knowledge work

The 'new' face of office work

'Knowledge workers' account for more than 50% of all employees in Germany. Knowledge workers’ activities often involve close cooperation with customers and project partners. Their daily work activities involve creativity, teamwork and the maintenance of networks.

Networking and direct communication

Social media have changed the nature of contact between companies/brands and their customers. Traditional communication channels have been supplemented by direct sharing via (video) chatting and (micro-) blogs. This enables companies to react directly to their customers’ wishes. Direct contact with customers requires that company employees are able to quickly comprehend customers’ expressed wishes and find the best solution, either independently or in cooperation with their colleagues.

of all companies with 20 or more employees use social media to communicate with their customers.

Source: Bitkom, 2015

Customized clothes and smart products

New production technologies are another driver of change. Materials, flexible production control and technologies such as 3D printing make it possible to customize products for individual users. At the same time, traditional products and communication technology are merging. The most obvious example of that is the multitude of assistance systems that have long been part of every automobile. The merging of these two worlds can also be seen in other areas. For example, the users of state-of-the-art sit/stand tables have the option of being periodically reminded by their desks that it might be time to stand up again.

Complex products require cooperation between skilled workers from very diverse fields of knowledge, ranging from development to sales and subsequent customer service.

Examples of work environments that promote creativity, shown at ORGATEC 2016:

König + Neurath <br><i>(source: Koelnmesse)</i>
König + Neurath
(source: Koelnmesse) Lupe_grau
Interstuhl <br><i>(source: Koelnmesse)</i>
(source: Koelnmesse) Lupe_grau

Promoting creativity

None of the knowledge work described so far would be possible without creativity. This raises the question of how creativity can be promoted.

Prof. Jürgen Glaser and Dr. Britta Herbig have investigated this issue in detail as part of their joint research activities at the Technische Universität München. In the IBA-/buero-forum specialist publication No. 10 – Kreativität und Gesundheit (Creativity and Health), they describe the following requirements for workplace design:

  • the temporal and spatial autonomy of employees
  • diverse challenges
  • creative challenges (knowing that creativity is desired)
  • diverse challenges and meaningful tasks
  • holistic work tasks
  • the managers’ trust in the employees’ abilities

Glaser and Herbig say that workplace design is an important supporting factor.

In the first New Work Order study, the trend expert Birgit Gebhardt takes up this theme and recommends that employers set up a variety of work areas that the employees can freely choose between. This view is shared by two experts in work organization and workplace design, Dr. Stefan Rief and Rosan Bosch.

micro zitatbox

They believe that the contribution of physical space [to the promotion of creativity — Ed.], including new digital elements, is significantly higher than was previously believed. Our empirical investigation “Office 21 Analytics”, which involved several thousand participants, confirms that having many different places to frequent helps to boost people’s intellectual output. We also discovered that the use of a variety of workplaces within an office building has a positive influence on the generation of ideas.

Stefan Rief, Head of the Competence Center Workspace Innovation Fraunhofer IAO, Stuttgart, excerpted from “New Work Order – Kreative Lernwelten”, Wiesbaden, 2016

micro zitatbox

Of course we can’t build places that suddenly make uncreative people creative, but we can provide employees with spaces that support creative work.

Rosan Bosch, designer and Managing Director of the Rosan Bosch Studio, Copenhagen, excerpted from “New Work Order – Kreative Lernwelten”, Wiesbaden, 2016