Markus Väth is one of Germany's leading minds in the field of New Work, managing director of humanfy, author of several books on New Work, lecturer on New Work and organizational development, and developer of the New Work Charter, which is among the topics of our conversation. We talked with Mr. Väth about the bridge between social utopia and economy, about work we really, really want and work robots may take over, and finally about the historically evolved education system. In six crisp questions and answers, Mr. Väth provides us with inspiring food for thought about all these topics and more.
Our New Work Charta was born out of two different impulses. The first objective was to reconcile Frithjof Bergmann's original New Work approach with the business world. In doing so, we wanted to move away from modern, hyped movements like agile and toward putting New Work on solid footing.
Bergmann saw New Work as a social utopia. How can we connect his view with companies that have profit-making as their intention? The answer to this question are our 5 principles of New Work: freedom, personal responsibility, meaning, development and social responsibility. They represent an attempt to reconcile the original concept with modern business.
The second impulse was provided by my experience from 15 years of individual coaching. In doing so, I was able to determine that the 5 factors of the New Work Charta are also those 5 principles that drive change in people and ultimately cause people to dare something new.
This is exactly why our New Work Charta is the only model that consistently propagates 5 principles for New Work that apply not only to companies, but also to people and society.
In fact, with people it is always a life development that does not have to be limited to the field of work. Many people who come to me reflect on their lives and consider how they will continue and what they can draw strength from. This can be, for example, people in life crises or during a burnout, but also simply someone who wants to take a new career step.
If a person in such a situation wants to change, then the 5 principles of New Work apply. Because actually, New Work is work that you really, really want and that matches your own strengths and needs. Note that we are talking about work here, not a job. It doesn't matter whether this work is paid or unpaid. Care work or volunteer work can also be work that you really, really want. The 5 principles of New Work are helpful in that they help us discover or recognise this work individually.
The New Work Charta has not changed at all, because its principles were intentionally designed to be so abstract that each company can shape their implementation individually. Questions such as how to place the workforce, how to structure processes, etc. fall into this.
However, since the pandemic, specific New Work terms have become popular, such as hybrid work, home office, remote work, but also work time and work location sovereignty. This autonomy of when and where I can work is very hyped at the moment and is of course important, but really only a specific part of New Work.
At the same time, there are many topics that are not being talked about today but will become very important in the future. I'm thinking of new power distributions, new leadership and a culture of participation. Another aspect is the concept of working time. We will be discussing this more in one or two decades, but even today there is already the buzzword of "short full-time" working 30 hours a week. In my opinion, such models will become more attractive.
Furthermore, the question arises as to what kind of work we humans will be paid for in the future. More and more tasks are being taken over by AI and robots, digital productivity is increasing while that of humans is decreasing. Our society is running into this dilemma right now, so in the long run, New Work also has to answer the question of how productivity will be distributed, what kind of work people will be paid for, and how people will be trained to live in a society with less paid or insufficiently paid human labor.
The biggest challenge for me is clearly that we don't forget blue collar workers. New Work is currently an elite discussion because we are talking exclusively about office workers. These make up between 40 and 50% of the working population in Germany. The remaining 50 to 60% have nothing of New Work today, because thinkers and companies care too little about it.
At the moment, we are at a crossroads that will determine whether New Work will be for the entire working society or will remain an elite project for office workers.
I believe that the home office hype will slow down and a hybrid work model with two to three days of home office per week will become common. Not only numerous studies, such as from McKinsey, but also master's theses, which I personally supervise, come to this conclusion.
The need for and the implementation of home office will therefore normalise. At the same time, however, the same must become more professional. Until now, we have worked in a makeshift system consisting of home office, home schooling and the kitchen wall. There is still a lot to be done in the area of (digital) infrastructure, VPN channels, software and more.
Yes, I think that a change in the education system will be necessary. Although this is not directly part of New Work, it plays into the field. Today, in every public education system in the world, there is the same hierarchy: technology and science at the top, humanities below that, and the arts at the bottom. This hierarchy of teaching content has existed since the 19th century and has worked just fine so far. However, it needs to be restructured for our new world of work. We must therefore now ask ourselves what hierarchy we, or rather our children, will need in order to master New Work. I see this as one of the most exciting questions of the next 30 years.
Thank you very much, Mr. Väth, for this interesting discussion full of impulses and food for thought!