“Office work in German corporations is now organized like factory work. Monotony in the service of efficiency “, according to Brand Eins in the issue” New job “. The “Lean Office” has found its way into Germany, the magazine continues. I did extensive research about this new #office factory, looked at what is hidden behind this term and wondered whether these really are the dangers of the “digitization of the world of work”.

Digitization of the world of work – the #office factory

In addition to many opportunities, the digitization of the world of work also harbors risks. In the following, I would like to present a few examples that show that the office can become a small factory with the highest level of efficiency.

Umgang mit Lowperformer
Monotony in terms of efficiency – LeanOffice risk

The Lean Office …

Already the IG metal says: The new wave is taking hold of the office world. Lean office is the magic word that should make work more effective. Because the concept entails not only opportunities but also many risks, it is important that works councils are critical. In this way, the concepts from production are also introduced into knowledge work. The following quote illustrates the potential consequences:

“With us, the entire administration is affected. The HR departments, purchasing, accounting. There are no work steps, the work becomes more detailed, you lose track of the big picture. This also has an impact on pay. The simpler the job, the less you get paid. For example, our certificates are now written centrally. The HR department used to do this on site. Now there are people who do nothing but write testimonials all day. Before that, managers enter some information online about what the employee was like. And then text modules are cobbled together. They don’t even know the people. ” – A clerk at Siemens in the BrandOne .

Also the IG metal finds some cases with problems here: Everything is standardized: name tags, the incoming and outgoing post concept, uniform labels for folders, tidy drawers and the use of roll containers. There is a list of what belongs to the basic and additional equipment of a desk, personal items are only allowed to a small extent.

When transparency escalates …

Transparency can also escalate: caution is advised when executives can invite retrospectives and monitor everything through digital technologies. Otherwise, any over-optimization could even be negative for the company.

“We now meet every morning at a whiteboard and have to report whether someone has had an accident at work – whether someone has stuck their thumb in a drawer, cut their finger on paper or fallen over their office chair. It’s like in the production hall. And we have a more stringent form, where near-accidents are reported. So things that could have led to an accident at work. And that in the office. I mean, what should happen here? ”- A clerk in the administration at Pentair in the Brand one

If Scrum doesn’t serve agility …

Scrum is an agile method, which is based on the agile manifesto and can bring greater added value to the customer and increase the work satisfaction of the workforce. At least that’s the theory. However, if Scrum is used incorrectly, it can also lead to frustration, demotivation and the exercise of strong control.

“Five years ago we programmers were relatively independent. Today our work is broken down into small features that can be completed relatively quickly. There are these meetings where you have to put yourself together in the morning and say what you did the day before. It’s like the circle of chairs in kindergarten, only for adults. That was also an expression of confidence that I was given a complex task and left me alone for the time being. Now this control network is being laid over us. And you do these little tasks in a day or two, and then there’s the next one. And so on and on and on. ” A programmer at SAP in the BrandOne

Administrative areas: “Working on the digital assembly line” ……

In the study of the Hans Böckler Foundation administrative areas are specifically examined and it is said: “In the administrative areas, the fundamental upheaval is primarily expressed in standardization and process orientation”. The following quote from the study also shows the situation well:

“We only work with numbers here.” Digital workflows and processes determine the workflow, often specify the individual work steps in minute detail and structure the division of labor and cooperation with colleagues along the value chain. The digitized work item “flows” from work step to work step like on a “digital assembly line” (excerpt from the study )

So there is talk of a digital assembly line, which is easy to work through and the employees are increasingly frustrated. This is certainly not a goal of digital change. At the end of the study, the study summarizes: The upheaval outlined here in mental work in the digital transformation is combined with far-reaching social consequences – that of an increasingly “burnt-out world of work”.

Digitalisierung-am-arbeitsplatz-gefahren
Efficiency through monotony: The work is divided into many small steps, which each employee carries out permanently (own illustration)

Consulting and temporary work in the focus of digitization

Especially in my article too Consulting 4.0 I lost my first words about a change in the consulting business. For example, consultants and temporary workers are usually not yet subject to the regulations and can be treated “differently”, so to speak. I too often hear sentences from consultants like: “We are billed according to user stories”, “I can write down 15 minutes per ticket” or “If that were possible, the programmers would bill us according to the keys we pressed. Believe they are even working on it “. In such cases, the complete transparency of digital change can particularly affect external employees. However, this is mainly due to the often high cost pressure in IT services.

Conclusion: digitization must not be an end in itself

In the end it sums it up Brand one well together: In fact, what is currently happening in German offices is not entirely new. In the 1920s, offices were redesigned after the model of the Taylorist factories. The tasks were broken down into small steps. There were employees who only opened letters all day, only typed, only archived or who acted as couriers only to bring documents from one desk to another. Standardization made it easy to measure and compare employee performance: all you had to do was check how many letters someone wrote, how many documents they archived, or how many errands they had behind them.
Also the study of Hans Böckler Foundation warns: To put it bluntly, the development is at a crossroads: On the one hand, there are concepts in which mental work should also be organized “like on an assembly line”; on the other hand, there are models that primarily focus on empowering teams and improving collective learning and innovation processes.
In this article, I purposely talked about the negative aspects of digitizing the world of work. You should therefore also read my article on the Opportunities in the digital world of work . Because it’s not all all bad or all good. What do you think about the topic? Tell me in the little poll:
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I blog about the influence of digitalization on our working world. For this purpose, I provide content from science in a practical way and show helpful tips from my everyday professional life. I am an executive in an SME and I wrote my doctoral thesis at the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg at the Chair of IT Management.

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