Strong Voice Interview #32: Swantje Allmers
In this Strong Voice interview, Swantje Allmers, founder of NWMS GmbH, gives us an insight into the world of New Work in the DACH region. She clears up misunderstandings, emphasises individual responsibility and gives practical tips on how to get started with the New Work philosophy. An inspiring conversation with an expert who is actively shaping the future of the world of work.
"[New work] is primarily about turning work into something that empowers people."
Photo: Sebastian Fuchs
Swantje, you are driving New Work in the DACH region like no other. What are the biggest New Work misconceptions that persist and that you hear again and again?
Here are my top 3:
- New Work is primarily about making work more enjoyable through benefits and remote arrangements.
- New Work is something for which managers and companies alone are responsible.
- New Work is an elitist bubble topic that only relates to people in the office anyway.
These misunderstandings have arisen because the term has been used to describe many things over the past two years.
But if we go back to the core of New Work, it is primarily about turning work into something that empowers people. Which is not synonymous with minimising the time spent on or with work and keeping people motivated through benefits. Rather, it is about organising work in such a way that it makes sense, that we can contribute our strengths and talents and that people can grow professionally and personally in the process. In practice, this has many facets, which is why New Work is a never-ending process and not a state that needs to be achieved.
With regard to the second prejudice, I would like to emphasise that new ways of working only work if everyone involved is on board. One example is hybrid working, where some employees work remotely and others in the office. The company must set a binding framework and provide the technical infrastructure. Managers must help shape and support the team process "How do we want to work together under the new circumstances?". They also need to consider how hybrid leadership works - the company should provide support here through training and coaching. And employees must also make a contribution, for example by remaining visible and approachable when working from home and being prepared to make compromises in the interests of the team.
And finally, I would like to add that New Work did not originally come from the world of office workers. The philosopher and founder of New Work, Frithjof Bergmann, focussed primarily on factory workers in the 1980s. Frederic Laloux also examined numerous companies such as Morning Star (manufacturer of tomato products), FAVI (automotive supplier), Buurtzorg (care provider) and ESBZ (school) for his book Reinventing Organisations and showed how New Work can function there.
One of your most-liked posts on LinkedIn has the headline "Oh, you're leaving already? Only half day today?". Most of us have probably heard that before. What's the best way to respond to that?
"Yes, because I've already finished my work" is a good response to this comment.
However, if it hits you emotionally, you should reflect back to the person how the comment comes across and what it triggers in you. Many people give too little thought to how their communication is received by others. In this respect, it is valuable to mirror this. The basic rules of non-violent communication are very helpful here: 1. what happened objectively (no interpretation), 2. what feeling did it trigger in me, 3. what is my need and 4. what is my request to the other person for the future. This works very well and often helps me to communicate and resolve difficult issues constructively.
If there is a bigger issue behind it, such as the impression that someone is not working hard enough, it naturally requires a more in-depth exchange. The appropriate framework for doing this depends on the situation. However, I would not ignore the issue.
New Work is a complex topic that cannot be implemented "just like that". But what is a good first step that employees, the self-employed and managers can initiate?
I think it makes sense to start with yourself first. For example, by looking at your own strengths and asking yourself how you can utilise them even better at work. The topic of finding personal meaning can also be a good starting point or working on your own resilience (psychological resistance), which is a very important meta-competence in today's (working) world.
I would basically advise managers to do the same. But I would also recommend reflecting on the topic of leadership. For example, where are there starting points for giving more responsibility to the team and acting more as a sparring partner? This does not mean that leadership has to be completely turned inside out, but gradually strengthening employees and their personal responsibility is an important step on the way to New Work.
If you want to improve teamwork, you can also start with a simple retrospective. Not new, but powerful. Here you collect together what is going well in the collaboration and what is not. The points where there is a need for improvement are then prioritised and the next steps are worked out together with the team.
You yourself ventured out of employment and into self-employment - was there a breaking point for you when you decided to do so? And what advice would you give to others who are at this point right now?
In my last job before becoming self-employed, I was only employed for one year - but I actually knew after just one week that I wouldn't be happy there. As I felt this wrong decision was my "fault", it made me take a long hard look at what I wanted to do and in what environment. I also talked a lot about this with others. And then someone knew an entrepreneur who was looking for external support in the area that I wanted to do in the future. That was my first customer and my start in self-employment.
I advise people who are now at that point to reflect on what they really, really want. It can be exhausting, but it's worth it. It also helps if you talk to others about your own plans and ideas, because this is where the most interesting insights and coincidences arise. If someone is critical of your ideas, you shouldn't let this discourage you. And at some point, you simply have to get into action and gain experience.
And finally, can you tell us which AMELI you have and why you chose this model?
I have the CENTRAL 23, the limited edition in dark green that you made together with Annahita Esmailzadeh. The bag is incredibly beautiful. And I love the fact that I can put so much in it and it still looks elegant, because I always have a lot with me.
Photo: Sebastian Fuchs
Swantje Allmers founded the New Work consultancy NWMS GmbH (New Work Masterskills), which helps people and organisations to understand New Work holistically, implement it and use it as an opportunity for themselves. She has been supporting well-known companies in their reorganisation in the area of New Work for over ten years. Prior to this, she held various corporate positions and worked in research.
Swantje is also co-author of the book "On the Way to New Work" and one of the most sought-after voices on the topic of HR and the world of work. In 2023, she was recognised as one of the 99 most important HR voices, voted one of the LinkedIn DACH Top 50 and received the DRX Award as an HR content expert.