Alice Greschkow blogs about work from a societal perspective. She focuses on the political aspects of work, raises questions and provides answers on how politics should address this issue in Germany. Alice talked to us about this fascinating, fast-changing topic.
1. Your blog "With passion for politics", what is it about?
I am a political scientist at heart and comment a lot on my blog and LinkedIn newsletter about various social debates. Over the last few years, I have been looking at the topic of work from different perspectives, always on the premise that politics and society should not be ignored. After all, work does not happen in a vacuum. The reason we work is embedded in the national state and politics. For instance, we pay income tax, social security payments, and are dependent on the law relating to working hours. Even how much time we have in our private lives depends on this. This means that politics also decides a lot about our work-life balance, even if we feel that we are the ladies/lords of our time autonomy. Indeed, topics such as working time acts and minimum vacation rates are determined by politics with companies being strongly controlled and constrained. With my blog I try to bridge the gap between what is discussed in the company, in the New Work world, to the regulatory world.
2. What made you start the blog and what motivates you to keep going?
I think we have arrived at a time in which politics is becoming very polarizing. Personally, I will not take extreme positions, as I think we have to defend the democracy we have built up in Germany and other Western European countries. That means creating an educational, open debate culture based on decency. I am convinced that a well-functioning political system contributes to people being better off within a country. This is also proven by research that shows that the greater the trust within a country in politics and public institutions, the more optimistic and confident people are.
3. What has politics to do with the future of work?
Over the past few years, I have been keeping a closer eye on the work of the Ministry of Labor. The current German Minister of Labor, Hubertus Heil, created a working group on the transformation of the world of work early in his legislative term. In this group, topics such as the reduction or creation of jobs through automation were investigated. That includes questions such as: What jobs will be created? What about adult education and will people need to be retrained? And will more opportunities, in terms of free time and money, be needed for people to take up training opportunities?
These are issues that are constantly rippling underneath. Especially in view of the progress that is being made in artificial intelligence and machine learning. Jobs are changing a lot and in 10 years it could lead to people who now believe they have a secure job having to start thinking about changing jobs. Therefore, it is the responsibility of policy makers to enable these perspectives, especially if advanced training opportunities are time-consuming and costly.
4. In your blog article: "Why the working world is not becoming a digital paradise because of Corona" you write critically about the outcome of the home office process. One of the topics is how to implement the right change management. What challenges do you see for employees and companies?
After more than a year and a half of the Covid-19 crisis, we are seeing a rebound effect in a way that I assumed last year. My prediction last year was that changes, such as remote work and the use of digital tools, would be adopted out of necessity.
However, there will be a roll backwards as many companies are not culturally and organizationally prepared to make remote a success story in the long run. Success story means ensuring at the executive level that the company culture continues to perform well. Trust must be able to develop among employees, as without trust it becomes extremely difficult, especially in times of crisis or when working under time pressure. It also needs to be ensured that laws on working hours are respected, to prevent people from exploiting themselves and working longer than they are supposed to.
Many companies have offered home office and remote solutions out of necessity, without addressing the deep organizational processes involved. Except in the large corporations, in the mid-sized and many small businesses, most people want to go back to the pre-pandemic days. To me, this indicates that only a relatively small group of people is affected, even though we talk so much about digitalization and a home office revolution.
5. What are important change management factors for companies to ensure a positive outcome of the home office process?
First of all, I would focus on the corporate culture. Look at how you communicate with each other, as a lot rises and falls with communication. Second, what processes need to be adjusted? There's a saying in the New Work Bubble, "A bad analog process means a bad digital process." In other words, simply transferring processes is not always the most appropriate approach. Third, look at your infrastructure: are the tools you use really useful, are they really adopted? If not, what could be the reason? All New boards, Slack solutions and purchased software solutions are a waste if they are not adopted.
6. You also discuss the acceleration of automation and substitution processes as well as measures to increase efficiency - what risks do you see in this regard?
There is a historic fear among employees of unemployment or of being left behind. In particular, people who are in the middle of their career have a justified concern that their work will change to the extent that they no longer have the skills to remain competitive. This can be observed to some extent in accounting and also in marketing, where automation software has taken away certain tasks that 10 years ago were done manually and took up a lot of working time. These people need to be brought along. Companies must introduce their employees to the automation solution, teach them about the changes in their work or task, and show them what new things are possible with it.
At the same time, further training should be offered so that employees are not left behind. Otherwise, it can lead to frustration or even boycott. In addition, the mentality of slowing down should not always be declared as laziness and unwillingness, but as a sign of fear.
7. What political decisions do you think need to be made to shape the future of work? Should home office become a right for employees?
We need more legal certainty in the area of home office, especially with regard to insurance issues. At the moment, we are in a gray area that has been treated very accommodatingly over the last year and a half.
I would find it helpful if, for example, the right of consultation, as practiced in the Netherlands, would be found in a similar form in Germany. It states that employees at least have the right or the entitlement to ask their employer whether home office is possible. The employer must give reasons if this is not possible. This means that it should at least be possible to ask and that there should be a legally secure framework for this.
I think it is incredibly difficult to make the Working Hours Act more flexible. In Germany, we have many different types of employment. For people who do craft work, for instance, the rest period and maximum working hours should not be changed. However, we now have a lot of people who work remotely, flexibly, creatively and self-determined. They can work longer one day and shorter the other day. These arrangements are poorly reflected in the current laws; instead, the law should reflect the heterogeneity of the workforce.
I think the journey is going to be towards having more and more people working flexibly and being able to determine their own daily rhythms.
Thank you for this interesting perspective on the future of work, Alice Greschkow! If you want to read more about New Work and Future of Work from a societal and political perspective, you can follow her blog and LinkedIn-Newsletter.