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New Work
Requirements, examples, benefits and risks

The new world of work – more freedom, more self-determination

Remote work, working from home, flexible hours and a four-day work week: “New Work” is a concept that sounds rather enticing to many. It represents a…
by Anne Wolf |

The new world of work at Office Club Hamburg

Remote work, working from home, flexible hours and a four-day work week:

New Work” is a concept that sounds rather enticing to many. It represents a significant contrast to regulated work structures, rigid hierarchies and expectations of a 9-to-5 office presence, all of which are becoming less attractive. Frithjof Bergmann is widely considered to be the originator of the concept of New Work, and he has dedicated the last 40 years of his life to it. His key idea: We should cease subjugating ourselves to work and instead pursue activities that we find truly fulfilling. By boosting flexibility and free time, Bergmann would like to see people devote themselves more to their passions. Digital technologies can help generate that increase in flexibility and free time. Most companies in Germany have long since begun using cloud applications to allow employees the ability to work using smartphones and laptops, giving them more flexibility and making them less dependent on a specific location. But in this world of New Work, there are myriad other solutions out there. In this article, we will show you examples of new forms of work and explain the various advantages and disadvantages.


Reinventing the world of work


New Work is all about working in a more self-determined manner, with more freedom. No longer having to head into the office every day and being able to flexibly determine your own working hours: Those are the core elements of New Work. Ultimately, where work is actually performed should be irrelevant to company executives. The most important thing is that the desired results are achieved and that employees are not hindered by existing work structures. But it’s not just the so-called “presence culture” that is being called into question by New Work. In the future of work, ideas are to be the focus, while structured hierarchies are losing importance. Some startups even go so far as to negotiate vacation time and salaries by joint consensus.


The Definition: What is New Work? A simple explanation


New Work is a concept closely associated with the advances of digitalization. Concrete examples of implementation include the six-hour workday, the four-day workweek, agile working, freelancing and coworking spaces. The change in the world of work stems from the paradigm shift currently underway in society at large. Accordingly, "old work" is a relic of industrial society, whereas New Work is a manifestation of the new knowledge and information society. All changes associated with digitalization are reflected in the world of work. As such, New Work is a collective term for all new forms of work that have emerged against the backdrop of Working World 4.0.


The working world of the future: Characteristics and requirements


In the 1970s, the New Work approach as described by Frithjof Bergmann seemed impractical. It aimed at moving completely away from oppressive wage-based labor models under socialism to open up a more fulfilling, self-determined form of work. These days, though, the modern world of work has long since been integrated into our everyday working lives. For many, going back isn’t an option. In the sections below, we explain the basic principles of modern working environments.


1) Self-determination and self-realization


Freedom, responsibility and a sense of purpose: All those qualities are at the forefront of New Work. Workers should not just earn money, but also pursue an occupation that provides them self-fulfillment, gratification and satisfaction. Self-determination and professional development are integral parts of the New Work approach. Working from home or the option of working remotely are practical options for implementing this modern approach. Such working conditions, however, call for a comprehensive restructuring, which essentially involves three areas:


  • Structure of the work environment: Factors pertaining to where and when work is performed are affected by structural changes to the work environment. Open-space offices, the six-hour workday and the four-day workweek are examples of this.


  • Corporate Structures and Processes: Holacracy, agile teams and a fundamentally new company leadership approach through Leadership 4.0 are all examples of the kind of changes to corporate structures that go hand-in-hand with New Work.


  • Technical Structures: New Work cannot function without the internet. The ability to work anywhere is a fundamental principle of the modern world of work, which means that laptops and the necessary software must be made available.


2) Mixed teams instead of homogenous departments


The modern world of work is also significantly different from traditional approaches when it comes to the way work is organized. In traditional structures, specific departments take care of tasks assigned to them. With New Work, the focus is on project work in an effort to be as efficient as possible and to include people who have the skillsets necessary. Different networks are formed for each project, including people from different backgrounds and departments, and who have different approaches. The result of such an approach are so-called Mixed Teams, with the diversity frequently producing far-reaching discussions that come up with efficient solutions.


3) Innovation is more important than tradition


Having fun at work, self-determination and conviction are key elements of creativity. A diverse set of ideas produces attractive projects, which then result in new products and services that can be introduced to the marketplace. It is an extremely pragmatic approach: The modern working world should offer a satisfying working life, but at the same time, the concept should be economically attractive for both sides. "Design Sprints" or "Design Thinking" are agile working methods that focus on innovative and financial aspects.


4) Leadership 4.0


The challenges associated with the new world of work require alternative leadership models. Executives who have understood and internalized the New Work approach no longer see themselves as exerting control and issuing instructions, but as moderators and coaches. Strict, inflexible hierarchies are a thing of the past. Instead of control, the focus is on empathy and trust. The main task of modern company executives is that of enabling employees to take on responsibility. Company leaders will continue to embody a clear vision and interact with the team as equals.


A shifting world of work: Examples of new forms of work


As the world of work changes in our globalized society, agility is more important than ever, while strict organization is becoming less of a priority. New Work is also producing new ways of doing work. Here, we present four modern approaches to work stemming from the new working world.


1) Agile Working


Agile Working enables quick and flexible responses to change. Short-term goals, plenty of feedback, smaller teams and a simplified decision-making process are the key aspects. Agile methods like Kanban or Scrum are implemented to create beneficial project organization and to eliminate impractical multi-tasking. Agile Working also includes development approaches and organizational structures:


  • Design Thinking: Design Thinking is a creative approach to solving problems and developing new ideas. It relies on interdisciplinarity and is based on methods used by designers.


  • Holacracy: Holacracy is rooted in a leadership approach that is free of hierarchies. Instead of an authoritarian leadership style, there is a clear set of rules for all “holons” (independent groups of employees).


2) Work-Life Blending


The idea of work-life blending is a contemporary interpretation of the widely known concept of work-life balance. It’s not exclusively about ensuring that you have sufficient time for your private life, but about linking work and free time. Work and free time are no longer clearly distinct from each other. Private telephone conversations during working hours are permitted, so long as employees are also prepared to respond to work emails during their free time. This link is intended to make work more flexible and productive. In this context, companies offer leisure and health programs, and they also allow flexible working models, such as working from home and trust-based working time.


3) Knowledge Workers and Learning Workers


The Knowledge Worker and the Learning Worker take center stage in the new world of work. The approach is based on the idea that knowledge is the most important resource of our times. Accordingly, continuous learning and ongoing education in your career are more important than ever before. Knowledge Workers must unite creative and innovative thinking with problem solving. To attain knowledge, there must be a constant willingness to not be satisfied with what you already know. The desire for constant additional training in a variety of areas is unavoidable in the modern world of work. The challenge for workers is that of consistently being open to new ways of learning and thinking. Accordingly, further training opportunities within the framework of lifelong learning are a focus for modern corporations.


4) Crowd Working


Crowd Working is a form of work that takes place over the internet and is thus independent of location. Corporations use crowd working for tasks associated with significant effort, but which don’t require deep knowledge of corporate structures. The testing of apps or the categorization of images are excellent examples for this form of work. Crowd worders and companies typically find each other via online platforms. As a rule, Crowd Working is a side job, but more and more Crowd Working platforms are appearing, such that it could ultimately provide a flexible form of work free of hierarchy.


The effects of digitalization on the world of work


The rapid advent of computer technologies has meant that the concept of networks has come to dominate many more areas. Shareness, swarm intelligence, collaboration, crowd-sourcing, re-mixing and co-creation are the primary watchwords that describe the new approach to creativity and knowledge. Industries are becoming increasingly networked, giving rise to new markets. This also, however, has a significant impact on all areas inside a company. In the future, ideas won’t be generated by individual specialists, but by a collective. The open-source movement is a prime example for the idea that complex knowledge work does not necessarily have to be structured hierarchically. Openness and freedom tend more often to be associated with innovation. Accordingly, corporations in the future must be far more mindful of how they deal with their most valuable resource – the knowledge and innovative power of their employees. Ideally, the entirety of that innovative power will be integrated into processes, product development and products, changing the temporal and spatial aspects of work.


The concepts of shareness and collaboration is reflected in coworking spaces. The basic idea: Shared offices promote productive work in a creative environment. Coworking doesn’t just mean sharing space, it also includes intellectual collaboration. In such a space, startups can share knowledge and form networks beyond the specific industry they work in. Numerous companies have recognized the benefits of such networks, to the point that skill-sharing workshops – in which coworkers can share what they know – have become commonplace.


New family policies in corporations


In our modern knowledge society, women can be viewed as winners when it comes to education. As a rule, they climb higher up the education ladder than do men, which is clear from the greater number of high-school graduates and more advanced university degrees among women. In 2011, Time magazine reported that in many U.S. cities, women earn more than men until the age of 30. But it is an advantage that women can only maintain if they do not have children. As soon as they start a family, their careers slow down and their wages begin to follow old patterns of inequality. Companies are aware of this situation and want to remain competitive. As such, new family-friendly offerings are unavoidable in the new world of work. In combination with "Female Shift," however, New Work is also leading to a fundamental rethinking of conservative role patterns. Providing child-care options and flexible working models is a more cost-effective approach than doing without highly qualified and well-educated women. The minimum requirements for a family-friendly program include consulting services, teleworking, childcare and individual working time models.


New challenges in the working world


In the future, creative work will become increasingly important. Creativity, though, is by no means limited to purely artistic aspects, but more to a creative recombination of existing elements. The networking that results from digitalization is becoming the decisive factor for a modern corporate culture in the age of New Work. What effects does networking have for individuals and for companies? Mobile and flexible forms of work ensure increasing global communication on all platforms and social networks. Mobile Internet and ubiquitous broadband are taking the work-life balance out of the equation, because the boundaries between work and leisure are blurring. On the positive side of the ledger, the rigid 9-to-5 model from the assembly-line era is approaching, a development welcomed by many.


Connectivity in the form of digital communications technology is transforming decentralized working into the standard model. And this is a fundamental prerequisite for creativity. Ideas, after all, don’t always show up on demand, they frequently pop up in periods of relaxation. Including those periods in concepts of working life is one of the most significant challenges facing future organizational development. Global upheavals are changing power relations in the labor market and changing jobs themselves, thus shifting the demands of companies, employees and the self-employed.


The development of new city and office concepts


Mobile, location-independent working and project work allow knowledge to play a central role in the world of work. That development produces a significantly larger number of loose networks instead of strictly regulated working relationships. As such, it can also be expected that the fixed allocation of workspaces will decline significantly relative to the 2000s. Non-territorial workspaces will become the standard at many companies. For cities to meet these challenges, concepts are needed that can accommodate the new reality and provide meaningful guidance to autonomously organized workforces. Coworking spaces are more in demand than ever to account for such decentralized work structures.


Demographic change in the working world


The aging of the population is something that almost all industrialized societies are facing. The fact that the generation with high birth rates has now retired will further change the labor landscape. For companies, this means that they must focus on recruiting skilled workers from abroad. At the same time, though, more and more people want to continue working beyond retirement age. Demographic change is a phenomenon that will be with us for some time. As such, companies must learn to draw on workers they have largely ignored until now.


Advantages and disadvantages of modern work


Flat hierarchies, flexible forms of work and more self-determination may sound like the perfect working world. But do these developments only bring advantages? Or are there disadvantages as well?


Advantages of New Work


  • Those who work from home are more flexible and save time by not having to commute from A to B every day.
  • Free workstations and modern working spaces can improve creativity, innovation and productivity.
  • New Work allows for an independent and free working style.
  • New opportunities and areas of activity on the labor market arise automatically.
  • Creative time outs are integrated into the workday.
  • Many people are less distracted and are more productive when working from home.
  • Work-life balance can benefit from modern forms of work.


Disadvantages of New Work


  • The new forms of work depend on a high degree of self-management and require self-discipline. Apps are available to promote such skills.
  • The implementation of new forms of work can fail if there is a lack of planning and leadership.
  • Work life and private life can merge (Work-Life Blending) in a suboptimal manner and lead to more work.
  • It requires an adequate understanding of technology and the willingness to continually acquire new skills.
  • Work is more individualized, which can quickly lead to loneliness. In this respect, coworking spaces and modern office concepts could be advantageous.
  • Mobile work places a higher premium on data protection.


Conclusion: New forms of work should be consistent with company culture


Attempts to pursue the New Work trend without the necessary planning and leadership may fail. More flexibility, agility and personal responsibility demand a high degree of self-discipline. Not every worker is particularly skillful when it comes to self-management, and some may not thrive in modern approaches to work. Insofar as the new forms of work are skillfully implemented, they offer great opportunity and advantages for those involved. Work that is independent of time and place provides families with children, for example, completely new possibilities for combining work life with family life. Companies can further that development by offering additional support to mothers and making a positive contribution to equal opportunity.

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