Nowadays, few go out on the streets on May 1st to demonstrate for better working conditions. For most people it's just a day off that's perfect for sleeping in, relaxing or going for a bike tour. However, 132 years after its premiere, "Labor Day" can also be used as an opportunity to reflect the working culture in one's own company. Where do we stand in 2018? To what extent have we managed to adapt working conditions to the challenges of the digital age? And where exactly should things be going?
The world of work has not changed as much as it has in decades. Start-ups and US-based Internet companies are setting the pace. They not only redefine products and entire industries, but also the way we work and how we manage.
What is Work 4.0 all about? The guarantees of success of the digital era – innovation and creativity – do not thrive in hermetically sealed departmental castles of strictly hierarchically managed companies in which employees execute commands in precisely defined terms. The parameters of a modern working culture summarized under the label of "New Work", which are geared towards sustainability, are agility, flexibility and mobility. A whole catalogue of instruments is available to implement them in day-to-day business, from the reduction of hierarchy levels to new office concepts. Sounds promising in theory. But how can the New Work project be implemented in one’s own company? And lastly, where do we even begin?
We at "SAINT ELMO'S Tourism Marketing" made our way to New Work quite a while ago. Or rather to the expedition – after all, we're breaking new ground with almost every step of the way. We knew that New Work was not just a facelift or minor interventions in the workflow to reduce costs. With this project, a radical change is on the agenda that brings great challenges in the areas of corporate culture and leadership, spaces and IT equipment.
As an executive, you not only give the starting signal for the new world of work, you have to set an example yourself. If the cultural and structural change process doesn't begin at the management level, the journey to New Work quickly ends in a dead end. For managers, this means first and foremost redefining their own self-image. Leadership 4.0 is a service, not a privilege. It's important to create a culture of change and to shape the change together with the employees instead of dictating it to them from above. All managers must take on the role of moderators and create a common whole made of many ideas and opinions. Our experience shows that acting consistently according to this maxim is a challenge.
When we travel to New Work, we are challenged to find a way for the whole team; one in which everyone has his role and his place. Every member of the travel group must feel comfortable and have the chance to develop according to their individual needs, wishes and potential. Therefore, it was important to us to add the personal touch and put the people in the foreground on our common journey, not the methodology and the (theoretical) possibilities.
We’ve now implemented the first measures and individual models for individual employees. We have had many positive experiences, but have also repeatedly encountered obstacles.
The subject of agility cannot be ignored in agency business. The tasks and challenges are constantly changing, which is why job rotations and further developments have been standard with us for years. For many members of the team, this opens up new perspectives and opportunities for change. We conduct personal feedback and potential discussions and define common goals so that the targeted development can be driven forward proactively on both sides. Open doors and a cooperative management style are not a future project for us. We live them today. Team spirit doesn't work by wishing, but rather is the special responsibility of the employees responsible for it. Experienced colleagues act as mentors and the managing directors support others as coaches and sparring partners. In addition, a separate Employee GmbH was founded to actively involve the team in the company and its planning. The GmbH is a colorful mix of executives, account managers, creative heads, controlling experts and the management, i.e. from different areas and competences.
But for us, fixed working hours and locations are history. We've introduced working times based on trust with a core time of 10 am to 4 pm. Thus early birds and night owls can work and live according to their personal daily rhythm. Mobile office has existed for years and in many forms. Two colleagues, for example, spend most of the time working on the road. A mother of two children works half-days in Traunstein and comes to the headquarters in Munich only sporadically – that allows us to keep a great project manager who has been working for us for over 13 years. A social media manager is still studying and does his work where it's needed: on the mountain, with clients, but only in the office every few months. And another colleague has moved her life to Bucharest – we didn't want to lose her and so allowed her to use co-working spaces at Serviceplan on site.
The fact that our team is spread over several locations in Germany, Austria and Italy does not make it easier to support and challenge employees in a personalized way and at the same time coordinate cooperation. The more people switching to Mobile Office or residing in other countries, the more personal contact and exchange, that 'let's have a cup of coffee', will be lost. The feeling of togetherness quickly suffers as a result. For this, platforms are important for connecting everyone. My projects aren't, there is a 'we', and we appreciate each other, even if not all are present in person. We've introduced fixed Monday rounds in which we exchange information digitally on internal topics, projects, dates, customers and cases. At the same time, we cultivate solidarity and bring everyone up to the same level of information. This exchange is complemented by digital tools such as Trello, although connectivity has not yet been optimally implemented due to technical obstacles like missing WLAN equipment. In order to work even more closely together in terms of project management and quality management, both in terms of location and across disciplines, change management is currently being pushed. The goal is implementation by the end of 2018.
We are also currently working on desk sharing and changing workplaces in the company to create new motivations in teams. In all units, there are free places where one can work alone, but also get together in new groups. We also promote specialist units and exchange with other departments. This is precisely where it becomes apparent how different the needs of individual employees are. While some call for constantly shifting teams and changes, others find it stressful when they don't sit in the same place every day.
The journey to New Work is a process that requires a new way of thinking for all involved. New Work cannot be introduced by the company like a new IT tool. Only everyone involved can breathe life into the project. It stands or falls with trust on all sides and team cohesion. If a member of the travel group does not play by the rules, there is a risk that the process will come to a standstill. Like an expedition, it only works together.
The New Work philosophy leads, if it is consistently implemented, to a win-win situation for both employees and companies. The colleagues find more fulfilment in their jobs, have more fun and are more satisfied. Anyone who's satisfied with their job will achieve more and pass this satisfaction on to their clients. And this is reflected in the turnover. This is indicated by research and we too have had the experience. If everyone takes an active part in shaping it, motivated employees together lead to enthusiastic customers – and to lasting success. At present, our employees have been with us for almost five years, which is very high by comparison, and our clients remain loyal to us for an average of 12.5 years.
A journey is not a holiday but sometimes quite strenuous. This also applies to the trip to New Work. But the effort pays off in the long run, for the individual employee, the entire team and the company. We are convinced that living New Work to the max is hard work – but it leads step by step to Happy Work. It means gaining experience, growing into the new and continuing undeterred. The good thing is that although the literature shows what is possible in terms of methodology, there is no right or wrong. There is no golden rule. So we continue to follow our intuition and set up rules as a team with which we all have a good feeling – and which are based on trust, appreciation, individuality and team spirit.
In the spirit of the British-American management consultant Simon Sinek, it's important to learn from set-backs and to question the course taken time and again and ask why? (Why do we want to do this?) How? (How do we do it?) and what? (And which steps shall we take?)
We haven't arrived in New Work for a long time, but we have already reached some stage goals and collected some great memories. We remain courageous and will always try out new ideas – and write the continuation of our travel diary together.