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31 January 2022
Flexible lives: spatial, temporal, and behavioural boundaries in a fluid world of work and home
The increase in flexible working has involved the reshaping of traditional modes of working including the reorientation of spatial, temporal, and behavioural boundaries between work and non-work (Reissner, Izak and Hislop 2020). Increased mobility of employees has further infringed on traditional associations between a place of work and its content. Working at different times and in multiple spaces across a working day or week has gradually become normal for many employees and entrepreneurs (Duxbury et al. 2014; Kingma 2016). For example, the rise in the number of co-working spaces in recent years has only served to highlight new forms of organising and work activity (Gandini 2015). The fluidity of social groups and work patterns, and the interplay between the formal and informal interactions between co-workers have defined contemporary flexible working patterns (Blagoev et al, 2019). Indeed, the rise in co-working spaces and the ongoing discussions around collaborative spaces highlight spatial, social and temporal shifts in our understanding of community at work (Spinuzzi et al, 2019), the embodied practices of workers (de Vaujany and Aroles, 2018), and innovation and entrepreneurship (Wang and Loo, 2017; Daniel and Ellis-Chadwick, 2016; Jimenez, 2016). A work ecosystem involving different spaces that take on different roles for different modes of work is increasingly becoming the norm. And, of course, enforced homeworking during the Covid-19 lockdown and now, a wider social awareness of where we work and why, has only hastened this.
Consequently, the concept of work itself, decoupled from time and space (Gajendran and Harrison 2007), has progressively become malleable and ‘liquid’ (Bauman 2000). The impact of such fluidity has been felt by employees, leadership teams, and organisations in many and varied ways. For example, employees working flexibly have to attend to ensuring their visibility with managers and peers. Leadership teams have to manage geographically and temporally dispersed teams, and organisations have to adapt systems and processes to cater for an increasingly flexible workforce. Indeed, navigating this fluid world of work has been a precarious undertaking for many in terms of financial, social, and mental wellbeing. Seeking to preserve a feasible work-life balance has always been difficult (Villadsen 2017), not least because controlling it may be protracted by an ‘autonomy paradox’: not only are employees who have more autonomy inclined to work longer hours (Evans, Kunda and Barley 2004; Kelliher and Anderson 2010), but perceptions of ‘being in control’ of the overflow between work and non-work may also be misleading (Izak, Reissner and McKinlay, forthcoming).
In the current climate, we only need to look at the images and stories being shared on digital platforms to see how the work/ non-work boundaries are being experienced and managed (or not) by different types of workers. For example, the recent campaign on Instagram inviting small businesses to share images and descriptions of where they work #yesthisismydesk captures the very essence of liquidity and complexity that we wish to address in our call. These stories, these microblogs and images, expose the stark reality of flexible working and the various ways in which people craft work spaces in the home, and how home life seeps back in.
Indeed, the extraordinary life/work experiment enforced by the recent COVID-19 pandemic has – temporarily at least – further changed the landscape for these protracted processes: thrust into appropriating dining rooms as classrooms and kitchen tables as meeting rooms may provoke us to rethink the ways in which we as employees or entrepreneurs, managers, and organisations organise work (Shortt and Izak 2020). The subsequent return to office-based working may have posed additional challenges to people, organisations and their workplaces, as the media has reported extensively on the health and safety issues surrounding the return to work, and organisations are pre-occupied with the practicalities of getting back to the office safely and in line with government guidelines.
These emerging changes provide as much an opportunity for rethinking the ecosystem of work, as they pose a challenge to finding a visibility at work, boundary control, and work life balance including, but not limited to the context of a post COVID-19 environment. Conscious that what is regarded as both ‘flexible’ and ‘feasible’ is always context dependent, we are inviting reflection on the following issues:
- How are home-work and other work spaces organised, who organises them, and who benefits from them?
- How were spatial, temporal, and behavioural boundaries affected by enforced homeworking during Covid-19 lockdown? How is work organised in home spaces when people are surrounded by their families? What implications has Covid-19 lockdown had on how homes and workplaces are designed?
- Reflecting on how work-life boundaries are created, what are the challenges to people’s autonomy? Who and/or what (e.g. objects, spaces, people, organisations) plays a crucial part in creating boundaries and maintaining autonomy and in what ways?
- How is ‘flexible’ work represented on digital platforms? More specifically, how can the posts/micro-blogs and images on social media platforms inform the current understanding of work/non-work boundaries and how they are experienced and managed? What impressions of flexible working are created through stories, metaphors and images? How do these impressions shape a more general understanding of flexible working?
- In what ways do colleagues, teams and organisations recognise and empathise with different configurations of flexible working (including hybrid office- and home-based models) and how might this impact future relationships at work?
- How do we define collaborative work spaces, how do they work in practice, and what shapes the cultures of work and life in these spaces?
- What gender and age differences are there in the impact of recent changes in spatial, temporal and behavioural boundaries on people’s lives and wellbeing?
- How has flexible working changed the social nature of work and how will this impact the spaces and places in which people choose to work?
- How does increasing flexibility in people’s lives shape their personal and/or professional identity as employee, entrepreneur or manager? What contextual factors and/or wider discourses are at play?
Contributions not addressing these specific questions, but relevant to the scope of this call are also welcome. We are open to submissions deriving from any robust methodology but would welcome papers using innovative research approaches such as visual, digital, or diary methods. Submissions that outline the implications for research on flexible organisation of work and fluidity of work and home are encouraged.
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