Working world 4.0 allows more freedom – Fraunhofer IAO


Working world 4.0 allows more freedom

A discussion with Prof. Dr.-Ing. Prof. e.h. Wilhelm Bauer, Managing Director, Fraunhofer Institute for Industrial Engineering IAO, Stuttgart and Dr. rer. pol. Ulrich P. Hermani, Senior Advisor, STAUFEN.AG

How will progressing digitization affect the working world of mechanical engineering? 

Hermani: Industry 4.0 will drastically change the working world of mechanical engineering. Digitization will have a fundamental impact on work content, work organization and qualifications. There will be shifts with regard to activities and workplaces. On the one hand, digitization will enable companies to increase their flexibility and productivity and open up new business areas. On the other hand, digitization off ers employees more opportunities for mobile and agile work, i.e. location-independent and time-flexible work and thus more compatibility between their work and private life.

Bauer: That‘s an important point for future working relationships. Today, our highly qualified employees want more freedom of choice regarding when and where they work. Employees demand freedoms that freelancers and crowdworkers already have today. Companies must face these challenges and enable corresponding flexible working models.  

Is there not the risk of employees exceeding their limits and becoming overwhelmed? 

Bauer: We now have more confidence than before that employees can manage their own time. There is a high level of competence and willingness to take responsibility for one’s own employment situation, to ensure that one’s own employability is maintained, i.e., life-long learning and skills development, as well as with regard to one’s own work situation and working conditions. We have to develop a new working culture. Key points in this context include working time regulations, time off and availability management. 

What role do executives play in this? 

Hermani: Executives must make sure that employees do not overreach themselves, but at the same time grant them the freedom to manage their own time. When we harmonize operational needs with the desires of employees, we create a win-win situation. Employees can improve their work-life balance and companies can make the most of their capacity. 

Bauer: We have to combine the freedom of individuals with the company‘s provisional or attention management and that through the central role of the executives. We need a culture of sensibility and trust among executives that is no longer characterized by announcement management, but rather by observation management: Executives look to see whether employees can cope with a high level of time management and achieve work results in good time and with the necessary quality.

Are there already executives like this? 

Hermani: In the working world 4.0, executives are faced with a wide range of new tasks. They have to manage permanently changing networks, adapt to new processes and leadership situations, and expand their relationship and network competence. As a network designer, they must lead highly qualified knowledge workers and adapt to new needs and value systems of “Generations Y and Z.” That requires a new style of leadership. 74 percent of companies participating in a 2016 survey from Staufen AG see a lack of knowledge among executives as a large or very large obstacle on the path toward Industry 4.0 in Germany.

Bauer: Among all companies – especially at the medium-sized level – we do not yet see executives who can adapt to changing leadership situations. Where should they come from? Leaders need to be transported to times of digital transformation and increasing use of cognitive systems. For this, digital management tools are required and competencies for mobile and networked work must be developed.

Don‘t we also have to adapt statutory and collective bargaining regulations for the working world 4.0?

Hermani: Laws and collective agreements must, in fact, be adapted. If we just think about observing a minimum rest period of 11 hours in the Working Hours Act. Or if an employee voluntarily works after 7 PM, they cannot claim a collective wage for working at night. As much of this as possible should be regulated at company level in company agreements and in direct agreements between the supervisor and the employee. Here, there is knowledge about the needs of company and employees. Businesses should not be shackled down by lawmakers and collective bargaining.

Bauer: I agree with that. I prefer things to be solved in a rational, fast, agile and timely manner. The further we go up into the system, the longer it takes and the less adapted it is to the market situation in an agile manner. Although collective bargaining partners must set a certain framework, companies must organize their working hours themselves.

Employees demand freedoms that
freelancers and crowdworkers already have today.

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