By Peter Ittermann and Martin Eisenmann | TU Dortmund – Adaptive, integrated and participative: this is how human-oriented logistics work must develop in the context of progressive digitization. A total of six key criteria can serve as a basis for well-designed digital work.

01 What is the key aspect of adaptivity all about? Industry 4.0 (logistics) systems should be designed to meet the specific demands made upon them, i.e. digital systems should be ergonomically adapted to explicit working conditions and stresses. Furthermore, both information and assistance systems must be intelligently adaptable to suit the range of qualification levels of different employees.

02 Complementarity focuses on the flexible, situation-specific distribution of functions between humans and machines as well as ensuring the system is sufficiently transparent and controllable by the employees. Intelligent machines already carry out orders autonomously in real situations in companies. This changes the way humans and technology interact. Intelligently networked lifting and material handling equipment, that can only be started by humans when all safety questions have been dealt with satisfactorily, are good examples of systems that can be operated intuitively and learnt quickly.

03 The integrity criterion refers to the completeness of activities in two respects: an activity profile should always include implementation tasks as well as organizational, planning and monitoring tasks. A mix of both more and less demanding tasks is required to ensure that overall stress levels remain acceptable. In addition, an integrated approach to activities is the key condition for achieving a high degree of regulation while providing room for manoeuvre and the chance to achieve self-organized work. 

04 The dynamics of activities, so-called polyvalence, are all about the possibilities of work organization which can enable and foster learning processes. This is also where (tried and tested) methods of systematic job rotation are applied in companies, such as when switching between conveyor work, order picking or driving forklifts. 

05 The introduction of decentralized systems is intended to make organizational use of the design potential of new, highly decentralized digital technologies. Thanks to self-organized, i.e. autonomous, production and logistics systems, new opportunities are opening up to create the technical and organizational conditions for new forms of flexibly integrated and innovative work. Decentralized systems are also an important organizational condition for companies to open up more to the outside world, for a stronger service and customer orientation as well as for changing business models. 

06 By involving employees, their experience and process knowledge can be utilized in system and work process design. At the same time, broad participation and co-determination structures increase the acceptance and involvement of employees and their representative bodies.

April 2018

More about the topic

Peter Ittermann and Martin Eisenmann more specifically look into the scientific dialogue about this topic in the research report »Hybrid services and change of work. Challenges and prospects in logistics«, sociological working paper no. 50/2017, TU Dortmund University (in German).