A flexible workplace requires stability!


Technological advancements in digital technologies and an employer’s quest to reduce their risks by diversifying forms of employment for various types of staff has been pushing the issue of flexibility for a while. From an employee’s standpoint what are known as digital nomads are perhaps the most extreme version of greater flexibility.

Digital nomads are often knowledge workers and can be long-term employees but are usually freelancers or project consultants who embody the idea of "work from everywhere". These nomads are driven by being able to travel unhindered. The backlash is that this kind of lifestyle can easily become a "work anytime" without the possibility of creating boundaries between private life and work.

Consequently, even extreme flexibility seems to result in a need for procedures, a sense of community, discipline – and it’s these needs which lead digital nomads to seek out diverse types of coworking spaces. In other words, they still seem to require a workplace, something that gives them stability and context by framing the work in the same kind of aesthetic, no matter where they are located. The availability of Wi-Fi and other necessary technical solutions is important, as well as bringing together other like-minded people from what’s known as the "creative class".

Regular offices had started to change before the pandemic came – the workplace itself had started to become more flexible. Activity-based offices and flexible offices are being used more frequently, to make the workplace more dynamic, collaborative and at the same time cost-effective.

The goal of breaking down the silos that often exist in organisations has thus been operationalised into office areas where stable boundaries have now become blurred. This has created new interfaces between employees but has also removed the stability and context that the traditional workplace offered. Managers must therefore direct their energy into once again creating a sense of belonging and stability for their staff. This is something that has been further complicated by the increased incidence of remote working, produced by the pandemic.

Today, for knowledge-intensive professions, many managers are faced with the challenge of recreating a sense of stability and context, while being expected to maintain and develop flexible working and a flexible workplace which has become increasingly commonplace. Therefore innovative ways of working together and maintaining relationships need to be developed.

This includes discussions about and the development of guidelines for where you are expected to work, why, and how meetings must be conducted. These issues are currently being discussed in many organisations, but often without an understanding of what the needs are and what kind of role a workplace should play. We thus propose to develop the understanding of the need for stability and context on the one hand, and flexibility on the other, moving beyond a discussion about whether or not to go "back" which risks missing key dimensions in what the workplace does for work and employees.

Lucia Crevani