The Impact of New Ways of Working on Organizations and Employees: A Systematic Review of Literature

Karine Renard, Frédéric Cornu, Yves Emery & David Giauque (2021)

Administrative Sciences, 11(2), pp. 1-18. Open access

Abstract. A new research stream emerged in the 2000s dedicated to flexible work arrangements in public and private organizations, called “new ways of working” (NWW). This article aims to examine NWW from both a theoretical and empirical perspective, focusing on definitional issues as well as on HR outcomes of this new concept. Current definitions of NWW are manifold and based on rather vague theoretical foundations. As NWW outcomes may be both positive and/or negative, we mobilize the “mutual gains” vs. “conflicting outcomes” theoretical debate to discuss the results of our literature review. This review is based on 21 articles (out of 90 initially selected for eligibility) dealing with NWW as a concept or as a bundle of practices. Findings demonstrate that NWW definitions are diverse and somewhat imprecise, lacking theoretical foundations and leading to fragmented research designs and findings. Findings also highlight the current lack of empirical data, which therefore does not allow any real conclusions on NWW’s effects on employees’ and organizations’ well-being and performance.

Extract: “As we show below, these author discrepancies are at least partially due to an under-theorization of NWW. In the 21 reviewed articles, only eight anchor NWW in an existing theoretical framework (see Table 1), including the job demands–resources model (Gerards et al. 2018b; Peters et al. 2014; Van Steenbergen et al. 2017), HR-management process model (Peters et al. 2014), economics of conventions (Brandl et al. 2019), sociology of translation (Jemine et al. 2019), Lefebvre’s theory on production of space (Kingma 2019), and signaling theory (Schmoll and Süß 2019). These theoretical perspectives are as varied as they are difficult to compare. While the J-DR model is well known in the field of organizational commitment and well-being studies, the same cannot be said of signaling theory, which aims to focus more strongly on the communication processes within organizations. As for the economics of conventions, inspired by the central work of Boltanski and Thévenot (1991), it questions the existence of common “superior worlds or principles” influencing individual behaviors and competing in each organization. The legitimacy of NWWs can in fact be apprehended in very different ways depending on the values or principles on the basis of which the evaluation of professional activities is carried out. The sociology of translation, or Actor–Network Theory (Callon and Latour 1981), states that organizations should not be read in terms of social groups, but as networks in which objects and “techniques” or technologies should be seen as real actors. What makes the organization or the social are the relationships and mediations between humans and non-humans in organizations and the analysis should focus on these associations. Lefebvre’s Marxist-inspired theory emphasizes that space is a product, built by human societies, and that once constructed this geographical space has an impact on society. This theory therefore invites us to consider the NWW as a production of space and its impact on work collectives. As can be seen, these different theories do not all share the same ontological and epistemological foundations and do not necessarily contribute to the production of comparable empirical results. The cumulativity of knowledge is therefore not yet favored, despite the diversity of perspectives deployed.”

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