Covid-19 struck and the facetime culture of the conservative office was officially dead. No one was expected to show up anywhere. If you ask friends and acquaintances if they would like to work full-time from an office five days a week again, almost everyone said no. They like to skip the obligatory travel to work, feel familiar with their bosses even in the home office and have the freedom to adjust their days to their personal needs. But they also complain that after a while the home office becomes cramped, boring and lonely. Companies have also discovered that remote working is not only possible, but in many cases more profitable. Many question the necessity of the expensive and static office from the pre-Corona era.
So if the general population does not want to return to the office, but also does not want to stay at home full-time: how will we work in the future? Will the pandemic bring a major comeback of the seemingly obsolete physical office or will the signs of the times continue the more than necessary digital shift towards potentially pure remote working? And are the “How we work” driven by the media hype as well as the “Why we work” and the “What we will work on in the future” of at least equal importance?
A hybrid combination of the physical office paired with the use of modern technologies and the associated remote work will continue to prevail after Corona. Proportions will certainly shift towards remote work, while the use of physical offices could remain the exception. Organisations that have already adopted new ways of working in the hybrid sense and the “virtual-first” motto associated with the digital change for some years now show a total of four essential basic requirements for hybrid working:
- The workplace is divided into home offices, the classic office and satellite offices Depending on the nature of their work and the preferences of the teams, employees can choose to work remotely or face-to-face.
- The workforces are virtual-ready. In this context, managers know how to manage, coach, collaborate, evaluate performance and motivate their team from a distance.
- Technology enables multiple ways of working. Data is stored in the cloud, IT access and IT security are tailored to different work modes and applications enable seamless virtual collaboration.
- The culture of collaboration (especially digital) is based on trust and belonging. Interpersonal relationships are built with great interest and care.
In principle, hybrid working methods are nothing new for digitally oriented companies. There is nothing new to note that a hybrid mix of pure office work and pure digital remote work can be the solution. Companies which have only discovered hybrid or digital working methods for themselves since Corona have once again been confronted with their deficit in the degree of digitisation. Nevertheless, the topic of New Work is not only about the “how”, but much more about the “why” and “what” we will be working on in the future.
Some lessons learned in 2020: We can do most tasks remotely without any loss of productivity or quality. Most employees appreciate flexibility, especially those with long commuting times. Over time, however, direct face-to-face communication is required to facilitate collaboration, build relationships, solve complex challenges, and generate ideas. Continuous remote working extends the working day, blurs the boundaries between work and private life and can have a negative impact on well-being.
In the light of these positive and negative lessons, organisations have begun to rethink their working frameworks. This recalibration will lead to a sustainable and new normality. In exploring this uncertain new normality, the focus of modern working environments is drawn to Silicon Valley.
In the past, the modern work pioneer Google has continuously shaped the image of the state-of-the-art working world. In an interview with the Harvard Business Review, Dr. Frederik Pferdt (Chief Innovation Evangelist at Google and founder of Google’s “The Garage”) interprets Corona not so much as a major problem, but as the greatest opportunity for our humanity. In doing so he appeals to train reframing as a mindset. Reframing is fundamentally based on an optimistic mindset, which interprets problems as opportunities. In the context of New Work this means to try things out and to allow mistakes to happen, to create a working atmosphere that allows human potential to unfold under consideration of modern technologies. According to Dr. Pferdt, the following guidelines, among others, are of central importance for researching and implementing innovative approaches, taking reframing into account:
- “Work is always new” – work is constantly changing and change is something constant.
- Focus on employee needs – How do we want to shape work that focuses on human needs and harnesses the possibilities of technology?
- Try and Error – Experimenting with New Work under the appeal: taking risks, allowing mistakes and trying out new working methods in order to gradually make the future concept around New Work a reality.
- Purpose – It is not only important how you work, but also what you work on. What purpose do I give to work as an employer and employee?
- Trust – Empathy is one of the most important future skills for people – specifically for managers
From the findings of these guidelines, it can be deduced that the trend theme New Work is less about working at home, in the office or even mobile, but rather about creating new working environments taking into account employee needs and the use of modern technologies. It is important to continuously experiment with New Work approaches and to be prepared to make mistakes in order to do justice to the generic corporate interest and to generate the best possible output from the best possible (hybrid/digital) framework conditions.