The digital age is a blessing for many companies. Processes can be mapped electronically and thus designed more efficiently. Measurement methods provide more precise information on capacity utilization and efficiency in production. Communication with one other is faster, and possible from anywhere at any time, thanks to email.

But on closer inspection, the dark sides of this seemingly blessed time become visible. Our working environment, trimmed for perpetual efficiency and lean management, no longer seems to deliver the desired savings effects. Employees complain about workloads that are too high and email boxes that are constantly full. In some industries, the picture looks somewhat more dramatic: digital business models threaten the survival of established companies and it is only a matter of time before these effects are felt by other industries in addition to the music industry, the publishing world and, soon, financial service providers.

The terms “digitisation”, “industry 4.0” and “cultural change” become synonymous with what affects companies from the outside, but much more so with a process of change within companies themselves.

Changing values and digital self-image

Those born after 1980 – known as Generation Y - already account for 30% of the workforce. They coin new terms such as “work-life balance” in the working environment and are looking for work that has meaning. Their proportion will increase to 50% by 2020. They have grown up with digitisation and use the achievements of this new, second machine age in a different way. It is no longer just a matter of becoming faster, better and more efficient through digitisation. After industrialisation replaced manual work with machines, these new machines take on a supporting function in mental work.

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But we no longer work exclusively in an organisational form based on the division of labour and on the assembly line. Knowledge and the management of know-how have become a decisive competitive factor for companies. However, an increasing burden arises from the fact that we are provided with too much information and are less able to identify what is relevant. In recent years we have learned that technology can be used sensibly. Today we are on the threshold of realising how we should use it correctly, so that it supports us even better in our daily work. When a knowledge worker spends about 47% of his or her weekly working time reading and writing emails and searching for and merging information, (Source: McKinsey Global Institute) then either the idea of work has changed fundamentally, or we are not applying the achievements of digitisation effectively enough.

What distinguishes the knowledge worker in a work environment shaped by digitisation? We will shed more light on this aspect in the second part of our article series.

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