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Work in the digital age
Working time trends(PresseBox) ( Frankfurt, )
Today, it is no longer only the self-employed who carry out their daily work totally independently in their home office or in the café around the corner. Nowadays, many employers have recognized the sign of the times and are aware of the need to grant certain degrees of flexibility when designing working models for their employees.
Digitization is already shaping our working world and sometimes even has it firmly in its grip. Benefiting from altered communication and information structures, new forms of work and production concepts are arising which no longer have much in common with the classic models of hierarchical organization. Employees collaborate in teams, work in communities, promote transparency and participation, and cooperate in a wide variety of networks.
Companies should remain open to these new, more democratic structures in order to make themselves more attractive to workers and also to counteract the shortages of specialists and senior managers. In addition, by means of their media presence, employees can increasingly act as brand ambassadors for their employers.
Independent and flexible working
Companies must allow their employees a greater degree of self-determination and flexibility if they want to be successful and strive to achieve a positive employer branding. Independent and goal-oriented work is now replacing “clocking in” and core working hours. New technologies make it possible for employees to work when and where they want. With corresponding new working models, it is much easier to reconcile family, private and professional issues. Flat hierarchies and open corporate cultures can be increasingly found in young companies, especially, as well as start-ups. The trend towards democratic and free working can also support the so-called ‘hidden champions’ among employers in their search for suitable candidates.
The futurologist Matthias Horx already described this in his 2015 book Megatrends and opportunities: “You will no longer experience work as in the classical industrial model, but rather arrhythmic forms of time investment in gainful employment. Over a number of phases, classical time investment in work will gradually become obsolete.”
Overstimulation of the senses
One of the associated problems is that we are exposed to a media bombardment that beguiles and shapes our senses with auditory stimuli and influences, some of them quite negative. The concomitant trends of working in virtual teams or mobile working also have their downsides. Employees are continuously accessible via telephone, e-mail or social networks and are conditioned to constantly provide instant responses or to be actively involved in activities. Here, employers must take responsibility and remind employees to observe rest and recovery phases and appeal to their common sense.
Which obstacles and opposition must still be overcome?
Corporate governance, human resources managers and even works councils have long treated staff like children and propagated Tylerized structures. Now, a rethink is on the agenda: new processes and structures are required.
Those workers who have technically marketable skill sets have long since moved to those companies that grant them the desired degree of freedom. But in the meantime, the revolution is well under way and employers are increasingly being forced to accept that a top-down delegation of working times, locations and content is no longer the state of the art in the world of work. Works councils, trade unions and political circles also need to learn that the extensive rights for workers that were vital in times of industrialization are increasingly unsuitable or even counterproductive during the transition to and in the times of the digital economy.
Humane digital work required
Many people appreciate flexibility in their working life and also the range of working time models that have been made possible by technological progress. But there is a flip side to every coin, too; more and more people are struggling to bring their work and their private lives in harmony and feel extremely stressed. The boundaries between work and private life are often diffuse. There are several ways to react to this; one could be self-determination.
Correspondingly, the Munich-based car maker BMW, for example, has picked up on the issue of delimitation of work and constant availability and introduced a company agreement with the slogan ‘work flexibly – switch off deliberately’. This agreement applies to all employees, regardless of where they are, and allows them to organize their working time flexibly and at various work locations and even times of the day. Mobile work and classical office work can be freely combined. Outside of these hours of availability, the employees have an explicit right to non-availability, however, which must be respected by all sides.
Another example of self-determined working is the British company Virgin, run by Richard Branson. Here, the employees themselves decide when and how much vacation they take – with the only proviso being not to jeopardize the company’s success and their own careers.
In an interview, the Federal Labor Minister Andrea Nahles’ answer to the question how we can secure employability in the digital age was: “We need businesses in which learning and experimenting are possible, where new approaches will be tested. Although we, as politicians, can set frameworks, they still have to be fulfilled in practice.”
Indeed, in the future, many more working models and operating agreements will need to be developed to continue taking these trends into account.
Summary: The digital working world is already well advanced technically and in terms of content. In many companies, however, a rethinking of working models still needs to take place. It is not merely a matter of including digital trends in processes, but also to make this a part of everyday working life and to continually question existing structures.
Andreas Wartenberg has been an executive search consultant for nearly 25 years, filling management positions in the technology sector and other industries. Mr. Wartenberg set up and led national and international teams before joining Hager Unternehmensberatung as a Managing Director in 2008. He is a leading topic expert in the DACH region in regards to all aspects of technology management and digitalization within all type of corporations. Since early 2015 the Hager Unternehmensberatung has become a partner of Horton International. Andreas Wartenberg is currently Chairman of the Board at Horton Group International.
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