The workplace of the future and how Audi is shaping it
At Audi and elsewhere, new work is intended to improve the world of work – with modern forms of working such as home offices, agile teams, and greater flexibility. But for new work to succeed, employers and employees must collaborate to define and implement the right conditions.
More freedom and self-determination, having a voice and being listened to, deeper meaning and fulfilment: new work encompasses many aspects of modern forms of working together, including flat hierarchies, home offices, and other concepts such as flexible working hours, job and top sharing, or agile working. New work means employees no longer merely carry out the tasks others decide for them. Instead, they actively participate and help shape the processes. This contrasts with the traditional work model based on clear hierarchies, rigid working hours, control, and authority.
A meaningful job and an employer you enjoy working for: the figures show that this expectation is becoming increasingly widespread. A Randstad survey found that 74 per cent of employees in Germany want to find meaning in their work, especially the younger generation. At the same time, only 52 per cent of those surveyed currently identify with their employer.
Where does the term ‘new work’ come from?
The social philosopher Frithjof Bergmann (1930–2021) coined the term ‘new work’ in the 1970s, but there is no universally valid definition. But Bergmann was convinced that work should no longer be forced – people should do it because they want to, not because they have to.
Today, new work is a collective term, and its meaning and interpretation are constantly evolving. Digitalization and globalization are essential drivers of the new world of work. The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the development of a culture of hybrid collaboration across numerous industries and companies.
“New work – a win-win situation”
New work benefits both companies and employees. The idea behind it: When employers are more responsive to their employees’ individual needs, workers are more motivated and productive – and consequently achieve better results as a team.
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, a large-scale study by the renowned Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) found that the home office allows some people to work more effectively and efficiently and achieve a better work-life balance. For companies, on the other hand, the shortage of skilled workers makes it increasingly necessary to create suitable forms of work and working environments to attract and retain talent in the long term.
The opportunities and challenges of mobile work
Digital home-office meetings or working on projects on the laptop from the road: Mobile work is a core element of new work and offers employees flexibility. But just because teams only exchange information virtually doesn’t mean they will automatically meet with success.
Numerous studies, such as by the management and technology consultancy Detecon and the University of Münster, show that anonymity, little sense of community and trust, low media competence, and a lack of collaboration tools quickly negate the advantages of mobile working. That means that it is helpful to exchange ideas regularly in person, especially when it comes to complex tasks.
“New work takes technology, know-how, and leadership”
To fully exploit the advantages of new work, we need more than well-equipped home offices – it will take entirely new working environments and expertise, including technical and organizational competence and new leadership qualities among managers. New work requires trust and personal responsibility from each and every individual. And managers will have to step up to the plate to act as coaches on top of everything else. A change like this is challenging for companies and their employees. It will take time. Not least because, even in the era of new work, focusing on customers’ desires and expectations will remain crucial if companies want to be competitive.
How Audi is turning to new work
Against this backdrop, Audi is gearing up on its way to the working world of the future. Hybrid work will become the company standard in the “Better Normal” project. In pilot projects (or “test fields”) lasting several months, Audi is testing various elements of new work in Ingolstadt and Neckarsulm, each with around 150 employees. For example, newly designed office environments and equipment packages, including a desk-sharing concept for on-site work and mobile working in day-to-day business. We are creating more than just the technical framework for a smooth transition between the home office and corporate office work. Health care, an occupational safety concept, and company and data security are among our project’s central concerns.
Together with the Works Council, Audi is also working on concrete solutions for the areas that cannot work remotely. Among other things, the goal is to make working hours more flexible for better work-life balance, participate in digitization for all Audi employees, and optimize the work environment and ergonomics.
Audi will evaluate the results once the test fields conclude. The company and the Works Council will then decide how and to what extent elements of new work can best be implemented.