Megatrend New Work. The New Work movement is about creating a world in which work is more meaningful, fulfilling and sustainable. But what does that actually mean? And how do we make the transition to New Work? In this article, you'll learn what New Work is all about and discuss some of the challenges involved in making the transition. Are you ready to join the New Work revolution?
What is New Work?
New Work represents a fundamental change in the world of work. This alternative work model was developed by the social philosopher and anthropologist Frithjof Bergmann as early as the 1970s, and was first applied at General Motors in the American city of Flint in the early 1980s.
Bergmann described New Work in 2019 as follows: "New Work is a different way of organising work. The intention is to organise work in such a way that it is not something forced, but work that you really, really want to do. [...] Not having fun, but really, really wanting to - that's a big difference. You can have fun with all kinds of things, but that's not what I mean. I'm talking about the real aspiration."
New work is hence linked to topics of identity, purpose and meaningfulness. Moreover, according to Bergmann, work should first and foremost serve people, and not people serving work. The human being moves to the centre and ensures that the company's own creative power of the individual is promoted. And that releases energies and potentials in people that can be fully absorbed in the work. And this, of course, is the best breeding ground for creativity, innovation and thus also ensures the future viability of an organisation.
New Work in the 21st Century
At the time, Frithjof Bergmann described new work as "forward-looking and meaningful work". Virtually considered to be social utopian at the time, new work got its maximum attention and encouragement almost 30 years later with the start of the digital transformation and finally in the wake of the pandemic. Even though many people have a different idea of what new work ultimately means.
Which is understandable, since there is no "one definition" of new work. But to call work out of the home office alone new work does not deserve the far-sighted concept. Bergmann also criticised parts of the current interpretation of his idea - many understand new work as something that makes work a little more appealing. In the past, Bergmann also once referred to this in his typical way as „contract work in a miniskirt".
Bergmann's original concept is based on three pillars: Freedom, self-determination and community. Psychologist Markus Väth further developed Bergmann's theory (New Work Charter) on the following five principles:
- Social responsibility
All of Bergmann's themes can be found in these five principles and have been expanded to include current themes of development and social responsibility. In the area of development, the focus is on learning, while in times of climate change, sustainability is clearly at the centre of social responsibility.
In the course of the digital transformation and the elimination of many activities that can now be done by computers, the question about the purpose of a job came up again. Very aligned to the spirit of the new work philosophy, the human being is once again moving to the centre, while the machine is becoming more and more capable of doing the work. New work is concerned here with the question of what meaningful task the human being should fulfil in this scenario in the future.
New Work and Covid-19
And then the pandemic hit. This accelerated the digital transformation and brought a series of further questions: How do we want to work together in the future? What does a modern workplace look like? How do I organise myself? Do I even want to organise myself? How do I achieve collaboration among geographically dispersed employees? What kind of organisation does my company need? And what does modern leadership look like?
As a result of this latest development, the topics associated with new work have risen once again. Examples of this are:
- Corporate culture
- New Leadership
- Flat hierarchies (e.g. holocracy)
- Modern Workplace
- Work 4.0
- New Work Mindset
Challenges of New Work
So, what is happening here right now?
A range of new practices and methods are clashing with old and established systems and processes. Everything is new - for the workforce, for the organisation and also for the business environment. New work, like many new concepts, cannot simply be superimposed on existing ones in the hope that everything will go smoothly.
This means that an organisational framework and conditions must be created to make room for new work. This starts with the employees and extends to a new type of leadership and the structure of the organisation. Furthermore, it is often not so easy for the individual.
For example, when it comes to the topic of home office / remote work: a common challenge here is to maintain a balance between work and private life. With the possibility to work from anywhere, it can lead you to work all the time. This can cause burnout and the feeling of being constantly on the clock. Another challenge is that home office and remote work can be isolating. As more and more people work from home or from different parts of the world, a sense of isolation can arise among employees. Finally, the transition to new work can be stressful. The constant change and uncertainty create stress, and it may also be difficult to keep up with the pace of change.
Appropriate preparation of staff sets the foundation for the introduction of new work. They must be able to reflect on themselves.
New Work needs Inner Work
New work does not simply mean dissolving hierarchies and redistributing leadership tasks. In their book "New Work needs Inner Work", the two authors Joana Breidenbach & Bettina Rollow describe the inner work of the individual that is necessary for the success of new work. As external structures become less important and simply disappear, it is more important than ever for team members to be aware of their own needs and interests and to learn to communicate these effectively with others.
After all, structures give people support. If people are not clear about their relationship to work and the old structures are missing, the new work concept will not work for them. New work must first be practically "learned". And the organisation has to create the necessary space for this. Self-organisation involves a number of soft skills that cannot simply be learned in a weekend seminar. The speed of the transformation therefore depends on the employees who have the fewest such skills.
The first step is to determine where the team is at present (the so-called „Standortbestimmung", i.e. location assessment). That is, what is the initial situation in the team? The authors use, for example, Ken Wilber's AQAL model to determine where the team stands.
External collective structures (see Structures & Processes) are highly developed in traditional companies: there are both rules and clear announcements. This may annoy some employees, but it is not all bad. Because as mentioned before, we humans need orientation and security, and both are given to us by clear external framework conditions.
With new work, however, these external structures and thus also security are being dismantled. According to the dynamic equilibrium model, the less an external framework is given, the more inner security we have to build up.
But how do we obtain this inner security? By dealing with ourselves, that is, by knowing how we are physically, mentally and psychologically. A dialogue with others also helps us to achieve this. To achieve this, we have to understand the needs of our counterpart and at the same time defend our position. Our individual inner dimension (see Mindset) thus provides the balance in this context.
The topic of "Inner Work" would go beyond the scope of this article, and we recommend reading the book („New Work needs Inner Work") at this point. In any case, the assessment of the position is the starting signal for all those who can seriously imagine the introduction of new work principles in their own organisation.
Despite many challenges, new work concepts will prevail, or they already have. New work is, of course, an exciting and dynamic new way of working. But this is about much more than physical or geographical changes in the workplace. It is about transforming the way we think about work and how we interact with our colleagues. So the understanding of what we as people expect from work and at the same time our ability to reflect ourselves in the process. Think of "Inner Work". New work has the potential to improve our work-life blending (merging our lifestyle and the world of work) and create a more connected and collaborative world. Most importantly, it brings us back to the important questions of how we want to work in the future and what our ultimate contribution is.