Rethinking Work – Also in the Board of Directors

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New Work is on everyone's lips - and rightly so. The way we work has changed dramatically. On the one hand, this is due to new technologies that open up unprecedented opportunities. On the other hand, there is also Gen Z, which brings with it a completely new perspective on work and work culture. A change that affects all areas of a company, including the board of directors.

New Work means proactively exploiting the potential of the company together with the employees in order to achieve its goals. Whether we like it or not, New Work is already taking place and we cannot escape this development. On the contrary: companies that neglect the topic will sooner or later fall by the wayside. Because the drivers of New Work are the digital transformation and social changes that affect us all. It is not enough to improve the existing, but completely new products, markets and services are emerging. This requires an adaptability that is only possible with new ways of working. “Flexible working is central to a company’s productivity, resilience and staff renewal and is therefore a strategic issue,” says Marc Holitscher, National Technology Officer at Microsoft Switzerland. This explains why New Work is a topic for the highest strategic leadership – the board of directors.

Why New Work belongs on the board of directors

The topic of New Work requires a holistic view of the company. It is a strategic issue that managers should address systematically. Tatjana Zbinden, Chief Human Resources Officer at isolutions, graduate of the “CAS Board of Directors” further education programme at Rochester-Bern and member of the Board of Directors at Löwenfels Partner AG, puts it as follows: “New Work is much more than home office, it is not only about mobile, flexible working, but also about future organisational models, a new understanding of leadership as well as technological and cultural developments in the workplace. These are strategically relevant topics that the board of directors should initiate, commission and monitor.”

In addition, the management cannot simply delegate new work in order to then evade responsibility “‘Do New Work’ doesn’t work,” says Yannick Blättler, managing director and owner of Neoviso, a company that provides information about Gen Z. The topic involves a mindset that needs to be constantly kept up to date. The topic involves a mindset that board members need to constantly stay on top of. “It requires an explorative mindset regarding change, forms of collaboration and the way things are done. This constantly challenges the status quo and makes innovation and progress possible,” adds Blättler. German Ramirez, Co-Founder & Chief Relevance Officer at THE RELEVANCE HOUSE AG, as well as a member of the board of directors of several companies, also confirms this statement: “New Work will not only make the fight for talent more difficult, but will also fundamentally change our understanding of ’employees’. If our way of working and our understanding of the role of work change so much, but the strategic agenda in the company does not follow suit, then we have a perfect recipe for disaster.”

Change in and for the board of directors

Not only the company can benefit from the new ways of working, but also the board itself. “Flexibility and freedom are gaining in importance, but old patterns of thinking and behaviour predominate on boards of directors,” says Ramirez. Most boards still function according to the old school: quarterly meetings in which an agenda is worked through, followed by a formal aperitif. Yet more efficient collaboration, which also leads to more motivation and agility, would be desirable. “The board of directors should question its own cooperation: How do we work efficiently? How do we exchange ideas? And how do we inspire each other?” says Blättler, calling on board members to apply and try out modern ways of working within the board itself.

“New challenges need new solutions,” says Blättler. And this is where New Work comes in, because the concept offers modern approaches to survive in today’s business world. One example of this is the employer market, which is becoming more and more competitive the longer it goes on. “A good employee experience with modern and flexible working models, as well as a progressive workplace design, is becoming the necessary basis to counter the shortage of skilled workers. Only in this way can companies achieve their strategic goals and continue to be innovative and adaptive,” says Zbinden. Marc Holitscher also sees the leadership as having a duty: “The work of the future must be hybrid and reflects a central need of the employees. This brings new challenges, especially for managers.”

Discover and stay tuned

So if your board of directors hasn’t yet embraced New Work, it’s high time. “If you want to remain successful tomorrow and the day after, you need to think about how New Work is introduced and lived at board level,” says Ramirez. And specifically, the topic should not simply be ticked off as a one-off agenda item, but should be introduced as a new way of thinking and perhaps also as a restructuring project of the board itself. “New Work, is not a pandemic phenomenon, but a development that is here to stay: It is the board’s responsibility to set accents within the organisation to take this development into account,” says Zbinden.