Workplace: Odd terms from the new world of work

  • Living
  • Thursday, 07 Jul 2022

In the bottom-up principle, it is not supervisors who set out ideas or goals for staff but the employees themselves. Photo: dpa/Westend61

Everybody who’s anybody is using fancy workplace words at the office, it seems.

Lots of the terms flying around are unclear to many, according to a new survey of 3,560 people by one recruiter.

Four out of 10 job applicants said they were pretty foggy about the term new work itelf.

“New work” is a “collective term used to describe various, mostly alternative working models and forms”, according to one definition by a publisher.

Let’s take a look at a selection of the phrases that have become commonplace and confusing in a growing number of workplaces in recent years.

> Agility: “Agility describes the adaptability of companies to external changes,” says Anke Neldner from the Association of Independent Trainers and Coaches (VfTC) in Berlin, which trains managers throughout Germany.

Others have described this as the ability to work “with insight, flexibility and confidence in response to challenging and changing circumstances”.

Amid the pandemic, it is clearer than ever why agility is so important, as businesses were forced to allow and enable remote working where possible, she says.

Agility also means less siloed thinking, and exploring what is best for the customer or for the product in very short time intervals, says Annabelle Jenisch, Head of Growth at the agency TLGG and TLGG Consulting. She supports companies in growth phases in the development of business models. If it turns out that improvements are possible when reviewing at short intervals, it is time to take the new direction.

> Bottom-up principle: “This means nothing other than from the bottom up,” says Jenisch. It is not supervisors who set out ideas or goals for staff but the employees themselves. This is a principle that’s not necessarily limited to single a team or a department.

“From the lowest level up to management, employees provide important impulses,” says Neldner, citing a situation when customers are dissatisfied with a product and improvements are needed as an example.

> Check-in: Check-in means greeting each individual employee after they reach a meeting rather than diving into business right away. “This is about people as a whole,” says Jenisch. It involves asking each team member to share how they are doing.

“Employees should definitely express their concerns and problems,” says Neldner. In her view, this would ideally require managers with training in psychology and skilled in coaching to respond to employees and make them feel that they are in good hands.

> Design thinking: “This is an agile-creative method for finding solutions to complex tasks,” says Neldner. A company might have several departments dealing with the user needs of a product so interdisciplinary cooperation is what is called for. The process involves gathering many ideas and different perspectives, with people testing, discarding and trying out ideas until they find the right solution.

> Gamification: “This is a tool that incorporates playful elements into certain processes,” says Jenisch. That might mean allowing employees to collect “trophies” online, not unlike the experience of completing a computer game.

It can be something as simple as green ticks lighting up as a reward once someone has completed a task during an onboarding process, for example.

> Job sharing: “Here, two or more people share a workplace,” says Jenisch. This is also possible for management positions, with the aim of allowing staff to have enough time for whatever they choose, from family to social commitments. Individual parts of the shared job might overlap, says Neldner. Those involved in the arrangement have to make the agreements needed so the model works, and take care of any handovers themselves.

> Kanban: “This is an element from agile project management,” Jenisch says. The Japanese word kanban means “card”, and the process involves using cards to show the work status of a particular project digitally, on what is known as a kanban board.

The board is divided into several columns. In one column, the team members enter the tasks that make up a particular project, with all of them in the “To-do” column at the outset. The next columns are called “in progress” or “done”, for example. “This makes it clear at a glance how far the project has progressed and where things might be getting stuck,” says Neldner.

> Lean leadership: This means optimising company processes and enabling sustainable action. It sees managers and employees constantly questioning company processes.

Also, lean leadership focuses more on the human factor. Managers act towards their employees on the principle of “enabling instead of teaching” and motivate them to get the best out of themselves. This should help to improve the performance of the company as a whole.

> Sharing economy: “This refers to a change in usage behaviour so the focus is on sharing,” says Jenisch. It is a trend that can be found not only in digital business models, but also in everyday working life. Think of desks, computers, laptops or company smartphones, and also vehicles. Information can and needs to be shared, too. “Digital encyclopaedias are a good example of this,” says Neldner.

> VUCA: VUCA is an acronym for the terms “volatility,” “uncertainty,” “complexity” and “ambiguity”, summing up the unpredictable, rapidly changing world. “The effects of powerful technological and global changes described by the term VUCA naturally also have consequences for the world of work,” says Jenisch.

Work, in short, is becoming increasingly complex and less predictable, something companies have to adapt to, requiring them to be agile too. VUCA, in other words, is what has brought us to this new world of work in the first place. – dpa/Sabine Meuter

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