New Work: “Actively tackling opportunities”
Author: Jana Bronsch-Chassard
Professor Bruch, has so-called New Work received an additional boost from the pandemic?
Bruch: The results of our current studies show a sharp jump in adoption of new work concepts. Coronavirus restrictions have led to significantly more people working from home, virtual teamwork, and more use of digital technologies. However, other aspects of more modern forms of work have not changed, such as greater self-determination or working in fluid teams. This is significant because there are still enormous opportunities in terms of developing a New Work culture.
For many companies, the restructuring of work was an organizational tour de force. But has it also brought about changes in workplace culture?
Bruch: Our “New Work & Culture Check” shows that although forms of work have changed, corporate culture has hardly evolved at all. Team structures have become slightly more flexible, and agile methods are also being used more in individual cases. However, some key success factors of New Work haven’t yet changed enough: a culture of trust, modern leadership, and self-competencies that employees need in order to work in flexible structures triggered by the crisis. With regard to the urgently developed new forms of work, there’s often talk of “the new normal”.
Is the flexible working environment becoming a normal condition or are you already noticing a longing for old patterns?
Bruch: For many companies, the changes caused by COVID-19 are an immense opportunity to adopt New Work principles on an accelerated timeline. It’s precisely this opportunity that companies now need to actively tackle in order to systematically develop this culture of leadership and collaboration, and to actively strengthen a modern way of working. Above all, this transformation requires commitment from senior management.
How can companies use the impact catalyst positively and sustainably for themselves?
Bruch: Firstly, an awareness for the urgency of cultural development must be created. This requires not only a clear positioning statement by top management, but also a vision of the future for the new beginning, which employees can use as a guide. Only when everyone understands the Why and clear priorities are set, will everyone pull in the same direction.
How should managers be acting – currently and generally – if they wish to sustainably pursue New Work?
Bruch: To avoid a leadership vacuum, modern leadership should be consciously reinforced through empowerment and active leadership skills development. Uncertainties are absorbed through clear communication of action-leading New Work rules – combined with resilience training, managers can protect their employees from exhaustion and enable healthy high performance. In addition to the conscious development of the company’s DNA, this is necessary to successfully enter the new working world and establish a sustainable New Work culture.
What learning effects has the working environment experienced during the pandemic in recent months?
Bruch: Many companies and employees who were unsure whether mobile and flexible work would go well in their organizations were positively surprised and have now gained personal experience. Many companies showed enormous agility during the crisis: Employees tackled problems pragmatically, rapidly and cooperatively – there was an extremely positive energy. What previously would have been dismissed as unthinkable became possible under pressure. More change was implemented in six months than in the last three years. What can we take from this? Courage, speed, and trust in people and their commitment to a common future.
About the Person
Prof. Dr. Heike Bruch is a Professor for Leadership at the University of St. Gallen, where she heads the Institute for Leadership and Human Resource Management. She is a board member of the German Society for Human Resource Management (DGFP), advises top executives throughout Europe on leadership and cultural change, and founded ‘energy factory St. Gallen’ in 2006. Heike Bruch is one of the 100 most successful women in Switzerland. She has been awarded several times for her work as a leading scientist in personnel research in German-speaking countries. Her work focuses on “Energy & Dynamics”, “Leadership Transformation”, “Speed”, as well as “New Leadership & Work”.