New Work - a definition

New Work
The term "New Work" comes from the philosopher Dr Frithjof Bergmann. What does it mean exactly and how do we live the "New Work" at think tank?

The term "New Work"

The term “New Work” was conceived in the late seventies, early eighties, by Dr. Frithjof Bergmann, an Austrian-American philosopher born in 1930 in Saxony. Frithjof emigrated to the USA in his twenties, initially scraping by with part-time jobs, living for a time in self-sufficiency in the countryside and writing plays. He studied at Princeton, received a doctorate on Hegel and held various teaching positions at prestigious American universities.

His term “New Work” captures the zeitgeist that describes how industrialisation is long gone, communism has no future and capitalism does not make people happy. He sees the opportunities that technological innovations can bring and uses them to create not only a concept of “New Work”, but almost the concept of a new society. Bergmann leads the innovative production possibilities to a complete change in manufacturing chains and thus to a transformation of work and society. Thanks to 3D printers and the like, products no longer have to be produced in large factory halls far away, but can be created locally in the smallest of spaces.

This change from globalisation back to local production not only affects companies, producers and consumers, but also the working culture and the way people live together. Formative for his concept of “New Work” is the idea that capitalist work as we know it today, which he describes as mentally and physically debilitating, can be reduced to a large extent and gives way to a model of work that relies on work in community production and makes room for work that suits the individual and that he or she really wants to do.

"New Work" today - disruptive digitalisation & work-life merging

The term “New Work” is now on everyone’s lips. And, as already inherent in the original term, it also picks up on current technological innovations in the present and shapes a new future of work from them. It draws attention to the disruptive changes, forced by digitalisation, globalisation, the increase in knowledge and demographic change, which are leading to a transformation at the social and technological level and are thus also becoming visible and perceptible in the world of work – in companies and organisations.

On the one hand, these revolutionary innovations lead to a hype that writes utopias into the world of work: agile, creative, innovative people follow their needs, create creative marvels on crowded working platforms in shared offices or scattered somewhere in the most colourful corners of the globalised world, because the internet makes it possible. You turn your hobbies into a profession and live a life with a good work-life balance. New Work does not lead to a dissolution of the boundaries of work, which oppresses private life, but to a fluid merging of life and work. Work is no longer a disruptive factor in life that has to be done in order to earn a living, but a beloved part of life that offers the platform to follow one’s inclinations. Work becomes a transformer that serves to transform passion into livelihood.

Auf der einen Seite führen diese umwälzenden Innovationen zu einem Hype, der Utopien in die Arbeitswelt schreibt: agile, kreative, innovative Menschen folgen ihren Bedürfnissen, erschaffen kreative Wunderwerke auf Crowed Working Plattformen in Shared Offices Spaces oder irgendwo verstreut in den buntesten Ecken der globalisierten Welt, denn das Internet machts möglich. Sie machen Ihre Hobbies zum Beruf und leben ein Leben mit ausgeglichener Work-Live-Balance. New Work führt nicht zu einer Entgrenzung der Arbeit, die das Privatleben bedrängt, sondern zu einem fließenden ineinander übergehen von Leben und Arbeit. Arbeit ist kein störender Faktor mehr im Leben, der eben geleistet werden muss, um den Lebenserhalt zu finanzieren, sondern ein geliebter Teil des Lebens, der die Plattform bietet seinen Neigungen zu folgen. Arbeit wird zum Transformator, der dazu dient Leidenschaft in Lebensunterhalt zu wandeln.

The consequences of automation

On the other hand, there is the fear of change and the fear that change will destroy jobs and widen the gap between rich and poor. Osborn and Frey take this as their subject in their study published in 2013. They explore what many are concerned about in the wake of automation: to what extent will work-related job structures be affected by the developments just mentioned in the future and what impact will this have on the design or necessity of future jobs.

The fear of unpredictable consequences of this development leads to much speculation.

“For some time now, labour sciences and occupational psychology research have been pointing to contradictory or paradoxical effects of the introduction and use of digital technologies. They show that advancing automation and the associated increase in the complexity of the systems are often accompanied by only limited controllability of the technologies, thus a high functional and economic potential for disruption and incalculable demands on work behaviour.” (Hirsch-Kreinsen 2015, p. 16)

In their 2015 study “The robots are coming – consequences of automation for the German labour market”, Brzeski and Burk speak of the fact that in Germany, too, activities from the administrative area such as office or secretarial tasks and auxiliary activities such as postal and delivery services as well as activities in warehousing, sales or in the area of catering are increasingly being “robotised”. “Does this necessarily mean that the factory will be devoid of people? No. Industry 4.0 only works through networked communication, which brings new challenges and sets new standards in network communication. This promotes cooperation between humans and machines. This will create many new jobs that adapt to the changed circumstances.” (Brzeski, Burk 2015)

Dr Georg Jochum, who holds the Chair of Sociology of Science at the Technical University of Munich, interprets Brzeski and Burk’s study as the “cybernetisation of work” in his lecture “Sustainable Work and New Work – Is the Socio-Ecological Transformation of the Work Society Possible?” at the Science Days 2018 in Munich. He speaks of increasing external control in the context of simple activities through cybernetic technologies, such as smart glasses or smart gloves used in warehouse work, and declares this trend as “digital Taylorism”. He fears the emergence of a digital precariat through the increasing linking of self-control and cybernetic external control, e.g. in the context of crowdworking.


In addition, he explicitly pleads for a heightened awareness of the concept of sustainability in the context of “work”: digitalisation and new technologies not only mean freedom, flexibility, increasingly simple communication possibilities and the growth of information, but also an increasing need for conflict metals, of which these technologies consist, and a growing energy consumption that is often forgotten. Especially in view of globalisation, not only every individual is affected by change, but is also called upon to take responsibility and actively participate in shaping change.

New Work at think tank

Of course, the future is unpredictable, the truth lies somewhere between the extremes – between flexible, creative crowdworking digital natives, who do their work happily jumping around on a South Sea island, on the one hand, and cyborgs controlled by robots, who stand bleakly in the rain as human slaves of the machines, on the other hand.

We at think tank have found our very own “New Work Way”: we fill our Creative Spaces with stickers with all the colourful, crazy ideas that just bubble out of us and take the time to deal with them and push them forward. We enjoy the freedom of a home office and desk sharing and the opportunity to let off steam on test projects and constantly learn something new.

And if you run into a colleague in the corridor here, it tends to be happily skipping along with a grin on their face – a good sign.

Sources: Brzeski, Carsten; Burk, Inga (2015): Die Roboter kommen – Folgen der Automatisierung für den deutschen Arbeitsmarkt. Studie von ING DIBA.…/ing-diba-economic-analysis_roboter-2.0.pdf

Frey, Carl Benedikt; Osborn, Michael A. (2013): The future of employment: how susceptible are jobs to computerisatoin? Studie. University of Oxford.

Hirsch-Kreinsen, Hartmut (2015): Digitalisierung von Arbeit: Folgen, Grenzen und Perspektiven. Soziologisches Arbeitspapier. Technische Universität Dortmund, Dortmund.