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A Brave New Workplace: Disclosing the smart and the dark sides of the alternative office spaces

Time: Thu 2020-02-20 09.00

Location: F3, Lindstedtsvägen 26, Stockholm (English)

Subject area: Industrial Economics and Management

Doctoral student: Claudia Manca , Industriell ekonomi och organisation (Inst.), Industrial Management

Opponent: Professor Viviane Sergi, Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM)

Supervisor: Full Professor Matti Kaulio, Industriell ekonomi och organisation (Inst.); Professor Mercedes Grijalvo, Universidad Politécnica de Madrid (UPM); Professor Miguel Palacios, ESCP Europe


In recent decades, several knowledge work organizations have introduced alternative workplaces (AWs) that are implemented through flexible and collaborative office models. Their rapid diffusion has been prompted by the deterministic assumption that these may influence workers’ relations and behaviors in the office, in a way that is conducive to greater collaboration and adaptive flexibility. Yet, the scarce empirical fieldwork on alternative workplaces and their multidisciplinary nature limit our understanding of their actual implications for people and organizations.

This thesis questions the validity of the deterministic assumption guiding the implementation, use, and design of AWs, and identifies a set of approaches that companies and managers can employ to avoid inconsistencies and negative outcomes. To do this, this thesis builds upon a collection of studies that have been designed to address four research questions. The first study identifies a framework for AWs that has been used as a cognitive model to interpret the results and draw the boundaries of the empirical fieldwork (RQ1). The framework has been employed in an exploratory analysis, aimed at a systematic overview of the barriers and enablers that companies encounter when implementing AWs (RQ2). The second study explores how AWs are experienced by individuals and groups of knowledge workers, by bringing new opportunities and challenges that cast themselves as oppositional tensions (RQ3). The third study looks at how knowledge workers interpret the AW and enact its organization, by means of spatial practices that problematize the status of its flexible and permeable boundaries (RQ4). The fourth study develops a systematic approach to identifying the spatial implications of AWs (RQ3, 4).

Drawing upon these studies, the thesis posits three important contributions. First, it feeds the discussions on AWs by bringing new empirical evidence in a relatively under-researched area. Second, it advances the concept of the AW, by providing a high-level model synthesizing the different organizational areas in which implementation and discourses have taken place. This thesis advocates the need to bring together the discussions on the different aspects of the AW under the same banner, to better investigate the interactional effects between different implementation areas. Third, the thesis contributes to workplace research and sociology of space by shedding some light on the impact of the spatial reconfiguration of work activities and relations brought by AWs to people and companies. From a practical perspective, this thesis identifies some approaches that are available to companies and their managers to handle the tensions and the identity threats that arise in the new office environment.