When the Boss Gives a Like

The world of work is undergoing a transformation. Futurologist Hartwin Maas talks at the TECHBOX forum on the FACHPACK about the transformation from New Work to Future Work. Young people want more recognition, flexibility and teamwork.

Video conferencing under a parasol, taking dictation while exercising, and checking the mailbox before falling asleep: what sounds like a nightmare for some is a perfectly normal workday for others. According to futurologist Hartwin Maas (private photo) from the Institute for Generational Research in Augsburg, many people have the most diverse ideas about New Work. However, “If you throw all kinds of things into a container, waste ends up there, too,” says the industrial engineer. He will be speaking at the TECHBOX forum on the second day of the FACHPACK trade fair about New Work as the competence of the future and the challenge of today.

The experiences from the Corona pandemic have given new impetus to debates about New Work. The concept is by no means new, emphasizes Maas. As early as the 1970s, the Austrian-American philosopher Frithjof Bergmann diagnosed the end of traditional working relationships and thus also raised the question of the future of work.

Study results of the Institute for Generational Research

For the present, the Institute for Generational Research has made the following findings in its survey: Home office has been a resounding success. “It has come to stay,” Maas said. The majority of employees were very satisfied with their productivity, performed better than expected. Even conservative companies whose boards were initially skeptical have since confirmed that, he said. However, 50 percent of managers said they found it particularly difficult to motivate their own employees in the home office. The physical distance had led to orders being handed in as usual, but feedback from managers to employees was lacking. “Video switching, telephone or e-mail first had to be discovered as feedback media.”

Younger people in particular, born in 1995 or later, spend an average of 4 to 6 hours a day on social networks, and up to 10 hours a day during the pandemic, according to the institute’s surveys. “And this is where the dictatorship of likes rules. Posts that are not successful get no likes and no recognition. The same principle applies in the analog world: young people demand feedback that must come quickly.” Maas therefore advises managers to involve young employees more than before, to communicate with them and give them individual feedback that they can also understand and comprehend. “That takes time, but it’s important.”

A no to home office

Having the option to home office is something most young people want. “But that doesn’t mean they actually prefer to work at home. They just want the flexibility.” Because – the survey results also say this – a large proportion (73 percent) of those under 30 want to strictly separate their professional life from their private life. The experts speak of work-life separation. In addition, young employees in particular have a greater yearning for a collegial environment. “So New Work is more than making the place of work more flexible, and home office is far from being a panacea.”

At the same time, New Work is a utopia that focuses strongly on the individual, he said. In real working life, there are many contradictions and individual wishes are not always in harmony with corporate goals and structures. Structures limit freedom. If the customer places an order, the result must be available at a certain time, the customer determines the time. “In production, there are these structures. People crave structures. It is therefore good to have them. But they have to be explained to workers. If young people don’t see the point of working outside their regular hours, they won’t do it.”

Packaging industry on the way to the future

“There is no blueprint for New Work. How New Work is shaped depends very much on the company’s own corporate culture, portfolio, workforce and their willingness to constantly change things.” The futurologist therefore speaks of Future Work. “It’s a form of work that moves with the times, anticipates needs of workers, creates long-term conditions for creative and independent action.”

“Future Work” also has the next generation in mind. The packaging industry is a good example of looking to the future, he said. In numerous projects, companies are developing sustainable packaging and new materials. The industry is also opening up to collaborations with researchers and other companies, for example, he said. “Classic silo thinking no longer works. Not even within one company.”

These days, a design engineer can no longer just go into depth technically, but must be able to communicate broadly. Project management, documentation and digitization are also required of specialists, he says.

Maas proposes the middle ground between the “old way of working” and New Work, a compromise between individual freedom and the goal of a community. Even if new management systems such as holocracies (hierarchy-free systems in which everyone has power) are currently “in” in the start-up scene, there are tried and tested structures that have proven their worth: “The organization chart already existed with the ancient Egyptians and in antiquity. It’s not necessarily bad to set structures.”


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