4 February 2022
Today, digitization is transforming work processes at a rapid pace – and with it the social status of work. Terms such as “empowerment” and “new leadership” characterize a radical transformation in the relationship between employees and their managers, but above all with regard to the general nature of work. New demands are being formulated for the workplace and its equipment. The meaningfulness of activities is a factor that companies must take into account more and more. What is this concept of “new work” all about? And what benefits and structures does the digital workplace bring with it?
What is the Digital Workplace?
The digital workplace is a fully digitized and mobile working environment. It offers employees all the tools they need to perform their tasks flexibly, efficiently, and above all from any location. At the same time, the digital workplace ensures the seamless provision of knowledge databases and the rapid exchange of information across the entire organizational structure. The goal: to combine the company’s business interests with the requirements of a modern work culture in the best possible way. On the one hand, the aim is to promote communication and collaboration among employees and to create the appropriate technical framework for this. On the other hand, the goal is to use digital applications and services to optimize the company’s own internal business processes and thus contribute to a sustainable growth.
The digital workplace is not a vision anymore. It is our everyday reality.
New Work – what’s behind the concept?
In the course of the digital cultural change, the private sector today is confronted with new challenges. Classic hierarchical leadership models are considered long outdated. New technologies are permeating established professions and bringing about fundamental cultural and economic change in almost all areas. Many professions have already become obsolete. Not only that: The old world of work with its analog “assembly line monotony” is visibly disappearing – and with it those patriarchs and traditional entrepreneurial families who remain attached to the conservative values of industrial-era subservience.
But even beyond digitization, the view of work today has changed dramatically. The key buzzword here is “New Work,” coined by the Austrian-American social philosopher Prof. Dr. Frithjof Bergmann in the late 1970s. Bergmann’s original theses went far beyond what we understand today as the digital workplace. His goal was to free people from wage slavery through a compromise between capitalist and communist principles. Bergmann saw both approaches as unsustainable in the long term and developed a concept in which wage labor, independent, fulfilling work and the greatest possible degree of self-sufficiency would go together.
New Work today
Inspired by Bergmann’s teachings, New Work today is understood as a theoretical framework for redesigning the workplace with an eye to the future. This change is real – and no longer just in the tech-savy and innovation-driven startup milieus of the world’s Silicon Valleys.
Home office, flexitime models and e-learning offerings are an almost trivial selection of the tools that even established S&P 500 companies are using to take the leap into the new world of work. In addition, there is also a modern management culture that actually keeps in mind the aspirations of employees to develop their potential and creativity as well as a positive work-life balance. Flat hierarchies and mutual trust are essential for this.
Last but not least, the individual’s workplace must be designed in such a way that he or she can benefit in the best possible way from the freedoms they have acquired: perfectly networked, excellently equipped in terms of technology, and oriented toward the individual requirements of the employees. The Digital Workplace is a promise that this can be achieved. And it also offers a number of benefits that justify the high initial investment.
What are the benefits of the Digital Workplace?
Work independent of time and location
Remote work has never been more popular. Thanks to broadband connections, powerful laptops and web conferencing applications, employees no longer need modern office equipment. The feared productivity losses caused by home offices have largely failed to materialize, as numerous studies confirm. Mobile access to collective corporate knowledge no longer recognizes time zones or office addresses. Even though digital nomadism can hardly be equated with the appeal of collegial exchange at the watercooler – the trend is irreversible.
In the digital office, all communication channels are united within one platform. For example, exchanges take place across groups, departments and locations using video messenger tools such as Microsoft Teams, Zoom or Skype. Cost-intensive and climate-damaging business trips are becoming increasingly obsolete. In addition, collaboration tools support project-specific cooperation – both in the consolidation of information from different sources and in the definition and distribution of the tasks involved. Many other systems (ERP, CRM, ECM) provide the useful tools to keep track of the entire lifecycle of a document in the exchange between different stakeholders. Without knowledge silos and media discontinuities.
Work more effectively
The most sustainable effect of a digitized workplace is the saving of paper. Redundant processes involving checking, copying, filing and archiving are eliminated. Enterprise Content Management solutions support daily searches for specific information and offer noticeable relief. This fact is most noticeable where automation and digital processes reduce the administrative effort the most.
Introduction of a Digital Workplace
Before the first considerations about the technical equipment of the new workstations start, an inventory analysis should first take place. Which tools already exist? To what extent can these be combined with the new IT solutions within the technical infrastructure? How coherent are the changes with the intended business goals? And how do you create trust on the part of the workforce in the new equipment?
The last point in particular is of great importance – because the introduction of new business applications entails a special responsibility to inspire employees as potential users. Accordingly, a transparent information policy within the company on all aspects of the digitization project is relevant. Planned change management should accompany the project on an ongoing basis and involve both executives and lower levels in equal measure in terms of communication in order to ensure user acceptance.
Depending on the existing affinity for technology, a corresponding training requirement is necessary – suitable support offers and internal contacts can make the transition to the new digitalized business world much easier. At the same time, the selection of digital business applications should also be based on the expectations of employees. Their own experience with powerful programs can be particularly helpful when evaluating future software solutions.
Focus on security in the digital workplace
A key component in the introduction of a digital workplace is operational security. Aspects such as data protection, compliance and IT security must be taken into account in the digital strategies right from the start. After all, access to the corporate network via mobile devices, cloud applications and collaboration platforms increases the risk of cybercrime, especially when dealing with sensitive documents and personal data. Based on a systematic analysis of the entire IT infrastructure, potential risks should be examined and eliminated at an early stage.
But it is not only a comprehensive security strategy against external attacks that is required – a concept is also needed to regulate employee access to the company’s own databases. Depending on their authorization, employees should only be able to access those system areas for which they have been assigned the appropriate user rights.
Digital Workplace – what is the bottom line?
Is this a step forward toward state-of-the-art work? Or a global trend and overused buzzword that only suggests an illusory freedom for employees? The discussion about the Digital Workplace is as complex as the concept itself – but in our eyes, the advantages outweigh the disadvantages.
Greater transparency, more efficient processes and shorter communication channels are the most important factors that companies should consider for such work models. It doesn’t take much: the right work tools, an agile leadership culture and an appreciative work environment.