Exploring how employees adapt to an innovative contemporary workplace: how do office-free workspaces influence communication and work practices? (2020)
Type of ContentTheses / Dissertations
Degree NameMaster of Commerce
PublisherUniversity of Canterbury
AuthorsShamy, Sophia Maryshow all
Large firms are increasingly swapping individual offices for open-plan workspace designs with few partitions or dedicated personal desks. Managers and designers claim that these new work environments foster collaboration, improve communication, and encourage an activity- based use of space, while reducing facility costs.
The shift to open-plan workspaces has spawned an extensive multidisciplinary literature addressing how these work environments influence employee’s satisfaction, privacy and communication, yet there remains a lack of consensus as to whether open-plan work environments facilitate, hinder, or have little effect on work-related communication.
This exploratory interpretive study sought to address this lack of consensus by revealing the common and divergent themes in employees’ sensemaking accounts of their interaction in an office-free work environment. It examined how workers accustomed to conventional office buildings experienced and made sense of activity-based workspaces in a purpose-built office- free building. In doing so, its objective was to produce a framework that provided a coherent understanding of how workers adapt to a radical change in the design of their physical work space and how this affects social dynamics, especially communication.
Data on the interactional dynamics in the new workspace were collected using deliberate non-participant observations. This evidence then shaped the questions that guided semi- structured interviews designed to gather workers’ sensemaking accounts of their experiences in the new office-free workplace. The inductive analysis involved two levels of coding designed to establish the central themes shaping workers’ accounts of their adaptation experiences and then, how these themes fitted together to represent workers’ experience of adjusting to a new office-free work environment. The first-level themes were: physical context, presence at work, social context and self-representations, position representations, and etiquette expectations. These theme categories were then coded into secondary themes in an iterative process that included the extant literature, to produce two overarching themes that captured the essence of employees’ communication experience and provided the heart of the emergent conceptual model. These were named sociomaterial effects (Orlikowski, 2007) and socially situated sensemaking (Lave & Wenger, 1991; Weick, 1995) to reflect the concepts that were present in the data.
The main contribution of this study is an empirically-based conceptual model capturing the central considerations that employees address when making sense of their experience of communicating in their contemporary office-free workplace. The central considerations are an interdependent array of social, material, and personal (i.e., self) themes. By capturing this complexity, the model provides a framework for understanding the impact on communication of sociomaterial changes at work, from the workers’ perspective. In doing so, it has considerable relevance for all managers, particularly those responsible for people and culture management when transitioning to a new spatial layout without offices, as well as change consultants and architects.