New Work – The Future is Now

The Corona crisis has shown a lot in terms of new work and leadership. As a “new worker” with several jobs, I have developed three theses for a central transformation accelerator of the present time.

Note: I developed these theses for the university magazine Impact of the Zurich University of Applied Sciences. The original German article was published on July 1, 2020 (issue 06/2020, dossier “Realities/realities” (p. 48-49). The German online edition can be found here. The text below is an English translation.

What if every person would do what she or he wants passionately and what he or she feels called to do? Where the joy of creation arises from the motivation of the heart instead of the compulsion to take the next career step? The answer is at the core of the idea of “new work”. It goes back to the Austrian-American philosopher and founder of the “New Work” movement Professor Frithjof Bergmann. Bergmann dealt with the philosophical question of human freedom. He found that nothing seems to make people less free than work. In view of increasing automation processes and digital transformation, the urgent question arises as to what we want to do when our jobs are replaced by new technologies. Or when “Madame Corona” unexpectedly deprives us of our regular income and thus deprives part of our livelihood.

1. The Corona crisis is shaping a new work practice that (re)acts flexible, digita(gi)le-connecting and entrepreneurial.

What do we do? The corona virus forces us to work less or unpaid overtime, to job sharing, forced holidays or even job loss. This leads to economic losses, but also to new opportunities for digital working, living and learning together. Key skills such as self-organisation and self-discipline, the flexible handling of uncertainty, the unexpected and complexity train us in both agility and resilience. But also in digital literacy and platform economy: this is the confident handling of the requirements of digitally networked communication on different online platforms. Spontaneously and extrinsically motivated acquisitions of digital skills, the ability to quickly adapt to new situations and to react to the demands of the present time are indispensable digita(gi)le qualities of a lively new work practice. Flexicurity is the order of the day, which is intended to ensure a dynamic balance between social security and flexibility of work. In addition, multiple potential development and entrepreneurial participation are in high demand. Helping to shape the future implies “letting go” of old outdated structures, forms and routines. Only then innovations can emerge, forward-thinking start-up cultures with networking teams can flourish and contribute to social value creation with lasting effects.

2. The corona crisis creates a new work culture whose practitioners get to the heart of the matter.

Why do we do what we do? Because it is essential for us. The corona virus shows us that we want to protect “the old” and thus the silver society. The retreat into the private sphere throws us back on ourselves and the question of meaning. Where do we come from and where are we going? Sustainability (neo-ecology) and we-culture become important values, because more than ever, we understand that we are mortal beings and ultimately only nature. New forms of neighbourhood assistance, a stronger commitment to regional products, approaches such as sharing economy, social business and corporate health reflect that profit maximisation and pure striving for performance have become deficient. What is needed today is a successful symbiosis of work and life. Empathic leadership intelligence is what some call it, spiritual leadership what others call it. In essence, it is about the heart of the matter: letting go of the “ego masks” that were once put on, leading people attentively and getting people excited about the why behind the obvious. This creates and requires a culture of openness to explore new spaces in which creativity, experimentation and innovation can flourish. Communication, networking or collaboration skills, coupled with empathic motivation, spiritual intuition and emotional intelligence, are among the transformative cultural techniques and leadership skills of a mind-altering new work culture. The pioneers and role models are the women who – not just since today, by the way – are leading the way in care work, i.e. in nursing. In times of Corona, they keep the system upright at the front line, at the supermarket checkout counters. They provide access to the essential, to food, so that we can continue to live. Corona will continue to exponentially infect the female shift with the womanomics virus, and will continue the discourse on gender diversity and boost female leadership. After all, the fair integration and remuneration of women in the management teams of business, health, politics and society is heart of the matter.

3. The Corona crisis is preparing the humus for new work practices that are constantly changing.

Bergmann’s bold words on new work are now followed by concrete actions. Co-working and coopetition are merging into the dynamic co-making of former competitors, who now (have to) bundle their forces instead of continuing the old struggle for smart and creative professionals. Unconventional forms of collaboration that would have been unthinkable a few months ago are now a reality. Talentism is the magic word for the new economic and social currency and value creation for society as a whole. Economic and cultural systems must adapt to talent structures, not the other way around. This is also evident in the maker scene. True to the motto “do it yourself” and “help yourself”, their “how to” slogan is: Don’t wait long, start right away and see how it goes. We are all trained in this now, whether we want to or not. Smart work is the motto for jointly defying the Corona crisis. #staythefuckhome and #alonetogether in the Smart Home Office or #smarthomeschooling are the practices that are now saving lives. Flexible working models such as work-life blending and home office alone do not yet create a new working world, but they do sow the seeds for change, because smart work will remain a necessity even after the crisis. But who ultimately decides on quality and #howtohomeoffice? The experts or supposedly less well-off new influencers? From whom do we want to learn what and why? Whether #homeschooling will mutate to #unschooling, #homestudying and #distancelearning will become the new standard, remains to be seen. One thing is certain: Everyone will have to prove themselves and change equally in the economic struggle for attention as well as in the creative play and the joy of lifelong learning, and this permanently. Job satisfaction remains important – and with it productivity and value creation – through work that makes sense, is more fun and frees up time. Just as Frithjof Bergmann meant it.

Birgitta Borghoff is a research assistant at the ZHAW, a freelance creative entrepreneur and coach. At the IAM Institute of Applied Media Studies she researches and lectures in the field of organisational communication and public spheres. Borghoff is particularly involved in projects with discourse-analytical questions, on entrepreneurial storytelling and design topics, agile self-management, self-marketing and networking.

Picture source: Shutterstock

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Birgitta Borghoff, MA, MAS ZFH Creative Entrepreneur, Entrepreneurial Researcher and Holistic Life Coach

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