If you’re a geek about innovation, the modern economy and the new shifts in patterns of working life (like me) you’ve probably seen the term New Work popping up everywhere on your LinkedIn and Instagram…but what is New Work? Is it just a descriptive term? Is there a bigger concept behind the buzz phrase? And is it just about the new ways we work now, or is it about the future of work? As someone who started their career in the New Work world, let me explain to you what New Work stands for and why I totally love it!
What is New Work?
New Work is an umbrella term for many different innovative practices and an answer to the current Zeitgeist or, for those who haven’t heard the German term, the current situation of the modern working world. When you Google a definition of New Work, you’ll find many different things; New Work is an umbrella term encompassing many different fields and aspects of work. After a lot of research, I found this definition that I really like:
“New Work is the transformation of organizational structures and human behaviors to boost purpose and performance for both company and people at work. It is an attempt for knowledge workers to make a radical shift from alignment to value creation culture. It is a response to both the increasingly unpredictable economy, and the increased desire for social change. It encompasses all areas and functions of the organization in both mindset and practices: Culture, Organization Model, Leadership, and Workflow.”
A sneak peak into a New Work Agency
But what does a day in the life of a “New Worker” look like and what is it like to work in a 21st-century agile organization? Typical values in progressive organizations are trust, courage, ownership, transparency, accountability, equal worth, self-reliance, psychological safety, and decentralization. Usually the organization structure changes from hierarchies to networks of teams built around end-to-end accountability, and that are flexible and highly adaptable to quick changes.
The leadership style lets go of the outdated command-and-control culture, and the task of the leader is to build trust, empower and coach the employee. The employee becomes comfortable with a higher level of ownership, accountability and decision-making. New Work organizations embrace a failure culture and an agile mindset that pushes the employees to take risks and constantly iterate by using feedback loops. Another aspect of agile organizations is the importance of transparency, to stimulate the information flow and access to data which makes it possible to make better and quicker decisions.
As mentioned earlier New Work is a culture and mindset shift, but also a combination of many different practices. At Berlin Innovation Agency (or BIA), the New Work agency I’ve been working for, we practice what we preach. Let me take you along my week and I’ll give you a sneak peak of our working culture, processes, project management and workflow.
At BIA you have a lot of freedom to choose when, where and how to work. There has been a lot of trust given to the employee, but with this trust comes more ownership and responsibility for the given role, which creates a hyper motivating environment. Team members really know the mission driving their work: “a better world needs better organizations” is really visible in all the employees’ work. Working at BIA means purposeful work, with the purpose of creating better organizations. Employee ownership and individual autonomy is expected and promoted, and my team members really feel integrated and actively engaged in shaping their workplace and bringing the company purpose alive.
However, with more ownership and autonomy also comes a higher level of transparency. That’s why we have weekly feedback sessions and 1-1’s to align with our team members and to identify in which areas we could improve. We also have different meeting formats to increase transparency, agility and team productivity. Every day at 9.45 AM we have a quick and sharp 15 min meeting in which each team member mentions what the main priorities are for the day and where somebody needs more help or feedback. This daily standup is really helpful to know what my other colleagues are working on and to have the chance to ask for help where needed.
What I totally loved when I started working at BIA is the check-in we do at each meeting, during the check-in each participant shares what mindset they are bringing to the table before the work conversation starts, one at a time. It’s a chance to get present and check-in as human beings. Another part of our agile work processes is the team weekly on Monday, which is a mixture of a retrospective and a structured meeting. Each weekly has a timekeeper and a facilitator to keep the meeting productive and documented; during the meeting we look back on our previous week to build learnings into our team, projects and initiatives. We also make time for observing what we as a team can do better next time, and to define what worked and what didn’t work. Of course it’s super important to also make it fun and make time for gratitude, recognition and celebration, that’s why we end our meetings with shout-outs. Shout-outs answer the question, who did something great in the past week? The shout-outs really build a strong sense of team and community that boost our productivity!
At BIA we have a small team, and things can change quite quickly and it can also feel a bit chaotic from time to time. But that’s inherent in the startup culture right? We have a culture of learning by doing, experimentation and flexibility. However, to increase our learnings we ritualize the practice of giving, receiving and acting on feedback. Providing feedback means we can adapt more quickly and collaborate more effectively.
Why New Work matters
Sounds great, doesn’t it?
As a millennial who loves creating impact – ironically quoting Simon Sinek who has made some statements about the millennial generation on the workfloor yearning for more purpose in their job – I do think it sounds great. But irony apart, I do want to create an impact in my current and future job. I would rather earn less but have a job that I sincerely enjoy doing and where I feel like I can learn everyday and develop myself personally and professionally.
But New Work culture and mindset does matter, and not only to Millennials, also Generation Z who are now entering the workforce and place purpose above remuneration. New ways of managing employees pays on the short and long term, the effect of New Work on employee engagement is huge. According to Kununu Engage it increases employee loyalty by 58 percent, decision-making by 83 percent and productivity by 20 percent.
So if you’re reading this and you are becoming a New Work aficionado just like me, I hope I could give you a better understanding of what the buzzword is all about and I inspire you to embrace change, and maybe even become a change maker in your organization.