New Work: Your Essential Guide To The Future of Work

  • Brace
  • August 13, 2019
  • 25 min

Change is in the air, or rather in the machine. Digitization and automation are revolutionizing the workplace and altering how employers and employees approach work. To adapt to the future of work and stay competitive, company leaders need new strategies. New Work gives them that. We’ll discuss what New Work means, what it does, and how it helps HR and managers stay on top of the future of work.

 

 

Chapter 1: What is New Work?

New Work: A Definition

When technology is introduced to the work game it changes not only the tasks we do but the way we approach them. This is even more true with the pace of technological development today, with workplace automation set to impact 50% of jobs worldwide. It’s this dimension of workplace automation and digitization that New Work addresses.

New Work means harnessing the power of digitization and automation to empower adaptable employees and make an employee-centric workplace through freedom, passion, growth, and purpose. What does this mean in concrete terms? It means rethinking job roles to make them more flexible, offering continuous learning and new tasks to employees to keep them ready for any project, and supporting the passions of team members to let them pursue the tasks that gives them purpose.

The Beginnings of New Work

The future of work requires companies to harness new technologies and workflows. Even more, it requires leaders to reconsider how work, life, and purpose fit together. This is the conclusion of the originator of New Work: Frithjof Bergmann.

Starting in the 70s, Bergmann addressed many of the issues that the work world is facing today. He wrote about the importance of reframing work in the face of rising automation, playing to human strengths, and the importance of purpose in work. The driving idea behind his philosophical positions was to make work about people and passion, and use automation to achieve this.

Digitization and automation, far from being the boogeymen of our work stories, can make space for new ambitions. If all the grunt work is taken care of by machines, employers can harness employee ideas and talents, while giving them space to explore them. They can also build better engagement through more development and new, challenging tasks.

If you’ve ever stayed up too late or missed dinner to finish a project, you know the power of this sort of passion. As Bergmann says: “…sex must be very good indeed, to stand the competition from this kind of work.” (New Work, New Culture, 2019)

The Core Tenants of New Work

To make workplaces and tasks that are “better than sex,” New Work builds on 5 key pillars. These tenants make work more human by remedying the drudgery of the workplace that drains motivation and limits what employees desire or can achieve.

  1. Empower employees to do tasks they really want to do. Whether you believe Bergmann or the McKinsey Global Institute (or both), the fact remains that passion drives motivation and better results. To build a better workplace in today’s work environment, it’s key to place employee interests and drivers at the center.
  2. Work should be inspiring. Technology can take over more and more tasks, especially the simple, mind-numbing ones. Using this to give employees new, challenging tasks is a great way that managers can apply automation to build a more inspiring workplace and play to human strengths.
  3. Technology should work for people. Automation doesn’t have to mean losing your job. It can also mean losing the parts of your work that no one likes. If used right, employers can harness technology to remove drudgery and managers can harness feedback to build a workplace that keeps employees interested and challenged while unlocking their full potential. The key is to use technology for human gain, not let it use us.
  4. Prioritize community. People are social beings and are motivated by contributing to and helping a larger cause. A sense of working for a community and goal gives people a purpose and helps them build a better world while they’re at it.
  5. Make work about freedom. Freedom to choose your tasks, your projects, your location, your hours, and what you want to learn. These are examples of how integrating digitization and automation with a focus on improving the workplace for people, helps increase freedom, growth, and productivity.

The Power of Purpose to Motivate Employees

What connects employees to the workplace the most? What overcomes the loss of roles and the need to learn new tasks? Having a reason and purpose. With a greater reason to work, team members feel less stress and burnout and are more productive and engaged.

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New Work Vs. The Future Of Work: Toward A More Human Workplace

What sets New Work apart from traditional management and the discussion about the future of work is its approach. New Work doesn’t just change work methods such as digital vs. analog communication, or paper vs. online bookkeeping. It alters the relationship between worker and work and leader and employee.

With New Work, you place passion at the center, people before machines, and use technology to better the jobs and lives of employees. This frees them to follow their goals, really connect with their tasks, and contribute all those great new ideas and new-found motivation to your company and mission.

Employees become members of their community and fully integrate work into their life, rather than having to seek a work-life balance. Managers and leaders nurture and guide their talent so employees become what they want (and then benefit from the improved ideas and productivity of those team members). This together represents a new way of viewing work that places the strengths of people at the core, and with the assistance of technology, makes work more human.

Chapter 2: Why The Future of Work Needs New Work

Why is New Work Important?

New Work places a strong focus on the human element. But one could ask “why is this relevant? Isn’t the focus of business to make profit?” The short answer is that automation and digitization have made the human factor more important than ever. The long answer requires a few more paragraphs.

With rapid acceptance of new technology (think industrial revolution, for comparison) comes big changes in how people work, how companies find and use talent, and how work is constructed and conceived. And all those happen both socially and in business. Indeed, wages, employee expectations, and employee/employer relations have all felt the reverberations:

  • Stagnating salaries.

    Wages in most advanced economies have stagnated. 81% of households in the US from 2005-2014 saw their income plateau or decline, compared to only 2% in the decade before. This leads to more insecurity in employees, but also a new focus. As Mathew Taylor, CEO for the Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce, says: “People are starting to say … Don’t promise us that we’re going to be 2 percent better off every year… Promise us that we will live in a society that actually works, where it feels as though it’s a good place to live.’”

  • The jobs they are a changin’.

    According to a McKinsey Global Institute study, for 6 out of 10 jobs, 30% of their tasks can be automated. This leads to a potential 375 million workers worldwide who will need to shift occupations. The speed of technology adoption has a large influence on this number, but employers will still need to consider how ready their workforce is for change and adaptation, whether it happens fast or slow.

  • New ways to work.

    Along with changing tasks, many employees now choose to have an “open relationship” with employers. Nearly 1 out of 3 workers in the US and EU are now active in the gig economy and project work. Some on the side, some full-time, and some out of necessity, but surprisingly, most out of choice. This tendency changes how employers should approach talent sourcing and retention. It also suggests a fundamental shift in how employees view work, even if job stability is still a major desire for most employees.

  • Care work (but not wages) is on the rise.

    Almost every job will see many of its tasks changed or reduced, every one except fields in care, empathy, and human interaction. Theses fields are gaining in importance as these are the aspects of human work that machines struggle with. Unfortunately, these are also areas that are traditionally lower-paid. As jobs become more automated, digitized, and increasingly about human interaction and creativity, a dialog is necessary to find ways to fill this growing need while keeping the standard of living high.

  • New methods to attract and keep talent.

    With diverse talent sources and personalized work styles now commonplace, employers need to rethink the old model of retention and management. According to Deloitte, the strategy of “attract, develop, retain” could be effectively complemented by “access, curate, engage.”

  • Access by locating and using talent sources inside and outside your company.
  • Develop by designing plans to help internal or external workers learn and grow.
  • Engage by developing effective, relationship-building communication channels and paths to advancement, even for non-traditional working arrangements.

Want to know more about retaining your best talent?

>> Learn what you can do now to improve employee retention <<

How Technology Changes Work

You hear all the time that the digital revolution and automation are rapidly changing the work world, making it almost unrecognizable. But what exactly is changing?

While indeed some careers are disappearing, studies show that largely it is certain elements of work that are no longer necessary. According to McKinsey & Company, only 5% of occupations are able to be automated in their entirety. However, around 50% of work tasks worldwide are potentially automatable with existing technology. What will change is the nature of the work being done, not necessarily the entire career field.

Not to be forgotten is that technology doesn’t only destroy, but it creates. In France, the rise of the internet caused 500,000 jobs to be lost. But that’s only one way to see it. This same trend led to the creation of 1.2 million new jobs. That’s 2.4 new jobs for every one lost.

Along with this also comes new career options. The same study suggests that previously unpaid occupations, such as care and domestic work could grow from 50 million to 90 million jobs by 2030. Much will have to change regarding the valuation of these careers but the data shows that technology opens up new paths as it changes the old.

Need a break from reading?

Watch how Joana Breidenbach, founder of Betterplace.org, brought New Work into her organization and what effect it had.

The Power to Adapt

Employees fear that automation will take their jobs and employers worry that their workforce is unwilling or unready to adapt to the future of work. Luckily, neither fear is based wholly in reality.

In their study “Future Positive: How Companies Can Tap Into Employee Optimism to Navigate Tomorrow’s Workplace,” the Harvard Business School discovered a surprising tendency in employees: They place the burden of adapting to technology on themselves. 2 out of 3 employees worldwide recognize the importance of developing new skills, while 46% of these hold themselves responsible for learning and adapting to the new needs of the job market.

It turns out that their own employees could be a company’s greatest allies to prepare for the future of work, as long as they learn to work together.

What Employees Really Want

The best intentions, unfortunately, are nothing without the right support. This area is one where employers too often drop the ball. Despite the data that states otherwise, many companies believe that their workforce is afraid of change. This fundamental misunderstanding means that very little is put into employee development and growth.

Employees desire this ability to grow and learn but rarely have the time or resources themselves. A study by the Harvard Business Review found that only 13% of employees rated learning as not important to them.

Instead, the top 3 reasons employees struggled to progress and grow were:

  • The cost of the initial investment in new skills
  • Lost wages during studies
  • A lack of free time

Employers could easily take advantage of this potential by facilitating learning and growth in the workplace, even multiplying it through nurturing a sense of purpose, passion, freedom, and ownership in the work of their employees. What Frithjof Bergmann calls “paid calling,” Matthew Taylor calls “mastery” and what agile management calls “task ownership” refer to one concept: Giving employees the ability to use their learned skills, feel like contributing community members, and allowing them to promote a goal they feel is important.

In a work world quickly losing tasks to automation, employees can lose their sense of meaning and motivation. Human desires like learning and having larger goals fill this gap and take on new importance for employee engagement, retention, and productivity.

How New Work Helps With The Future Of Work

By now the challenges of the future of work should be clear. But what solutions does New Work offer? Just as employees now approach employment differently with novel employement models and expectations, work structures, as well, need a new approach. This is New Work.

Traditional Management Modern Management (New Work)
 

Rigid work processes

 

Flexibility and adapting
Constrictive job roles

 

Continuous learning and new challenges
Established hierarchies

 

Shared purpose, responsibility, and decisions
Isolated departments  

Collaboration, community, and team work, even with remote working

These combined make New Work flexible and adaptable while giving employees the passion, skills, and tools to shape their careers to the changing job world and the surprises of life. Employers benefit from a workforce that is ready and motivated for the challenges ahead and equipped to effectively produce in the diverse new roles that come.

Development and growth inspire employees and help future-proof your workplace.

>> Learn all you need to know about employee development here. <<

New Work By the Numbers

New Work is a system and approach to work that improves aspects of the workplace such as engagement, motivation, and retention. Each one of these, in turn, lead to measurable benefits for your company, both now and in the future.

 

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Chapter 3: What Exactly Does New Work Look Like?

The Elements of New Work

The concept of New Work is about seeing and conceiving the workplace in a people-centric manner to make your company into an employer of choice. This elevated goal, however, is achieved through concrete steps.

What exactly constitutes a New Work workplace?

Flat hierarchies:

Top-down management had its place in the past and there are no doubt instances where it’s still useful today. But, in general, modern management for an adaptable, future-proof workplace requires a bottom-up approach. This means keeping everyone on equal terms, getting input from all levels of the company and providing transparency to the whole workplace regarding company policy, decisions, and actions.

Benefits include…

  • Team members know the mission driving their work
  • Employees feel integrated and active in shaping their workplace
  • Good ideas aren’t ignored and lost, but can be collected from everyone

Remote work structures:

These are good not just for full-time employees but for integrating freelancers and project workers. The new workplace harnesses talent from all over. Remote working allows gig workers to be integrated team players while offering flexibility and variety to 40-hour team members.

Benefits include…

  • Integrating all types of employees seamlessly into the workflow
  • Providing flexibility allows employees to better balance life and work, or even merge them together
  • Harnessing technology to bring the right talents & passions to the right issue, no matter where they are

Flexible work hours:

Each employee ticks a little different. Some are productive in the morning, some in the evening, and some in between. Technology now allows employees to choose when and where they work. Allowing work times to fit with employee needs helps them blend work and life together and keep passion for their responsibilities, instead of feeling burdened by it.

Benefits include…

  • Promoting productivity while molding tasks to employee needs
  • Creating adaptable working structures for an unpredictable future of work
  • Expanding productivity by opening all the hours of the day for employees that need them or want them

Curious about the Hows and Whys of a people-centric workplace?

>> Find out the reasons and useful implementation ideas here. <<

Workplace trust:

Key to New Work is a feeling of community and project ownership. Building these requires a solid foundation of trust to have a chance of success. Trust means knowing that everyone will finish the tasks they’re given, but also that leaders and teammates will have your back when you need help with a new task or if you bit off more than you can chew.

Benefits include…

  • A stable foundation for independent project ownership and successful completion
  • Building a strong sense of team and community that boosts productivity
  • Tapping into a human connection to work that will become ever more important with the changes of automation

Diversity and inclusion programs:

Every job is going to lose some tasks and gain new ones. Adapting to this means new talents are needed from all perspectives, cultures, ages, gender, you name it. A diverse workplace builds your talent pool and ability to adapt to change while promoting the sense of community that is integral to New Work.

Benefits include…

  • Better and faster decisions from diverse teams
  • Increased preparation for the needs of a changing workforce, including continued development for some or complete new occupations for others
  • Strong collaboration between differing perspectives to achieve unique results for changing problems

Employee growth and development:

If no job is going to stay the same then neither can employees. New Work means constantly learning, growing, and expanding your skills and horizons. Employers can encourage learning that allows team members to always have new challenging tasks to accomplish and enables them to adapt to the needs of the workplace.

Benefits include…

Purposeful workspaces and methods:

One size does not fit all here. Some tasks need more collaboration, while others need quiet and concentration. Some require interacting with colleagues across the globe. Organizing your office to support the many needs of different types of work (or personalities such as introverts) brings your people back into focus. When they have what they need, they’ll be happier and able to perform at their productive best.

Benefits include…

  • Giving employees the environment to succeed
  • Improving retention and performance through fulfilling personal employee needs
  • Blending home and work to encourage and nurture passion and performance in a New Work team

Open communication and transparency:

A New Work environment is one without walls and secrets. All teams, of course, have leaders, but the players are also integrally involved in decisions and tasks. To achieve this symbiosis, communication is key and transparency a must. New Work means feedback, open discussions, and making your team a contributing part of the company so all perspectives can be heard, passions applied, and ideas put into action.

Benefits include:

  • Connecting your team to the mission and purpose
  • Staying aware of any problems developing while building trust and a close workplace community
  • Taking advantage of the knowledge of your whole workplace to adapt faster and make better decisions

How To Implement New Work

What starts as a new way to view employement and work relationships needs tangible actions to become a reality. Ultimately, placing an employee-centric workplace as your goal helps you choose the right steps. There are however some concrete first steps to help you build a workplace that puts employees at the center, promotes engagement, and drives talent and retention.

  1. Implement open feedback and communication channels. Digital tools let you collect anonymous feedback and provide space for real conversation. This lets managers see what their team needs and gives employees a strong voice in their company.
  2. Provide continued learning and growth opportunities. There are all kinds of options from online training to workshops. Give your employees the chance (and the time) to keep learning new skills. They will pay you back with productivity, motivation, and the adaptability to handle the challenges of the future.
  3. Develop remote working and flexible hour options. Workplaces are becoming more decentralized. It’s never too early to develop the right tools to smoothly integrate all work styles and worker types into your workflow. It also gives your full-timers the flexibility they need to blend work into their lives.
  4. Reimagine salaries and benefits. Money is, of course, important. Above $60,000 to $80,000, however, it loses its effect on employee happiness. Consider other needs of employees such as student loans, transportation, community, learning, and flexibility to make their compensation more personal and adapted to their lives.
  5. Connect to the community. Employees, and people in general, want to contribute and give back to something positive. Initiating community days or integrating social and environmental goals into your company mission helps employees find their sense of purpose and connect to your company and cause.
  6. Encourage collaboration and new tasks. Letting employees take on tasks from different departments and learn from other colleagues builds trust and growth. It also ensures that your team has many skills at their disposal for any new tasks that come (or go) due to technology.
  7. Harness technology for the people. It’s never too early to consider how your company and team will use digitization and automation. After all, you are in control of who the technology ultimately serves. Make plans for how new tech will change the workplace and ensure that those affected have the skills and opportunities to move into new roles and find new passions.

 

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