Start-ups and innovation

World of work 4.0: Success factor people on the road to digitization

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We live in a digital, networked, dynamic world. And the world of work is feeling the impact more and more. What many people forget on the road to digitization: When it comes to technologies, it's not about the technology itself but about people. If an SME wants to succeed, it must be able to enthuse its staff for the world of work 4.0. We'll show you some ways forward.

Will a robot soon be doing my job? Are we prepared for modern-day job profiles? Digitization is triggering considerable worries, if not fear, in the workforce. Three quarters of the Swiss perceive the digitalization within their private lives as a significant or very significant encroachment. But there's little time left for uncertainty. Artificial intelligence and big data are a mainstay of our everyday lives; the so-called world of work 4.0 is already reality. The arrival of 5G can be expected to further accelerate the digital transformation. The level of digital maturity of an SME is therefore increasingly becoming one of the most important factors for its success.

Not every worker is enthusiastic about digitization

Mention of digitization leads us to think of technology in the first instance. However, a company's competitiveness doesn't only depend on its efficient use of digital tools. People remain the key to business success. Because it's people who design the changes and implement the digital transformation in a company.

But not everyone is positive about the digital transformation. In 2017, Zurich University of Applied Sciences (ZHAW) asked 629 Swiss companies, a third of which were SMEs, about the world or work 4.0 and about the people factor. The results of the study were surprising: A mere 57 percent of respondents stated that digitization had made their job easier. Worrying: Just 42 percent agreed that digitization had made them happier at work.

Making the digital transformation tangible

Swiss SMEs are facing big challenges. How will you persuade your people to break new ground? What's essential: Take their fears and resentments seriously. Fears arise in particular when the threat is intangible. And this is mainly because of the lack of knowledge about digitization. Which is why it's important to make digitization visible by showing concrete examples. If a lack of knowledge is at the root of the problem, organize a further training program with those affected.

Trust and not control

In order to trigger understanding for change, it helps to focus on the positive aspects that the world of work 4.0 will bring to the workforce. Freeing yourself from traditional, rigid working models provides greater space for creativity and innovation. Digitization means more personal responsibility. Demonstrate to your staff how things would be if they could work entirely independently – no more fixed eight-hour days sitting in the office and no boss watching over their shoulder.

Freeing yourself from traditional, rigid working models provides greater space for creativity and innovation.

Digitization means more personal responsibility.

An agile model instead of hierarchy

Today, medium-sized companies in particular are still characterized by their strict hierarchies. Long and complicated decision-making processes are part and parcel of companies with hierarchical structures. In a world that is moving faster and faster and is becoming increasingly networked, this rigidity is a danger to competitiveness. That's why many companies are adopting the agile model that has only become possible due to digital technology. In concrete terms, responsibility is transferred to working teams that are organized to a certain extent across the disciplines. The role of the manager is thereby entirely redefined. Employees provide their expertise precisely where it is most needed and where they can realize their potential.

Flexibility instead of nine-to-five

Not everyone is made to be productive on a Monday morning at 8am in a traditional workplace. Modern technology increasingly allows staff to work independent of place and time. And not only in their home offices, as working from home does not suit everyone. A good alternative is coworking spaces. This is a place where staff come into contact with people from other companies. They benefit from flexibility and can realize their potential in an inspiring working environment. Whether home office, coworking space or the traditional office: Digitization makes ways of working possible that meet the individual needs of all employees. And it's precisely this advantage that needs to be stressed if you are to succeed in reducing worker skepticism toward the world of work 4.0.


Successfully mastering the future means putting your trust in the success factor people. It's people who make success possible and carry others along with them. Compared to large corporations, you as an SME have a big advantage. It's a lot easier to motivate staff to take a new path in smaller companies than in sluggish big companies. As a manager, it's your role to set the necessary direction for a modern, competitive working culture.

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