Flexwork, New Work, Remote Work – behind all these concepts is the desire of many people to work flexibly and with greater self-determination. In the course of digitization, the world of work has changed dramatically in recent years: thanks to smartphones, iPads and laptops, the boundaries between office work and after-work hours, between working hours and holidays have increasingly weakened. Which also opens up new perspectives for the division of work. Can not the job be organized differently? After all, thanks to the new technical possibilities, the work is no longer tied to a specific place or time.
Especially young people do not want to organize their lives around the work but want flexible models. This is shown by a wide variety of studies, such as a new survey of younger academics from the consulting firm Trendence. Also, unions like IG metal be stated that the need for flexible work becomes larger.
In some areas of the economy, today is in real terms, what the philosopher Frithjof Bergmann described in the early eighties with the term New Work. He saw the end of the “job system” coming in the face of advancing automation and prophesied a New Work movement. With the new technologies, people have the opportunity to free themselves from the bondage of wage labor and instead choose the work that really does them, he argued. And to the individual conditions for them.
According to psychologist Markus Väth, development continues: there is a shift from work-life balance to work-life blending, which is accompanied by a reassessment of work. Today, it’s less about the boundary between work and private life, but a successful combination of both.
Younger people think 34-hour week is ideal
This is also proven by the Trendence study: According to her, nearly 95 percent of young people are convinced that working and working together can be better arranged through flexible work. For the respondents, flexibility means different, but above all, more time sovereignty. The majority says that she does not want to work more than 39 hours a week, so many even find a working week of 34 hours. The option of being able to choose the place of work individually and flexibly is also of central importance to many young employees. They presuppose the right to a home office.
All the more surprising is that only 40 percent of respondents say they actually use this option. One reason for this divergence between desire and reality is that many employers do not allow their employees so much flexibility. This is the result of a recently published and representative study by the Institute for Employment Research (IAB) in cooperation with the Leibniz Center for European Economic Research (ZEW), Thus, every fourth employer offers the possibility of working from the home office – but only as an exception. Working from home one day a week is only allowed in one-sixth of all companies that allow telework at all. More radical models, such as Remote Work, are almost non-existent in reality.
Remote work means that the workplace can be chosen independently every day. So you can work from the place you’re staying at. While employers in Scandinavia or the Benelux countries are already experimenting with such models, in many cases this form of work seems either unknown or undesirable. Representative figures on how many companies in the Federal Republic offer this possibility, there are none.
Economist Ayad Al-Ani, a researcher at the Einstein Center Digital Future, advises companies and organizations on digital transformation. He is not surprised that many employers continue to rely on hierarchies, time of attendance and control and monitoring of employees. Because flexible working conditions for the employees did not count in many cases. “Businesses use hierarchy and control to function, and flexible working conditions increase transaction costs and, as is well known, endanger competitiveness,” says Al-Ani.
Flexibility for employees is not worthwhile for companies.
Transaction costs are the costs that a company incurs in order to participate in the market. This includes finding the right people and managing them well. Above all, most companies rely on control to get it done. Because employers want to use their workforce as flexible as possible in terms of profitability, companies are often reluctant to fulfill their employees’ desire for more freedom. This is also confirmed by a study by the Fraunhofer Institute for Industrial Engineering on behalf of the Federal Ministry of Labor: According to her, while companies talk a lot about New Work, they have so far made little concrete use of it.
There are already some radical examples.
New work can mean much more than just flexible working hours, but rather new organizational forms. In extreme cases, the leadership changes so that there are no executives and no hierarchy. According to the authors of the Fraunhofer study, there are no data on the dissemination of these management concepts in reality.
“At the moment, New Work is a rather insubstantial fashion concept and we are in a transitional phase where a new organization of work has not yet been established and in which fundamental conflict issues such as the distribution of power and income are not addressed,” says Al-Ani , “Management concepts that fit in with more flexibility but do not specify how this should happen are a good fit, on the contrary, if you are not innovative and agile enough, you are guilty.”
According to the Fraunhofer study, however, there are already approaches to be seen by New Work in companies. It shows that the introduction of new working methods and forms of work often runs smoothly as employers and employee representatives work together to ensure that the individual employee and individual employee have opportunities for individual participation. One example is the Daimler Group, in which works councils, trade unions, and management, including the employees, have agreed on a works agreement for more flexible work. The research also reveals that new ways of working, such as a self-determined choice of working hours, are by no means only possible in office jobs. Also in the production and in small businesses can be worked flexibly.
A pioneer at New Work: a small bakery.
The study refers to the bakery Leonhardt from Bretten in Baden-Württemberg, founded in 1904 with 30 employees. The small company introduced new production times and flexible shift planning. On the one hand, according to the report, the bakery wanted to meet the skills shortage because it was becoming increasingly difficult to find good staff. On the other hand, she wanted to offer fresh produce throughout. But that also meant: not bake at night, but bake all day long. In addition, the bakery switched from a six-day week to a five-day week. For many employees, the changes meant more attractive working hours, especially as the rosters take into account the employees’ working time requirements.
And also an example of a company that gets along without a boss, is brought: the Berlin-based company Dark Horse, a developer of product and service innovation. Dark Horse was founded by students of the HPI School of Design Thinking at the University of Potsdam, who wanted to create a company without any hierarchy. All decisions are made by consensus. The company, however, forgives where appropriate and accepted by all, now temporary leadership roles.
Economist Al-Ani still believes that companies without executives will wait a while yet. Nevertheless, things will soon change in the face of rising demand for more flexible work models. The researcher says, “New Work works where the framework is right: when the company is built around the passions and interests of its employees, work content is structured, collaboration is supported and there is some caring for the individual along his increasingly self-determined path becomes.”