To what extent have German businesses subscribed to New Work?
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To what extent have German businesses subscribed to New Work?

Flexible working hours, flat hierarchies, modern workplaces – what is the status quo as far as New Work is concerned and which sectors are fit for the new working environment?

3/26/2019 By Linda Gondorf Reading time: 7 Minutes
Many companies gloat over benefits that sound like New Work and indicate a modern company structure. But under closer examination, it becomes clear that the New Work approach has not developed as far in the business world as the hype suggests. There are significant differences between different industries. We have gathered together a few facts and figures.

The various aspects of New Work

When exactly can one say that New Work has been successfully implemented? There are a few basic factors which define New Work that appear repeatedly in the various approaches encompassed by the collective term.

One of the key themes is flexibility – for example, how much freedom are the employees granted in how they organise their working day? Working from home, flexible workplaces and child care should be supported in the division of work and family life, or rather leisure time, as should flexible workplaces that can be adapted to particular situations and the requirements of employees. Flat hierarchies ensure that long decision-making processes are avoided. They give each employee more individual responsibility and the opportunity to participate proactively. The concept of agility is also centred around proactivity and flexibility. Structures and processes are designed in such a way that they can be adapted to unforeseen events or new requirements. An important prerequisite for New Work is digitalisation. It allows for automated processes that free employees from routine tasks and open up new channels of communication with a view to working across different teams in a transparent manner.

New Work: how does Germany rate? The big cross-sectoral comparison

We took a closer look at four aspects of New Work and their use in various sectors. Where are new approaches already being used and which sectors are still dominated by “old” working structures?

Flexibility and work-life balance

Flexible working hours and an even work-life balance are often directly associated with New Work. The employer comparison portal kununu has examined which sectors most frequently offer relevant benefits such as home working, flexible working hours and child care.

Employers such as insurance companies and banks that are often perceived as inflexible and less progressive scored highly on benefits favouring employee flexibility. The insurance sector is clearly in the lead with 17.16 per cent. The automotive sector offers very little in this regard (6.65 per cent), as do the telecommunications sector (4.77 per cent) and the retail/consumption sector (3.54 per cent).

Flat hierarchies vs. long “top-down” processes

Old business models are characterised by rigid structures with long top-down decision-making channels – according to the New Work approach, these should be broken up. Flat hierarchies shorten decision-making processes and target the initiative of the employees. As part of Kienbaum & StepStone’s Leadership Survey 2018, 15,300 managers and professionals were asked, among other things, how hierarchical they perceived the organisational structure in their company to be.

Managers and professionals in the comparatively young IT and internet sector thought their hierarchies were the flattest – this industry scored 2.45 points out of a maximum of 4. Traditionally it is the banks that bring up the rear, with this sector scoring 1.82 points.

Agility – acting proactively rather than reactively

Agility is nowadays considered as one of the most important objectives in project management. Agility refers to when businesses design their structures and processes with enough flexibility for them to be adapted quickly. However, something seems to be lacking when it comes to the implementation: as the agility barometer developed jointly by Haufe and Promerit, agile procedures in particular are rarely used by employees (ten per cent).

But what is the situation at management level? In a study performed by the consultants Korn/Ferry, managers were graded based on their learning agility – the ability to learn from experience and to implement what they have learnt in new situations.

As far as learning agility is concerned, there is little variation between the sectors – the most agile, however, are managers in the pharmaceuticals industry, followed by those in the technology and retail sectors. Learning agility was lowest among managers in the automotive industry.

Digitalisation

Anybody who seeks to be future-oriented must think digitally – given the rapid developments in every sector, there is no doubt about it. According to a study carried out by TCS and Bitkom, 76 per cent of companies stated that they follow a clear strategy for digitalisation; 75 per cent indicated that they were open to digitalisation. But to what extent is digitalisation actually incorporated in corporate strategies? In this regard, there are clear differences between sectors.

Digitalisation is most commonly strategically integrated in IT and communication companies (89 per cent), followed by chemical and pharmaceutical companies as well as machine and plant construction (82 per cent). In last place was the automotive industry with just 72 per cent.

The conclusion? There is a lot of work to be done

The values of the New Work movement are nowhere near being accepted across all sectors in equal measure. In general, German companies still have a long way to go before they will have created a working environment characterised by individual leeway, autonomy and development opportunities.

With regard to digitalisation, German businesses are currently in an excellent position. In light of rapid technological developments and their impact on the world of business, it is nevertheless surprising that many companies have still not embedded digitalisation into their strategies – with just 28 per cent claiming to have done so, this is particularly true of the automotive industry. This sector is also bringing up the rear with regard to the agility of its managers.

Interestingly, the seemingly young and progressive communication industry is not leading the pack in every aspect of New Work. Although this sector has flat hierarchies and a high degree of digitalisation, as far as solutions that facilitate flexible working are concerned, the IT and internet sector is only rated as average.

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