In the transition from the industrial age to the age of knowledge work, the relationship between employees and their organization changes fundamentally. Dependent workers increasingly become independent knowledge workers who carry their means of production in their heads. The organization is therefore more dependent on knowledge workers than vice versa. In this transition, the network replaces the hierarchy as the leading organizational principle. Leadership is therefore no longer based on subordination and obedience, but now aims at the self-leadership of the people entrusted to it.
For Winston Churchill it was crystal clear that without courage all other virtues would become meaningless. It is not only in society and politics that we need courage more urgently today than we have in a long time; more would also benefit our companies and their employees. We need courage to make traditional organizations fit for the future. The current absolutist-hierarchical building principle has finally served its purpose. In the age of digitalization and knowledge work, our companies require a new enlightenment with a more consistent separation of powers. Immanuel Kant’s motto for the Enlightenment should therefore stand above every gate: “Dare to know! Have the courage to use your own intelligence!”
While trying to do concentrated work amidst colleagues on the phone or in discussions, I regularly wish to return to the quiet library from my student days. With all due respect to collaboration and teamwork, but there are times when people need to think and work alone and quietly. Until now I attributed my inability to work effectively in open-plan offices to my more introverted nature, but now it is scientifically confirmed that the concept of open-plan offices is fundamentally flawed. Studies by Ethan Bernstein of Harvard Business School and Stephen Turban of Harvard University clearly show that, contrary to popular belief, open-plan offices do not promote, but rather impede face-to-face encounters between colleagues. So it’s not (only) me.
Sustainability could be defined as a principle according to which no more should be consumed than can be replenished, regenerated or made available again in the future. Usually we think in macroscopic dimensions of our environment when it comes to sustainability. For me, however, sustainability begins on a much smaller scale, with myself and the sustainable use of my own personal resources, such as time, energy and knowledge. It is time to talk about relics from the industrial age and especially about how effective and sustainable the strict temporal and spatial separation of work and life (as if work were not life!) in terms of eight-hour work days really is.
Knowledge work requires concentration. To this end, universities have libraries in which one can focus on studying. In most of our companies there are no such zones for uninterrupted work. The credo there is teamwork and its highest value is communication. The results are working days that consist mostly of scheduled or spontaneous meetings with blocks of work in between that are too short for any meaningful in-depth work and are only used to respond to the flood of e-mails accumulated during these meetings or that are more or less entertainingly wasted on the smartphone. All this in open-plan offices with noise levels that reduce any form of concentrated knowledge work to absurdity anyway or only make it tolerable through isolation with noise cancelling headphones.