Interview with Harald Fortmann about the working worlds of the future

Our working worlds are undergoing significant and far reaching processes of change. Companies have to hold their own in highly volatile markets while at the same time ensuring that employees' needs for greater self-determination and work-life balance are duly considered. We spoke with Harald Fortmann about the developments determining the working worlds of the future. Fortmann has been active in the digital economy since 1996 and is regarded as one of the most widely networked managers in the sector. He has been involved in the Bundesverband Digitale Wirtschaft (BVDW) e.V. (Federal Association of the Digital Economy) since 2003 and was active as a member of its executive committee for ten years. Today, Fortmann is active in politics, economics and lecturing, advancing the interests of the digital sector and the establishment of New Work principles. He has been involved in the establishment of digital training and further education program at numerous educational institutions and has developed a host of curricula. Over the course of many years, he passed on his knowledge as a lecturer for online marketing at various universities and was awarded as the lecturer of the decade by the DDA, among other distinctions. Since 2013, Fortmann has been dedicated to personnel consulting, which has enabled him to combine his passion for people and all things digital. Today, at "five14", he is mainly responsible for advising corporations and market leading SMEs in appointing new members to management bodies and assisting them in the strategic planning and implementation of their digital transformation.


Harald Fortmann, Source: five14, Frank Wartenberg

Mr. Fortmann, you have published a book entitled Working World of the Future. There are four keywords subsumed under the title: trends, workspace, people, competence. Can we address these to begin with? Starting with the first: What are the most important trends that come to mind when you think about the working world of the future?

The working world of the future can be defined by what we already call the New Work Era in the working world of today. Shaped and determined by the digitization of the world of work, the manner in which we work has changed. Due to the extended upswing over the course of years, candidates’ demands have also changed accordingly and are determining the market. Given the shortage of skilled staff, employers have to present themselves to the candidates they want in a convincing manner. Societal changes have brought sustainability concerns to the foreground, as well as issues revolving around purpose, in other words, the meaningfulness of work. All this has resulted in the need to rethink work.

Many people reduce this to the perception that employees want to work less, but that is oversimplifying the situation. Work must be made more flexible, in terms of time and place, but also with regard to task scopes. Taken together, these factors are constituting a megatrend that can be subsumed under the working world of the future.

What role do working space issues play for future, or future-viable, sustainable working worlds? Or is working space only an abstract term in this context?

The workspace remains very real even if the work location is made more flexible or also for companies that rely entirely on remote work. Here, we have to ask the following question: "Is work home or is home work?", and we can see that the boundaries are blurring. Offices are becoming more and more home-like, and the workplace in the familiar four walls – whether this is the couch or a study – is available to many, whereas the latte macchiato workplace at Starbucks has also arrived in the working world.

Companies such as USM and Vitra are very much involved with the new design of today’s workplaces and not only have trend scouts active here, but are also organizing entire events for sharing and generating knowledge on these topics. Above all, the flexibilization of the working world and time means that employees no longer have just one single workplace. Powered and promoted by digitization and especially by portable technology and cloud solutions, today, everything is possible.

Speaking about work, we naturally have to talk about people. How important is it for companies to open up in terms of flexibility, agile corporate structures and employee needs?

The shortage of skilled employees has been hampering the economy for some years now, and in many sectors as well. In addition, the younger generations are flocking to the big cities, which makes life even more difficult for companies that are not located in the trend metropolises of Hamburg, Berlin or Munich. Employer branding is no longer a freestyle event, and this entails a lot more than some flashy advertisements or witty videos on business networks. Candidates put companies and their culture to question, and will no longer be dazzled by illusory worlds. Companies that are not open to these issues will not succeed in recruiting new specialists and managers.

In the end, however, one thing is important: New Work does not mean No Work. It is not about installing a ball pool, having refrigerated Club Mate at hand, and hiring a Feelgood Manager. It's about exploiting the potential of a digital working world in line with the culture of a company and its potentials – and all this right from the outset in an exchange with employees and applicants.

New Work does not mean No Work. It is not about installing a ball pool.

One term that you mention in your book is particularly interesting in terms of optimized workforce management – the breathing organization. How can this be achieved?

The "breathing organization" – just like the "liquid organization" – represents organization forms that are essential in the New Work Era. Organizations must be created from which one can act and not only react. In this way, companies can survive on the markets, while meeting employee wishes and requirements at the same time. Breathing organizations can be achieved by breaking away from the rigid 40-hour week. Different, flexible working time models are needed, thereby creating a kind of mosaic of different models. Thanks to this flexibilization and an open corporate culture, employees can cooperate and share their knowledge. This approach dissolves knowledge silos, rigid hierarchies and departmental mindsets and promotes a genuine transfer of knowledge. Even considering today's challenges in the working world, such as the shortage of skilled employees, it is amply evident that changes are urgently required.

Let's move on to keyword number four. Digital transformation in particular, which is inseparably linked to the working world of the future, needs the right skills. Where must companies start off, and where can they take additional steps?

To date, digital education offerings have only been successful in a few cases in Germany, but it is being constantly expanded driven by strong demand. Before arbitrary further education offerings for employees are booked, a precise analysis of requirements and potentials must be performed. Initially, a "digital fitness" test can show which employees advocate digital transformation and are ready for it. Only then will employees be able to expand their skills thanks to an appropriate education offering. The most important aspect of digital transformation, however, is to involve and communicate with employees right from the outset.


Mr. Fortmann, thank you very much for this interview.

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About the author

Dominik Laska

The native of Berlin likes to juggle with words, while hackneyed phrases and clichés tend to give him a backache. The professional journalist learned his trade both in the print and online area. Laska writes for the ATOSS Work Blog on all topics relating to modern working environments.

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