What does Work 4.0 mean? Are we there yet? Christine Schwab, SVP Global HR at Software AG, shares her thoughts in a conversation with Theresa Strauss, Junior HR Manager.
Theresa Strauss: Industry 4.0 has become a term most people recognize. Now Work 4.0 is just around the corner. Christine, what does Work 4.0 mean?
Christine Schwab: “People often mention Work 4.0 in connection with Industry 4.0. Like the Industrial Revolution, the ‘4.0’ designation aims to show that the working world is in the midst of a fourth revolution as well. It is characterized by the implementation of complex systems that integrate software, mechanics and information, making them very dynamic. Processes are highly automated, digitalized and networked; they are becoming increasingly flexible and adaptable. Machines are becoming capable of learning and the speed of innovation is rising. Employees are naturally affected by changes—for example - through software—and this new work environment is often called Work 4.0.”
Theresa: What kind of changes should employees anticipate in the future?
Christine: “Each profession will develop differently. Nevertheless, certain fundamental trends and developments can already be predicted. Machines will take over various jobs, the boundaries between companies will blur and employees will collaborate more and more in flexible teams - adding members as their knowledge and expertise are needed. We are already observing that work is becoming more mobile, collaborative, virtual and digital.”
Theresa: Customers benefit from improved production flexibility and having customized requests delivered in real time. That is nice, of course, but don’t employees pay a very high price for this? You could almost get the impression that employees are being replaced by machines in Work 4.0.
Christine: “This is a rather negative perception that reflects people’s fear of smart machines and the changes associated with them. Back in the first industrial revolution, the power loom and steam engine elicited similar concerns without resulting in actual job losses as originally feared. The working world simply continued to evolve. New forms of interaction will arise due to intelligent machines as well. I believe that diverse new areas of responsibility will emerge that we have not even heard of yet.”
Theresa: What advantages do you see for employees?
Christine: “If machines do take over routine tasks, the activities that people perform will be more challenging, interesting and varied. In order to meet these new job requirements, there will be an increase in employee trainings and opportunities for continuing education. Work will become more mobile thanks to these digital technologies, so that spending the obligatory 9-to-5 at a desk will eventually be replaced by a results-oriented culture. Likewise, the growing interconnectedness within companies enables people to think beyond their own office door, establishing a wide variety of contacts across areas of expertise and national borders. I think the interplay of these factors leads to an enriching environment that offers fertile ground for productive and innovative working.”
Theresa: You mentioned earlier that Work 4.0 has in some ways already reached today’s working environment. Is that true for Software AG as well?
Christine: “Yes, absolutely! For example, most employees have flexible working schedules and can make arrangements to work from home; for example, our internal helpdesk is staffed by colleagues from Darmstadt, India and Saarbrücken. We also have employees who work in our Competency Center who are highly specialized experts. Their knowledge can be incorporated as needed into a variety of Software AG projects all over the world. In addition, we are already promoting co-innovation with our customers. For problem solving we utilize Design Thinking methods, a creative process for brainstorming that is user-oriented and based on design methods. We have always placed great value on individual training and continuing education. Depending on their area of responsibility, we offer our employees a variety of training on our products, or intercultural skills, to bring fresh drive and impetus, preparing them for new responsibilities. Agile digital methods and solutions are playing an increasingly important role, enabling employees to access information from anywhere. Nevertheless, we as a company recognize that it is essential not to forget the importance of conversations and the analog way of doing things. Face-to-face still has its advantages.”
Theresa: So in conclusion, we can say that “Work 4.0” is not so frightening after all?
Christine: “I personally see it that way. When choosing an employer, the younger generation in particular pays less attention to salary than to having a good work atmosphere, a positive work-life balance and a meaningful job. Our job as a company is to align these wants and needs with the changes brought on by Industry 4.0. We are headed in the right direction.
Theresa: Thank you so much for the interesting conversation, Christine. I’m already looking forward to talking with you about “Work 5.0.”
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