New Work and Digital Work: Wake Up German Managers!


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Accenture, Google and Microsoft have been showing for years how a “limitless workplace” can work. In Germany, on the other hand, managers already have problems with the virtual workplace, let alone with global networks. Above all, it is the managers who stick to old thinking and organizational patterns, how work is determined and organized.

Virtual workplace

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Roswitha A. van der Markt Roswitha van der marketRoswitha A. van der Markt is a management consultant and executive coach for HP, Siemens or SAP.

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Optimistic workers in terms of digitization

57 percent of workers in Europe expect digitization to improve their working conditions. This is the result of a large-scale survey by the management consultancy Accenture 2015: “Being digital: Embrace the future of work and your people will embrace it with you”. 2 workers and 500 managers in the European Union were interviewed for the study.

Digitalization is on everyone's lips, but many employees fear that the managers in their Company While discussing a lot about technical upheavals without actually tackling them. While employees benefit from digitization for the Ability to innovate: (71 percent), agility: (69 percent) and Productivity: (68 percent) expect their company, only every fourth manager wants to make fundamental changes. And only one in five describes their company as digital. All others are on a hardly defined station on the “digital journey”.

Timid managers jeopardize Germany as a business location

Almost every third company does not even consider adapting the business strategy of digitization. German companies are just ready to automate or adapt the existing processes. This may have been a fairly acceptable recipe in the past, but it is not enough today.

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"Made in Germany": On the one hand by VW tremendously in ethical imbalance, on the other hand with head and mind under the blanket: 70 percent of the German managers questioned admitted that they do not want to take a pioneering role in the digital transformation, but rather want to adopt mature digital models. One can only say: Quo vadis - DAX, innovation and quality?

Fear of surveillance

The survey also takes into account the concerns and fears of employees. While only 8 per cent fear a worsening of their work environment, they are not yet sure whether there will be a loss of team spirit when the colleague is only working online and is no longer in the office.

According to the Accenture study, three out of four German workers are concerned or very worried that their employer will use technologies to monitor them at every step. Compared to other economies where the survey was also conducted, only the French are still more afraid of the boss's supervision.

Mistrust in German management floors

The virtual workspace as a sign of Weisure, the merging of work / work and leisure / leisure creates mistrust on German management floors. Because he shakes the foundations of the German performance culture and “orderly-structuring” work organization:

  • How can I trust my employee that he really works “hard” - in his home office or even on the beach?
  • How can I manage my employees efficiently if I can not see them, ie can intervene and control them?

Also in the peer group, it is feared that other team members might rather sit in the sun. Most managers are unfortunately still convinced of the good, old presence culture.

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Daniel Cable, Professor for organizational management at the London Business School, has found in studies that home office work can become a career killer for employees. Employees who are present in the office on a daily basis and are supervised by the superior are promoted significantly more frequently. Managers say the home workers are less diligent and reliable. Visibility thus suggests an alleged value of the results.

Our work organization dominates centuries-old patterns of thought

Patterns of thought that have been firmly anchored in our heads for decades, indeed centuries: Only “hard” work deserves the necessary recognition and reward. The promise: More performance, usually understood as measurable, more good and hard work, brings more success, more security and more growth.

So far, one of the easiest measurement criteria for performance in industrial society has been working time. Those who were present and under the control of their superiors also worked hard and were often paid purely for hours. This culture of attendance becomes a “culture of justification” when one is not available to the supervisor and is not available at the workplace. Not just from Nine2Five, but best now 24/7.

In the "brain stem" are firmly anchored sayings like "Oberstich unter", only "Morgenstund has gold in your mouth" or quirky jokes like "probably take half a day vacation" when someone leaves the office at 18pm. All signs of a culture of mistrust, a lack of acceptance of diversity, ie different life and work models. But also a sign of fear, because the previous service structure gave us security, a clear schedule, clear measurement criteria for service delivery, a clear career path from below "up to management" - and a clear separation of work and leisure, the latter above all a freedom from the intervention of the superior in private life.

Compromise prevents progress

In many companies, therefore, a "compromise solution" is sought: one or two days of home office with normal core time, ie presence on the computer from 9 a.m. to 17 p.m., five-day week. Work-life balance at the weekend. So everything stays the same, in thinking as in doing.

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Surely this can be a relief. One saves on a few days the way to the company, the time in the suburban train or the stress in the car. But in reality one does not even use one third of the advantages of a virtual workplace.

Employees can organize themselves best

In a culture of trust, it is assumed that the colleague, like employees as knowledge workers, knows best when, how and where he works best, by the way "for the benefit of both the team and the company".

A late riser divides his day differently from an early bird, a mother other than a single with specific hobbies. This creates a greater sense of satisfaction with life. As a responsible team member, everyone knows when and in what quality he has to contribute his / her results, when teammeetings take place online, for whom he should be available, especially at different time zones. Self-management coupled with project and team management lead to a qualitatively convincing result.

Flexibility brings greater work satisfaction

The advantage of a virtual workplace lies precisely in this flexibility. Everyone can interrupt their work, go shopping, go for a walk, go for a walk with the dog, play with the children in the park, and work at night, even at night. This flexibility reduces stress.

Breaks increase productivity. It is not a matter of temporal attendance at the workplace - be it in the company building or at home, which is to be monitored, but the result orientation, the faith and the confidence in the willingness to perform and the performance of the individual, even without visibility.

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Monitoring culture kills motivation

Why is there such distrust in performance? Why do most German employees seem to work without passion? According to Gallup, the commitment index in Germany has been at a very modest level since 2001 until 2014. In all these years, the percentages of employees with a high level of commitment to the company are not 16 percent, fluctuating between 61 and 70 percent with a low bond, and even showing a frightening picture of employees without any binding in 16 to 24 percent. And this with an almost continuous presence culture.

Is the skepticism of the managers justified in giving their employees so little confidence or is it rather a wrong approach to motivating employees? In the Gallup study 2015, employees give their German managers bad grades, especially with regard to communication and exchange, precisely those skills that are so necessary in a networked project culture. 21 percent speak only once a month with their team, another 21 percent even less. Thus, almost 50 percent of employees are without regular team agreements.

Silo and competitive thinking instead of agile, cross-linked cooperation

As a rule, the old traditional viewpoints, methods and processes dominate the minds. In his current study, the HR service provider Hays shows that 72 percent of the decision-makers in IT, finance, research and development surveyed see the island and competition of the specialist departments as a barrier on the way to the digital organization. HR departments and even modern HR software often still cement the old norms and rules.

There are still job descriptions with defined competencies, responsibilities, skills, abilities and targets that no longer meet the current fluid and networked requirements. Agreements and decisions may only be made within the departments according to the hierarchy levels - and even collegial communication beyond “area boundaries” is viewed with suspicion.

The area boundary marked the power and influence, the success of the individual manager and thus also his bonus system. Open use of virtual workplaces is usually not “regulated”. The simple fact that employees can work freely from time and place, and networked in partnership, does not occur in this way of thinking. So many managers fall back into the command and control thinking of the last millennium.

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Stuck in old performance thinking

Success in our economy has been synonymous with a relevant management position. High performers are still lured in the promotion system with the rise on the career ladder, the promise of gaining more income, power and status. There has been a “pure specialist career” as an expert for a long time, but the managerial career is still the “crème de la crème”, especially if you make it into the executive floors of DAX companies.

Headhunters prove that careers as managers are still measured based on the range and depth of leadership, i.e. the number of hierarchically subordinate employees and the hierarchy levels. What was no longer sensible even with structures that are becoming ever flatter, is absolutely obsolete with globally networked project and process structures. The “new” evaluation structures of young generations, for which power, influence and leadership position no longer represent motivation, have been completely forgotten.

Up until now, a manager was “the more powerful”, the greater his budget responsibility was. Ultimately, his success in sales and, above all, profit count. It is irrelevant whether he achieves this with a motivated leadership based on partnership. Neither did he take into account values ​​and ethics. This only becomes relevant when a scandal such as at VW reveals the weakness of such a performance system and even damages the company's shareholder value.

Old success criteria are becoming less important

In a management event on Industry 4.0 this September, the managers present reacted just as cautiously. The discussions revolved around technology and processes. HR considered a very small box. As was the case decades ago, it is emphasized again and again that “employees” should be trained sufficiently, this time in “digital skills”, that the structural change should be accompanied by a change management program and the change readiness should be determined beforehand.

The digitization of the HR administration, eLearning, recruiting and talent management is considered useful and also partially implemented. A little twisting of this or that technical set screw and overlooks the fact that this is the development of a new performance and leadership culture, which is characterized less by the management, but by clients and employees. Less by announcements, specifications, statements, but by listening, understanding, trust and appreciation.

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Old success criteria lose their meaning: not hierarchical power position, but expertise and ability to collaborate are decisive in a fluid, digital and globally networked work. Perhaps that's why managers are reluctant to digitize because they suspect that they are losing the certainty of their success, the security of their power and position - and they do not yet know for themselves how to shape the future for themselves.

New thinking required for success, performance and management

With this rigid thinking of silo, competition and domination we are facing bad times in Germany in terms of leadership culture in the digital transformation. Unless we finally change the mindset, the thought patterns that have been imprinted over decades, even centuries, and are setting new standards for success, performance, and management.

Because virtual work is more productive, as evidenced by Nicholas Bloom of Stanford University. He sent employees of a call center to the home office for nine months and evaluated their work results. Compared to their office hours, they showed a productivity increase of 13 percent. They were also less sick and much happier at work.


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