Digitalization has been reaching into all areas of our daily working lives, and its impacts are now more visible than ever before. More and more companies are letting their employees work from home. Videoconferences are increasingly supplanting in-person meetings, and digital collaboration is trending upward.
Ulrike Volejnik, T-Systems expert for new forms of collaboration, advises companies in the area of "new work." We spoke with her about the strengths of this new approach.
Digitalization is having a profound and continuing impact on how we work. What social factors are profoundly changing our workplaces?
Ulrike Volejnik: We have now reached the point where we can do just about anything with our phones, whether we're talking about banking, switching on our car's air conditioner or buying train tickets. It seems like there's an app for everything. We've gotten used to always being available and to always having whatever we want available. And we want to take these lifestyles with us into our workplaces. We want to work in new ways. We want to get away from routine and be more creative, and we want solutions that enhance our companies' productivity.
We want to work in new ways, away from routine and towards creative services and solutions.
What is new work all about?
Ulrike Volejnik:New work always combines theory and practice, technology and fresh approaches, and digital processes and IT systems. As digitalization intensifies, we need to rethink our traditional and conventional work processes. The aim is to create viable, progressive work environments that will support companies' long-term competitiveness. Agile work, which plays a central role in this concept, is about give and take. It gives employees more space for their own decisions, while also requiring them to take significant responsibility, structure their own work and exercise discipline.
From an employer's market to an employee's market: What does that mean for companies?
Ulrike Volejnik: Skilled personnel are in greater demand today than ever before. At the same time – and this may even be the result of that demand – we're seeing clear shifts in the things employees expect of their employers. Today's employees want more from their workplace than simply a 40-hour work week and a salary that will cover their rent. The generation now reaching the labor market is looking for flexibility, investments in employees' growth and development – and freedom. In addition, they want practical, realistic options for their work-life balance, and they expect their employer to actively support them in this area. Companies need to understand that the investments they make in their employees' development and skills are investments in their own future. Companies need to actively orient their processes to these new circumstances – technologically, organizationally and in their corporate cultures. By doing so, they will gain satisfied, willing employees, and that will positively affect their value creation.
The generation now reaching the labour market is looking for flexibility, development and freedom.
Should employers expect a long and difficult transition period?
Ulrike Volejnik: Not necessarily. Digitalization now offers a range of tools that can simplify and accelerate this process. As employers use such tools, however, they need to be mindful of their real business needs. They need to take individualized measures and avoid "watering-can" approaches that lack the necessary differentiation. While new work and agile work are always applied in keeping with companies' specific needs, they ultimately always revolve around openness toward changes and around the tools used to manage changes.
What digital tools are available to support collaboration within companies?
Ulrike Volejnik: Unfortunately, there are no one-size-fits-all solutions. Fortunately, digitalization has brought a wide range of tools and applications that facilitate work and structure it in intuitively pleasing ways. Such tools range from applications for setting up digital workplaces, to location-independent, cross-functional tools for team collaboration, and to smart workplace infrastructures. To be effective, such tools and apps need to be easy to use, need to offer added value for employees, in their specific work contexts, and need to be fully integrated.
The important thing is that the tools are easy to use and provide added value for the employees.
Could you give us a specific example?
Ulrike Volejnik: In cooperation with Schwan Cosmetics, the global market leader in manufacturing cosmetic pencils, we have developed an augmented-reality solution that makes it possible to provide remote support for repairs and routine maintenance work for complex production machinery. With the Microsoft HoloLens, service technicians at the company's production sites around the world can have experts in Germany look over their shoulder, and provide support as needed, in near real time. This has significantly enhanced communication between the experts and service technicians. At the same time, it has reduced machine downtime, and thereby enhanced compliance with delivery dates. Furthermore, the company has been able to cut the costs it normally incurred, for the German experts' travel and worktime, by about 90 percent.
All of these measures call for stable IT systems. What role do IT partners play in them?
Ulrike Volejnik: New work and digital work become feasible when integration of the necessary systems and information within employees' existing work environments is painless, legally compliant and free of media discontinuities. In addition, such systems have to offer simple, secure data management, options for process automation, and mobile data access – to mention just a few of the applicable requirements. Needless to say, a company's ability to meet such requirements depends centrally on having a partner who can provide comprehensive cloud services – and who has extensive experience in managing the technical and cultural intricacies that such change projects can entail. In our customer projects, we know what works best: an agile approach, with early-phase user/department involvement and prototype development. With that kind of an approach, in cooperation with our customers, we quickly see whether a given tool or automated process is making its planned contribution to the customer's strategic aims for digitalization.
It is necessary for companies to operate more quickly and flexibly. This is the only way to ensure competitiveness.
In the end, success is what counts. Do investments in digitalization pay off?
Ulrike Volejnik: Where projects involve process automation, measurable added value quickly appears. In the case of new models for collaboration, combined with evolutions of corporate culture, the desired changes cannot be completed overnight. I am convinced that companies are wise to begin investing in "new work" now, however. Digitalization and globalization are making it possible – and necessary – for companies to operate more quickly and flexibly. With the new potential available to them, companies can focus more effectively on their customers' individual needs, in the interest of their long-term business success. And companies clearly need such a focus, if they want to stay competitive.
Read our White paper to learn more about the digital workplaces of tomorrow and about how companies are implementing "new work."
Ulrike Volejnikis responsible for T-Systems' New Work Business Area, where she and the area's some 500 employees are designing the digital workplace of tomorrow. In her current function, she supports companies undergoing digital transformations. She has been a member of the management at T-Systems Multimedia Solutions GmbH since 2012. She is a co-author of the book "Erfolgsfaktor Change Communications" ("Change communications as a success factor") and has written a number of specialist articles and presentations.