Innovation Spaces

The dialogue process "Work 4.0"

In April 2015, the Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs initiated a broad dialogue with representatives from business, academia and trade unions on the future of the working world. The dialogue process was titled "Work 4.0". Its starting point was the green paper Work 4.0, which outlined decisive trends, changing values and important areas of action for the future of the German labour market.

The paper contains key questions that were discussed with experts from academia, social partners, and with associations and companies. The dialogue process was recorded through the website Additionally, the website collected the contributions from the general public, which was involved in the discussions until the dialogue was finished. At the end of 2016, the project culminated with the publication of the white paper Work 4.0, which discussed the findings and results.

Innovation Spaces test inventive approaches

The Work 4.0 dialogue demonstrated that new demands placed on work, technological and social changes as well as changes in the labour market pose new questions and generate new challenges. How can digital technologies be used to make work easier - especially for older staff and people with disabilities? What new working time models can we create in order to meet the requirements of business as well as the needs of the employees for more control over their working time?

These challenges and questions take different forms and have different levels of urgency depending on the industry and the company. There is no blueprint for making the world of Work 4.0 a success, for companies or society. However, there are attempts and ideas that should be tested in protected spaces to allow for experimentation, failure and hopefully, learning and improvement. These opportunities demonstrate the necessity of trying new approaches and creating new spaces where management and employees can work together to better explore innovative work concepts.

These findings of the dialogue process need to be tested in practice. Therefore the Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs wants to encourage and support companies in setting up in-house Innovation Spaces in order to test the potential of new ideas. At the same time, companies should get in contact and learn from each other. To support the networking and exchange the Ministry has created the online platform ww.experimentierrä, where companies will be able to present their Innovation Spaces and can learn about each other’s projects. To enhance this process, the Ministry will support the creation of Innovation Spaces with funding and advisory services. In these Innovation Spaces, businesses and public sector agencies can take their first steps towards the future world of work.

How companies are experimenting

Many companies have focused on this shift for a long time, while others are just beginning. They are trying out innovative concepts in practice, for example mobile work possibilities or the use of digital assistance systems. What works is kept; what does not is changed, developed further or discarded. One example is an industrial company with a long history that has formed pioneer teams of employees, executives and works councils, who try out new forms of cooperation. They are using agile methods, where knowledge work becomes a collaborative, transparent and networked process. These methods are being monitored and evaluated by researchers, and trade unions are supporting the project. Small solutions can also have a great impact: one social enterprise has developed an IT-supported working time account with a traffic light system. If the number of overtime hours is too high, the traffic light turns red and the employee is warned and protected against overstrain.

Subjects of the Innovation Spaces

These topics are essential to day-to-day work and acquire new relevance through digital transformation. For example, how do smartphones, laptops, internet access, and remoting working capabilities effect office presence, working hours, collaboration and leadership? How do you organise work in companies when some people work at home? And how do you protect the health of employees who can almost always be reached? What skill qualifications are needed to make the most of new technologies? Old questions are being asked anew and new questions are being added - the Innovation Spaces are the right places to find effective answers.

Trust within the protected space

Innovation Spaces differ depending on the industry, company size and issue. The crucial thing is the attitude with which they are set up and operated. Next to transparency and curiosity as well as courage and creativity, an open exchange of ideas and a willingness to make mistakes is necessary to find new solutions. The foundation of successful Innovation Spaces is mutual trust; it is not a question of hidden improvements in efficiency or testing the creativity and dedication of employees. The goal is to work together with all stakeholders and use modern technologies to find new solutions, to test them and to adapt them continuously and develop them further over a longer period of time. In the best case, solutions will be found that are good for the staff and the company, and can be applied to the entire firm or perhaps even beyond. Policy-makers are also interested in practical experience: Whether and how Work 4.0 needs to be influenced by policy decisions depends also on the solutions prove to be effective.