Magazine Contact #24 - Magazine - About us - Concept Wiesner-Hager
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The space and dreams of the new way of working.

Magazine Contact #24

The term “New Work” was coined 33 years ago. But what has become of it today? The range of new ways of working stretches from coworking to crowdworking – and both ends of the spectrum are polar opposites. A topical analysis.

“It’s not the work that makes people unhappy, it’s the lies that we are told about it”, writes the German work psychologist and coach, Volker Kitz in his new book “Feierabend!” [Home Time!] (the exclamation can be understood as shouting). “Work exists in our minds as an idea, an ideal. The reality of the work day does not live up to our expectation. It disappoints us, and we suffer”. In Germany alone, explains Kitz, 30 million people suffer from a lack of passion at work and feel frustrated as a result. It we look at Austria, the number lies in the region of two to three million employees.

To combat this rife dissatisfaction with the work day, which, despite all expectations, is anything but a modern phenomenon, Austrian-American philosopher Frithjof Bergmann came up with the term “new work”. According to this, new work is about fun and fulfilment, it’s about identifying with the role, the participation in decision processes and, last but not least, it’s about a pleasant work atmosphere. Bergmann’s definition originated in 1984. This date is also to be marked with an exclamation point, as it shows just how long we have been obsessing over the visions and utopias of a new working world. “New work has been around for a while” writes Wolf Lotter in an article for the German economy magazine, brand eins. The current March issue dedicates almost 100 pages to the key issue of new work. “We are looking for a meaning, a culture, a setting for something that has already become a reality. This is characteristic of our time—and it also explains the unease and many contradictions that occur between the work and the way in which it is organised and how it is done! “With the new work term”, according to Lotter, it is “less about utopias and visions and more about a rational analysis”.

 

Around 21 percent more new digital jobs

It can be summed up with figures: jobs which are built on routine and repetitive processes instead of on knowledge and originality are on the Red List, according to a study by the Mannheim Centre for European Economic Research. Around 10 percent of job profiles have disappeared completely from the market in recent years during the course of digitalisation and computerisation. Equally, however, thanks to new technology, around 21 percent more new jobs have been created.

“Our current expectation of productive work is derived mainly from industrial work”, explains Graz-based social and systems scientist, Manfred Füllsack from the Institute for System, Innovation and Sustainability Research (ISIS) at the University of Graz. “Beneath this lies the extremely narrow concept of primarily manual work performed by men within an industrial production setting.”

Today, it is different. New work has turned the working population on its head little by little over the last 33 years and has now reached a point at which classic office work has completely yielded to a wide range of various employment possibilities. This reaches from underpaid, exploitative individual work from home to a communal system in which everyone’s work is supported and taken on by the collective group. It is astonishing how phonetically similar yet profoundly contradictory both ends of the work market spectrum are. Crowdworking on the one side, coworking on the other.

 

Risks and side effects

“With crowdworking, jobs are assigned to a more or less defined amount of people via a web-based platform. These people can be individuals, institutions or companies” explains Christiane Benner, publisher of the 2014 book “Crowdwork. Back to the Future”. “Complex jobs are often split into smaller partial jobs before being advertised. In doing so, the effort required for completing the job and costs can both be reduced”. Crowdworking, according to sociologists, is a chance for employees as well as companies—for example, it provides easy access to work for people who don’t thrive in the regular work market. Christiane also warns: “crowdworking also has its risks such as low income, insufficient health and safety protection, inadequate social protection and no limitations to the work”.

According to crowdworking expert for the Vienna Chamber of Labour (AK), Sylvia Kuba, crowdworkers often don’t know for whom they are working as the entity assigning the job is often anonymous. “Payment is usually below the official minimum wage. In addition, you have to spend a quarter of your time alone just to search for jobs. Earning a living doing this is not easy”. In a study on the living and working quality of crowdworkers, the AK discovered that the most common crowd-jobs were simple office work, clickwork, IT services and work in creative fields such as text compilation, graphic design and logo/slogan pitches.

The most successful worldwide—and due to its low wages also the most commonly criticised—crowdwork provider is Amazon Mechanical Turk. Around half a million people worldwide earn small amounts by completing crowdwork. Providers used in Austria include Clickworker, Crowd Guru, crowdsite, Streetspotr, Testbirds, jovoto, twago, upwork and 99designs.

There is still little information available on the number of active crowdworkers in Austria. However, they all have one thing in common: due to the poor working conditions they have long been referred to as “digital day labourers” and “digital pieceworkers”. “It's not the crowdworkers but rather the platforms that need to be transparent—using criteria such as payment, payment practice or realistic assignments” says author Benner. “Our aim is to programme and establish a corresponding reputation system on the platform”.

 

Mother of Coworking

On the other end of the new work scale—worth recommending for this topic is the blog newworkblog.de—are collective working models such as collaboration or coworking. In contrast to the predominantly isolated crowdwork from home, coworking is all about a community working culture. The first coworking space in history was founded in 2002 in Vienna (!). The screw factory in the Leopoldstadt district of Vienna, which refers to itself as the “Mother of Coworking”, offers work spaces with infrastructure and a diverse opportunities for exchanges between one another. Today, the former production site is used by 40 individual companies and small/medium-sized businesses from the creative industry, health, research and IT sectors. The party even includes a few start-up companies.

The former Hat Factory in San Francisco had yet more luck with international publicity—three years later. Brad Neuberg, digital nomad, was tired of working in a coffee shop and decided to share the high office leasing costs with other like-minded freelancers. With the advantages of an intellectual exchange clear to be seen and the newly branded name “coworking”, the new work idea began on the road to global success. The rest can be found on Wikipedia.

“In just ten years coworking has completely changed out working culture”, says Romy Sigl, founder and director of Coworking Salzburg, founded in 2012. “Today it is possible for anyone with a computer, access to the internet, a good education and a good helping of self-confidence, to found a company. And you don’t even need your own space to do so anymore. You can share a space with others.” The coworking space in the Techno-Z technology centre is 360m2 and has space for 35 employees. This can be rented with a 10-day subscription for 210 euros and allows you not only to enjoy a community, but it also allows you to profit from an exchange of know-how and an inter-disciplinary network. Average occupancy is around 80 percent.

A prime example for Sigl, who considers herself as a “pioneer for new work”, was the Betahaus coworking space in Berlin, which already operates branches in Hamburg, Lisbon and Sofia. Sigl has been—and continues to be—on the way to determining the latest trends in Germany, Portugal, Lebanon and Egypt, and adapting them to Salzburg. One example: “Coworking and Baby” for young working mothers. This includes networking opportunities, start-up parties and free sparring partnering in the lunch break. As part of a free lunchtime pizza and cola party, coworkers receive in-depth feedback on the latest design or business concepts from all workers present.

“I’m not too bothered about furniture”, admits Sigl. “Coworking Salzburg is equipped with Ikea and vintage furniture as what is important with coworking is the community.” Bernhard Kern, CEO of Roomware Consulting GmbH doesn’t quite see it the same way. “Coworking is linked to collaboration and communication, and furniture is not only important for this, it plays a central role”, says Kern. “Whether we are talking about coworking spaces or about coworking in terms of cooperation and collaboration within a company, the most important thing is abandoning the idea of hierarchy and establishing an equal infrastructure.” Kern believes that innovative and versatile furniture is a part of that.

 

Transition into new work made easy

Current demand for open space solutions and coworking areas is sky-rocketing, the Roomware boss explains. “The trend has already reached the big and small cities across Austria. And in my opinion, thanks to their openness, flexibility and easy adaptability, these new office solutions are not just suitable for coworking. They can also be used for scrum, design-thinking and sociocratic company management in the future. Communication in the work place is timeless.”

Nowadays, even the smallest villages think about establishing co-working spaces in their main squares, to make it easy for their citizens to understand the concept of New Work. Then there is the Tabakfabrik Linz, an old tobacco factory which is currently mastering a change process into Austria’s biggest creative industries and start-up centre. The Tabakfabrik has recently been advertising a competition with the title Die zündende Idee (A spark of genius). This way, they wanted to find ideas and concepts which answer the question of what has to be done in order for technical and industrial progress not to harm, but to benefit mankind. The recently crowned winner of the contest receives a rent-free think-tank office in the tobacco factory as a prize – for life! The invitation to New-Work could not have been expressed in a more active and optimistic way.

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