively self-sufficient. Today, our work is divided into small features that you can finish relatively quickly. There are these meetings where you have to get together in the morning and say what you did the day before. This is like in kindergarten the chair circle, only for adults. This was also an expression of confidence that I would be given a complex task and leave me alone. Now this control network is being put over us. And these little tasks are done in one or two days, and then there is the next one. And so on and on and on and on.” A programmer at SAP in BrandEins

Administrative areas: “Working on the digital assembly line”……

In the study of the Hans Böckler Foundation, administrative areas are examined in particular and said: “In the administrative areas, the fundamental change is primarily expressed in standardization and process orientation”. The following quote from the study also shows the situation well:

“We’re just working with numbers here.” Digital workflows and processes determine the workflow, often specify the individual work steps meticulously and structure the division of labour and the cooperation with colleagues along the value chain. The digitized work object “flows” from step to work step as on a “digital assembly line” (excerpt from the study)

So there is talk of a digital assembly line that is easy to work on and increasingly frustrates employees. This is certainly not the goal of digital change. In the end, the study sums up: The upheaval of the head work in digital transformation outlined here combines with far-reaching social consequences – that of an increasingly “burnt-out world of work”.

Digitisation-at-workplace-hazards
Efficiency through monotony: The work is divided into many small steps, which each employee performs permanently (own representation).

Consulting and temporary work in the focus of digitalization

Especially in my article on Consulting 4.0 I have lost my first words about a change in the consulting business. For example, consultants and temporary workers are usually not yet subject to the regulations and can be treated “differently” so to speak. I also often hear phrases from consultants such as: “We are billed according to userstories”, “I can write down 15 min per ticket” or “If that were possible, the programmers would bill us according to pressed keys. Believe them are even working on it.” The complete transparency of digital change can therefore particularly affect external employees in such cases. However, this is mainly due to the often high cost pressure in the IT service.

Conclusion: Digitisation must not be an end in itself

In the end, Brand One sums it up well: in fact, what is happening in German offices at the moment is not entirely new. In the 1920s, offices were redesigned on the model of Taylorist factories. The tasks have been broken down into small steps. There were employees who only opened letters all day, just typed, only archived, or who, as couriers, only brought documents from one desk to another. Standardization made it easy to measure and compare employee performance: you only had to check how many letters someone wrote, how many documents they archived, or how many messengers they had gone.

The study of the Hans Böckler Foundation To put it bluntly, development is at a crossroads: on the one hand, there are concepts in which head work “like on the assembly line” is to be organized; on the other hand, there are models that focus on empowerment of teams and improving collective learning and innovation processes.

In this article, I deliberately talked about the negative aspects of the digitalisation of the world of work. Therefore, read my article on the opportunities of the digital world of work. Because it’s not all bad or just good. What do you think about the topic? Tell me in the small survey:

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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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