New Work – Old wine in new bottles?? Blackboat Bootcamp 2019

Middle of May I participated in the New Work Bootcamp of Blackboat in Hamburg. This inspired the article.

In the mid-1990s I visited a software development company that was working for banks and grew exponentially. Full of pride they showed me their recreation area with table football tables. In German, they are called “Kickertische” and loved by young and old in the private sphere. Having these and some other trinkets made them believe that they implemented the “Silicon Valley” culture in their company. My question of how they were developing new project managers proactively to meet the demand for new projects did not endear me to them. Their culture felt “industrial” but not agile. Two years later, the company went bankrupt. Kickertische alone were not doing the trick.

New Work is a term that is getting more attention in the last two to three years. The term is currently defined by action and various publications. In the discussion, you find old friends such as teamwork, holocracy, intrinsic motivation, self-management, attractive design of the work environment and the intensive use of communication technologies. All these topics are not new. They were the core of my consulting to corporations in the 1990s. With my colleagues, primarily from the USA, we explored at the discussion platform Metanet (Arlington, Washington D.C.) these topics already. The dawn of a new period of work organization and culture inspired us all. But disillusionment was on the heals. Immature communication technologies, slow Internet connection, and a work-force formed by the industrial organization paradigm slowed down innovative forms of organization.

So what’s new with New Work? Is it just old wine in new bottles?

New Work has two main drivers. Firstly, companies have to be “innovative-productive” and secondly enable human beings to have flow at work. Please take note, that I did not use the term work-force but human beings.

Per capita productivity in industrialized nations stagnates for years. This does not impact the profit of companies nor the income of employees in a positive way. Competition is global, and new disruptive players enter the market. Linked to New Work I recommend the first chapter of Aaron Dignan’s book. „Brave new work: are you ready to reinvent your organization?” (Dignan, 2019).

Companies had to be productive (and innovative) through history. But now they have to be rather “innovative-productive” exponentially than incrementally. Innovation works with human beings that are burning for their work and are in the flow. Four of out five employees are not. They are actively disengaged or not engaged. As an example sees Gallup’s studies. They report this trend internationally for many years already (Gallup Employee Engagement Scores – OECD Countries 2013).

The challenge of being "innovative-productive" drives New Work

Enable flow for people at work!

Enabling people to have flow at their workplace is essential to design “innovative-productive” organizations. The organizations which do not implement this are either in a monopoly situation or they will have most probably been merged or left the market.

New Work enables flow!

Why am I optimistic that New Work is not “old wine in new bottles”?

Since the mid-1990s, two elements have changed significantly.

  • The maturity of communication technology.
  • People that (want to) work creative-innovative

Communication technology – Today, there are mature ERP systems (e.g. SAP, Microsoft Dynamics, Salesforce) which in connection with Google Drive, Microsoft Teams or Slack allow flat and decentralized organizational structures. 

People who work creative-innovative – There were always people who have worked in a creative-innovative way. New is the great portion of the work-force! This is especially true for technology-minded and people. With the right skill-set, they are in a strong position to demand a New Work environment in the company they are working or otherwise they move to another one.

New Work Bootcamp 2019

The Bootcamp was dedicated to designing the technical as well office environment, with the required culture for New Work. It was a joy for me to meet competent presenters and facilitators and be part of a New Work community. Congratulations to the Blackboat Crew to organize the successful event. Thank you to the participants for open communication and interaction. The start-up spirit of the 1990s is back again!

Sources – Links

Blackboat Bootcamp. (2019). Retrieved 19.05. 2019, from Blackboat

Dignan, Aaron. (2019). Brave new work: are you ready to reinvent your organization? New York: Penguin Books.

Gallup. (2013). Gallup Employee Engagement Scores – OECD Countries 2013. Retrieved May, 19 2019 this