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Here our researchers comment timely research related to remote work and digital organizing.

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The era of remote work challenges companies to redefine and reorganize physical workplaces

The Covid-19 pandemic has lasted for over a year and many companies have begun to question the necessity of office spaces and physical workplaces. Workers have adapted to remote work well, and even tasks that used to require a physical work location or materials can get done remotely. At the same, maintaining empty office spaces in physical locations is costly. In this week’s newsletter, our researchers discuss recent research findings on workers’ expectations on traditional work practices and changes in physical workspaces. It is safe to say, the workplace, as we knew it will not be the same after the pandemic.

Iina Savolainen
EDITOR, Post-doctoral Researcher of Social Science at University of Tampere

iina.savolainen@tuni.fi

From Face Time to Flex Time: The Role of Physical Space in Worker Temporal Flexibility New types of hybrid work models will be the work patterns of future jobs. Knowledge workers can work flexibly at home, in a coffee shop, or at work. Flexible working practices where knowledge workers can choose where and when they do their work are the way to work in the future. Flexible practices require both mental changes in belief patterns and perceptions of how work is done and where it can be done. The proliferation of remote work is leading to the re-design and reorganization of workspaces. Keeping empty office space brings extra costs for companies. Redefining work tasks, where and how they are done, and what kind of material artifacts are needed to perform the task are questions that help reorganize workspaces. Gonsalves (2020) explored” temporal flexibility,” which he defines ”the extent to which employees can control when and where their tasks are performed.” Temporal flexibility is important for employees as it can reduce work-family conflict and improve health and well-being and alleviate stress. Temporal flexibility can also be used to balance employees’ work and leisure roles. Some employees want a clear distinction between work and leisure roles, while others prefer to mix these roles. Flexible work practices have sometimes failed in previous organizational studies. Employees are concerned that flexibility could raise doubts about how productive or efficient employees are at home and could halt their career progression in the organization. This is because a physical presence in the office can give others a picture of trustfulness and commitment. Gonsalves (2020) explored a large international company, ”BigCorp”, that renovated workspaces in their sales department. The company had more than 500 employees. The study was a 14-month field study. Data collection included 1400 hours of observation, 50 semi-structured interviews and company survey data. In the past, each employee had their own workstation where the others saw when they came and left. The organization had a culture where employees thought they should be visible in the workplace and presence was a sign of a hard worker, although extending hours spent in the office may not always have been effective. The organization already had a flexible working policy, but the organizational culture had the effect that flexibility was hardly utilized. The company offered flexible practices to all its employees. ”BigCorp” offered employees the opportunity to choose when they start and end their workday. Employees were able to start work on time at 7:00 a.m. or later at 9:30 a.m. and were able to end the day between 3.00 p.m. and 5:30 p.m., depending on when they had started their day. Reform reduced the number of floors in the BigCorp-building, which brought savings in rental costs. Diverse workspaces were available on each floor and were designed for specific task needs. The new workspace had a library space located far from the end of the office, far from the busier areas. The open areas had little or no partitions and had modern furniture such as high and low tables and comfortable low chairs. The lounge was intended for casual conversations or low-concentration work. The break-out rooms were small closed-door rooms located throughout the office for meetings of one or five people or for making private calls.

The remaining meeting rooms were large, with doors ranging in size from 6 to 20 people, requiring advance booking. The premises also had password-operated lockers where employees could store personal items such as jackets, shoes, or bags. This allowed workers to move easily between spaces. After the change of premises, employees found flexible work easier than before.

In the past, old repetitive routines, such as greeting practices, perceptual practices and evaluative beliefs, had formed in the old premises, and the change in premises changed these routines and thus affected employees’ thoughts and attitudes about work flexibility. In the new office, no one was smothering others to come and go, as they were able to work freely on different floors, with the client, in the coffee store or at home. 

"The change in the working space led to a change in attitudes. Employees were no longer afraid of the attitude of their co-workers or supervisors. In the old office, employees were waiting to meet colleagues at their desks and would notice deviations from these expectations. After the reform, employees did not have a single assigned desk that would have attracted attention to their presence or absence. With the change in physical condition, it was more comfortable for employees to work from home and flexibly. Physical space played a major role in changing attitudes toward flexible working."
Niina Salo
Researcher, at LUT University

niina.salo@lut.fi

Literature: Gonsalves, L. (2020). From Face Time to Flex Time: The Role of Physical Space in Worker Temporal Flexibility, Administrative Science Quarterly, 65(4),1058–1091.

Covid-19 and the new norm of (digital) working

The COVID-19 pandemic abruptly interrupted normal work routines that resulted in increased remote work. Interestingly, many changes and trends were already on their way and in the making but the sudden outbreak of the new coronavirus accelerated the implementation of many of those trends, such as increasing digitalization of work.

One major difference exists though: In a normal situation, remote work was open to employee preferences, which was not an option given the strict social distancing policies due to the pandemic. How do forced remote work and digitalization influence employees’ thoughts about work?

A study by Nagel (2020) from the early stages of the pandemic set to answer this question (among others) and examined the digital transformation of work. The quantitative study surveyed 554 adult workers. The survey measured the workers’ thoughts about traditional and digital jobs as a secure source of income, and anticipations of the importance of digital forms of work.

According to the study, workers’ perceived importance of traditional jobs as a secure source of income decreased while the importance of digital jobs increased. Furthermore, the study found that workers predicted digital jobs to be more likely sources of secure income in the future than before and during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Some workers expected that traditional jobs will again increase their importance in the future but their importance as a secure source of income was still considered significantly less than before the pandemic.

"This study shows that already early in the pandemic, people were beginning to think about remote (digital) work as the new norm and the way forward. Traditional jobs may quickly start to lose attractiveness as digital work becomes more and more widespread and effective. Digital work also creates new jobs and can be seen as a more secure choice of work. Importantly, personal income has a significant influence on job satisfaction. However, traditional work is still needed and essential. The balance between traditional and digital forms of work needs to be achieved."
Iina Savolainen
Post-doctoral Researcher at University of Tampere

iina.savolainen@tuni.fi

Literature: Nagel, L. (2020). The influence of the COVID-19 pandemic on the digital transformation of work. International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy.

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