New Work – is it possible in established organisations?

It seems like start-ups have something like a birth-right or a design protection for the concept and content of new work. At first glance it seems like this…but new work can also work in established companies if the concept is properly thought through! And people who work in mature organisations also like to have the opportunity to work in this way.

In general, this common connection of start-ups and new work is justified. Young companies are beginning to work through a huge mountain of topics and problems with verve and enthusiasm. Everything is new in the start-up phase, at least for the company and often also for the team.

Enthusiasm, euphoria and pioneering spirit are the fuel for this phase. Work and life become blurred – and last but not least, everything can and may be re-imagined and re-designed.

This results in work styles that fit into the new work lifestyle. Their main characteristic: They are rarely comparable to each other.

They are different due to many things:

  • the companies are different, they do different things or are in different sectors
  • different phases in the development of the business
  • they are located in different regions

Actually, New Work provides a broad scope for design and not a fixed concept. It is first and foremost a label. The substance lies behind the label and it is important to define it for your own use.

Ideally new work should be rooted in the DNA of a company. But it can be done later, too!

 In plain language: It makes sense to start the design process towards the New Work culture with the company itself. New Work begins, of course, with the founders. Their mentality and work ethic shape a unique version of New Work.

The first agreement on New Work should therefore be reached between the founders. For example, with a kick-off workshop in which the “Go’s” and “No goes” are defined together. This should be done both for the group of founders and for the group of people that is to form the first team.

The journey is the reward

 Another platitude – but unfortunately true!

After a very open founding phase with a high level of commitment and an urgency to get things going, routines and areas of acceptance emerge.

This is a quite common process. It reflects the individual learning processes and those of the system. This happens gradually, almost imperceptibly. Whether looking at the working hours or the private activities before, after and during work, the balance between reinventing and working out or the interaction between managers and employees – a culture develops for these and other issues. Culture, that means accepting certain types of behaviour and not accepting others.

And this is where the difficulties begin. New Work is just a vague, broad term. Everyone can understand it differently. And sometimes you want that… Out of self-interest and for your own protection.

When it comes to introducing New Work principles, it is often understood in a way that one can best use right now. This is extremely human and in a certain sense legitimate if the company’s New Work culture is not clear and, above all, not agreed on. What initially was a deliberate ambiguity, intended as an invitation for everyone to think about the present and future way of working, at some point starts to turn against the initiators. It’s time to establish clarity!

A New Work concept needs understanding for different life situations

When the creativity of the initial phase becomes less important, when the first promising structures become apparent in the business model, then other mentalities are required – e.g. a get-shit-done mentality, punctuality and reliability.

The individual company concept for the introduction of New Work requires an understanding of the different life situations and orientations of the system members. Otherwise the new culture will not survive.

The concept of New Work a company launches with, has half-lives. And in the start-up phase – the first 1-2 years – these half-lives are quite short. Experience has shown that a 6-month rhythm is appropriate for reviewing and updating your own new work concept.

The most important questions when introducing a New Work concept

 Actually it is always about the same thing, namely about answering the following questions:

  • What does our business need in the current phase?
  • What do our top performers need in their current life situation?
  • What does the combination of both the above look like?
  • What rules of the game can we agree on & do we need to agree on?

A good concept of introducing New Work links the business needs for services with the living environments of those who provide these services.

A feeling for business and people is just as important as ambition and pragmatism. A founder can bring all of this or it can be represented in the team – and it can be generated again and again in a workshop with external support.

In the development process, a rather monolithic starting culture is to be developed into a multi-layered performer culture. A role differentiation that goes along with the culture becomes more important. People have to be integrated according to their possibilities. Possibilities include time availability, professional competence and personal drive. Improvisation is channelled through agreed rules.

Are these instructions on the way to building up a “normal company”?  –  Yes and no!

Yes because there are many issues that conventional companies also have to address before the introduction of New Work can be successful. Amongst others, issues can be working hours, leadership understanding and performance targets.

And no because with a New Work culture, different talents and life situations can be combined into a performance network.

What remains of the day

Companies and their culture always represent the spirit of an epoch. They do things differently and they also influence their immediate and wider environment. In this way, they also shape epochs which are always easier to recognize and describe in retrospect than when you are right in the middle of them.

The companies that start to develop new performance systems in terms of content, organization and people today, will also shape what we call the future.