Working-Environment 4.0 how will it look like?

Workplace 4.0 – what form will it take

390,000 new jobs could be created in the next ten years in Germany alone due to the digital transformation as shown by a new study conducted by the market analysis group  bcg.perspectives / The Boston Consulting Group (BCG). The workplace of the future will change for most workers.

Until then, however, there is a need for even greater understanding of the impact of technology-driven changes. They affect and shape not only the processes of a value chain, but also have a significant impact on the way people will work in the future.

Knowledge wins

Emphasis will increasingly be placed on the expertise of the individual in the future. According to the BCG study simple manual tasks will be required less. Demand will increase, however, for staff with IT skills, who can plan, simulate and monitor flexible and networked production processes. Routine activities in the human work process would therefore soon belong to the past. The extent to which working environments will change as the result of digital transformation is also shown by the new findings of research conducted by Henry Siu, Associate Professor at the Vancouver School of Economics of the University of British Columbia and Nir Jaimovich, Professor in the Economics Department at Duke University. According to these findings, employment growth since 2001 has been entirely based on jobs that have no repetitive tasks.

Low-skilled workers would accordingly be the losers of this structural shift – and this is also seen in the results of a study conducted by the German Institute of Employment Research, IAB.

Rethinking 4.0

Companies have learned that they have to continually and sometimes radically adapt to changing markets. Processes that can be automated, as in production, have already been digitalized or often moved to countries and regions with lower labour costs. In administration, on the other hand, processes have only been automated by information technologies to a very limited extent. Nonetheless, the Working Environment 4.0 will take hold here as well. For workers in these areas, this primarily means one thing: they will have to work more flexibly and independently in the future and an increasing number of tasks will be automated. This applies to the job as well the content.

The “blurring of boundaries” between work and leisure time, between the workplace and home, freelancers and employees are requiring an increasingly proactive stance as well as regulatory innovations. Not only are security aspects, actual or perceived surveillance, increased process speed and the compulsion to keep learning are serving as new areas of conflict. The reachability of employees at all times via smartphones is also resulting in higher workloads. Designing digitalized jobs therefore requires redefinition of the framework conditions to achieve a healthy balance of interests between employers and employees. Employer-supported training and qualification programs are also required to make sure everyone can keep pace with the development.

Ideas and appreciation as a success model

“In the new working model, people will no longer just be workers, but be required to integrate their know-how, their creativity and their intuition in their work”, says Ulrich Klotz , electrical engineer and computer science specialist at TU Berlin. These attributes make up the crucial distinction from mechanized operations, which will soon be a thing of the past.

Hierarchical levels, as they currently exist in most organizations, do not fit into this picture. If the structure doesn’t match the process, then consequences such as demotivation, frustration and wrong decisions are bound to be the results, as Klotz explains.

A model that is based on mutual appreciation and resulting value can be found  in open-source communities, in which global networks of freelance programmers work together on large projects such as Linux, Firefox or Wikipedia. Sometimes the programmers in these teams even work free of charge. The primary drive consists of collaboration, motivation and enthusiasm, because the teamwork has little hierarchy and instead is based on fairness, respect and mutual trust. Leadership positions are based on skills and not on formal authority. This effective way of working makes it possible for new ideas to gain acceptance more quickly than in long-established structures, as Klotz says. These organizations are often one step ahead of their bureaucratic competitors. Comparable structures also emerge in modern organizations and are demanded in particular by highly qualified employees. Coupled with cross-company networking, they form the primary component of the most successful companies in the IT industry.

Keeping pace in your mind

Therefore, traditional organizational structures will have to be revised on the long term. Models that allow for a more intelligent teamwork are required. In the future, the competition will be distinguished by unique ideas. Many workers can not yet fully tap into their own potential due to the rigid structures that block changes the development of ideas. In addition to this, especially younger employees with a decent education and higher qualifications are not as committed to working in archaic structures and the demographic change in developed industrial nations is providing them with multiple options to choose from. Companies that want to keep pace with digital transformation will not only have to upgrade their organizations technically, but work on their structures and corporate cultures at all levels, as Klotz explains.

For more information on Work 4.0. have a look at the articles Working Environment 4.0 – what companies and employees can expect,  Working Environment 4.0 in marketing / HR departments or the article “The office of the future” in the Top Fair magazine.

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