As designers, we deal daily with innovations and therefore also with how and where we find new ideas. We let ourselves be inspired by our environment, the people, the conditions, the nature. That is why for us work has never been the simple definition of labour multiplied by working time that is widespread in the economic field. We understand work more as one of the many other definitions: as purposeful, social, planned and conscious, physical and mental activity, as a process of man’s confrontation with nature, and this no longer for the immediate securing of existence or self-preservation.
We want to make the world a little better, easier and more comfortable with our ideas, products and services. The idea of New Work is therefore also exciting for us because it is an innovation that is explained and brought closer to people at this stage and whose meaning, necessity and possible applications must first be demonstrated before it is accepted by the masses, implemented and is no longer an innovation.
A kicker brings no New Work
New Work is one of the circulating buzzwords, which is filled with content differently by each company and each individual employee. Most of the time it is exclusively about the improvement of working conditions. But home office, flexible working hours, a new management culture, a football table or fruit basket are far from being the core of New Work. It is therefore worth going back to the beginnings of this movement and then looking at the developments.
A social utopia from the 1980s
Frithjof Bergmann, an American philosopher born in 1930, after working in various odd jobs, studying philosophy and teaching at various universities in America, finally formulated his idea of New Work in the 1980s. It contains three main pillars, which to this day seem almost too radical to have any chance of being implemented in their entirety. They are wage labour, promoting high-tech self-sufficiency and pursuing a professional vision.
However, today’s discussions often focus exclusively on the last point. Questions are asked about decent, meaningful work and the optimal development of work-related skills. At the same time, it is a question of modernising organisations, of thinking about what a fair, effective, moderately capitalist working society might look like and how all this can be achieved.
Bergmann is therefore talking about much more than isolated measures, it is about the whole. Man should be rethought in his work. It’s not about finding a job that’s fun, because fun is arbitrary. It is about finding out who you are, what you really, really want to do and how you want to live.
Three main pillars become five principles
Today we are confronted with the changes in the world of work due to digitalisation. Value chains are changing, as are the values and expectations of employees and managers. At the same time, the markets are also undergoing changes that shorten production cycles, create complex structures, make it impossible to plan and demand a new way of thinking. Markus Väth has taken this as an opportunity to relate Bergmann’s social utopia to the economy. He concentrates on five principles that are reflected in everyday business life: Freedom, personal responsibility, sense, development and social responsibility.
It is important to him that you actively engage with new ideas and topics. To do this, new methods of cooperation, new architectural concepts, new management models and production processes must be tested. Making mistakes is explicitly allowed. In addition, self-organisation and regulation should be encouraged and the employee should be involved in the success of the company. He also takes up the question of sense: Employees are deployed and supported according to their strengths and needs. Questions about the sense of the work and the what for are asked and answered. In order that urgently needed innovations can be developed, the creative talents of employees are specifically encouraged. They should learn from each other and thus also develop personally. They should test and reject, reflect themselves and constantly improve. In all this, the environment with its natural resources and the protection of these should never be lost sight of. Commitment to society, science, technology and culture, also outside the company, will be supported.
In whatever way, every company must find its own way. There is no right or wrong. However, the origins and explanations show that it is much more than just improving certain working conditions. And we already know and feel it clearly: The innovation New Work must be pushed forward because the old working world will soon no longer exist in this form due to the new demands of customers and employees.
Markus Väth, Arbeit – Die schönste Nebensache der Welt. Wie New Work unsere Arbeitswelt revolutioniert. (Offenbach, 2016)
Frithjof Bergmann: Neue Arbeit, Neue Kultur. (Freiburg 2004)