A journey through the new world of work

Guest contribution by | 23.05.2024

The courage to rethink

For years, I have been exploring New Work, scrutinising the narratives together with my clients and boldly experimenting. More and more, however, I am realising that new work also involves rethinking and reshaping other areas of life. We can’t leave everything else as it is and simply work in a new way. In this article, I tell you about my working life as a nomad and about my insights and experiences from 15 countries and countless conversations.

The perfect work is not something you find, it’s something you create

“What do you do?” – “I travel” is my new answer. In the past, I would have replied that I am an occupational psychologist, a consultant, a speaker – the typical terms that help my interviewer to categorise me quickly.

In a world characterised by a constant stream of change and a flood of transformation, I decided in March 2023 to leave the beaten track and embark on a journey full of adventure, self-discovery and new perspectives. Inspired by the words of Albert Einstein, who once said: “We cannot find solutions to new problems by thinking in the old way”, I decided to embark on my own journey through the modern world of work. As a nomad living out of a suitcase.

For me, this journey is not just a physical movement from one place to another, but a journey of transformation, a journey of self-discovery and rethinking. I follow the quote from Chris Guillebeau:

“The perfect work is not something you find, it’s something you create.”

I have decided to rethink my understanding of work. Collaboration, working hours, working time, productivity, value creation, planning and collaboration. As a psychologist, I have learnt that true change often comes from within, and so I decided to push my own boundaries and open myself up to new experiences.

New beginnings: inspiration is everywhere

It started with a courageous step – leaving my partnership and the flat we shared. Instead of feeling sorry for myself, I decided to reorganise my life and spread my wings. I sold or gave away my furniture and my car and bought my first one-way ticket.

My family lives in seven different countries around the world, and the first stages of my journey were spent with my family. With my laptop as my constant companion and a good internet connection as my gateway to the world, I learnt that the boundaries between personal and professional life can become blurred. Conversations with my mum about the challenges of the world of work were just as fruitful as with a McKinsey consultant at the airport. My nieces and nephews, who are still at school, have inspired me with their questions, as have the podcasts and blog posts that I consume.

In other words: Inspiration is everywhere if we are willing to listen and open our understanding of what work can be. Rather than being guided by the familiar images and established understanding, rethinking our working lives on the go can progress even faster than when we meet for hour-long workshops in a seminar room.

I’ll never forget a cup of coffee in Manhattan. I watched people rushing to work in the morning and looked for joy in their faces. Or anticipation. And yes, of course it was a Monday. I looked for a really long time, hoping so much to find someone who was looking forward to their working day. How many people dream of living and working in New York! But those who are living the dream don’t seem to really enjoy it. Yes, I have searched in vain for a smiling face in New York.

Border crossings and working in old age

Travelling has a lot to do with airports, train stations and numerous services. And I’ve always observed how people work there. Is it just about completing tasks, or can I also have fun with people, chat, swap stories, learn a new foreign word? It is quite possible that many of these jobs will be carried out by a machine with smart software in the future – as is already the case in many places with automated passport control. What real human labour will be left for us then?

There are many boundaries that we can rethink in the modern world of work. Do boundaries between private and professional life make sense and why? How do I separate my working time from my private family time in my home office, especially if I don’t have a separate room for my work? How do I draw a line between learning for myself and learning for my client or employer? Do we still need boundaries between individual and team performance, individual and team assessment?

And what will the future hold for the boundary between pure learning and study time, active working time and what we now call retirement? I am sure that this boundary will become increasingly blurred. People will perhaps try out the world of work much earlier and – like me – enjoy the so-called “intermediate pension” while working, in order to then – like my father – still be active in the world of work in their mid-70s, because we humans are getting older and older and our mental abilities are available for longer and longer.

In Mexico, there is a so-called lifelong labour law. If you don’t want to, you don’t have to retire. You are no longer entitled to a career or promotion, but your last salary is still paid and you keep your job for as long as you want. My father, now 75, is passionate about going to work every day – not because he has to, but because he can’t imagine life without his colleagues and his tasks.

In the USA, it is common for older people (in our parlance, people of retirement age) to be the “ask me” person in many museums and airports to provide guidance or explain something. These people are not sitting alone at home, but have daily contact with many visitors and feel important and significant.

Through such experiences, I have questioned my own prejudices and assumptions and gained new insights about myself and the world around me The old narrative that work takes place five days a week between 9am and 5pm and somewhere between university and retirement makes no sense at all in my view in many professions and industries. Iceland is trialling the four-day week and I’ve been testing asynchronous working with small video messages across several time zones for over a year. It works well.

Less is more

For more than a hundred years, we have been striving to become faster, better and more productive, creating more and more every year. We want to see growth on every graph in the boardroom. Of course, these goals made a lot of sense in the past, which is why we still follow them automatically today. But if we are honest, we don’t always need more everywhere. Travelling around the US, I’ve always marvelled at how many different brands and products there are, including different packaging, marketing strategies and everything that goes with it. And guess which industry – more than almost any other – has grown by more than 50 per cent since 2010?

No, not vegan food or life-saving medicines, but self-storage facilities. I am also a customer of a self-storage facility in Hamburg, where I store my books and clothes and repack my suitcase every few months. But most people have a self-storage unit next to their normal flat, often next to an attic or garage.

We acquire more and more, we buy and keep. And why do we do that? Yes, because it’s there. And because we work so much that we feel we should treat ourselves to something. Or at least we shouldn’t have less than our neighbours or an influencer on TikTok.

And so I sat with my cappuccino in Italy waiting for my train to Rimini and thought about how nice it is to have less and – as a result – to work less. By working less, I certainly don’t mean sitting around lazily, but spending my active, awake, useful time on activities that are worthwhile. The famous Italian dolce far niente has actually given me more clarity than many a training programme in recent years.

Wage labour and value contribution

Wage labour, another myth of the old world of work. What is rewarded? Being awake and looking at the screen? Attending a meeting? Answering emails? How do we even recognise the value contribution in our daily work?

And how do we see the connection between what we call work and money, i.e. pay? I am writing this article, for example, without being “paid” for it. Because I see added value in this activity – sharing my insights and experiences with you.

When I talk to managers about their value contribution, many become very thoughtful, even sad. Although we now have access to modern technology and can increase our productivity enormously through automation, apps and flexibilisation of work, many perceive their work as useless, purely administrative, reactive. Putting out fires and somehow making it to Friday afternoon is how many describe their week.

That makes me think and often sad. I would like to see a different working world for all of us – one in which the word “wage” can be replaced by something new, working hours are not measured in terms of money and the meaning of one’s work becomes visible to everyone on a daily basis.


I see the biggest challenges in today’s world of work

a) in the generational change (in a few years many employees in Germany will retire),
b) in the speed of technological development, which is not in line with the slow pace of human evolution,
c) in the ongoing discussion about work location (office versus mobile) and working hours (hours per week), which is holding us back rather than moving us forward and
d) in the far-reaching distance from our gut feeling and intuition due to the strong presence of technology in our lives.

Many large companies cling to the old idea of how work happens or works, and this old idea comes from industrialisation or the industrial age. We have entered an age where tasks and roles in the world of work can be turned completely upside down. Tasks can be done together with AI, synchronously and asynchronously and at any time. Planning makes less and less sense, while intuition, listening, good communication, co-design, trust and team coordination are becoming increasingly important.

However, I can see that these challenges are leading to anxiety in many places, and anxiety is known to cause flight or fight responses in our brains. The result is longer and longer discussions about who is right, and more and more employees are quitting (internally or actually), which leads to more problems.

The more I travel and work from the road, the more I recognise that slowing down, pausing, reflecting in peace and then moving forward in small steps and experiments is the best way through these uncertain times. If we take small steps instead of making big plans, we will have more courage to move forward at all instead of remaining in a collective paralysis of fear. And if more and more of us break out of this paralysis of fear and experiment courageously, then we will also make progress as a society. And we have a lot to do.

My journey through the modern world of work has been one of self-discovery, rethinking and transformation. By leaving my comfort zone, I have not only gained new perspectives, but also inner strength and clarity. I invite you to be courageous and break new ground, because this is the only way we can successfully master the challenges of the modern working world and continue to develop.



Where do you stand in terms of New Work trends and what is the best next step? Nadja Petranovskaja offers you a personalised, interactive and co-creative journey into the future: three appointments, one world-class result.

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Nadja Petranovskaja has published another post on the t2informatik Blog:

t2informatik Blog: Actively letting go

Actively letting go

Nadja Petranovskaja

Nadja Petranovskaja

Nadja Petranovskaja is an organisational psychologist on her way to a better world where work is fun. She moved to a foreign country to study psychology. In the meantime, she has gathered over 30 years of international experience as a consultant, project manager and executive.

Nadja has built planes, restructured banks, filmed TV shows, written books and (by now) trained thousands of managers. She has been an entrepreneur since 2011, working with bright organisations to connect the new with the old and develop future scenarios that matter.

  • Life without fun? No, thanks!
  • Finally Monday? Every week!

She writes about the future of work and the myriad possibilities we sometimes overlook because we are so terribly busy. In doing so, she is actively shaping the future.

She gives practical and inspiring talks and facilitates sessions that bring these possibilities to life. There is currently a waiting list for coaching sessions.