From Face Time to Flex Time: The Role of Physical Space in Worker Temporal Flexibility

Source: Leroy Gonsalves, Administrative Science Quarterly, OnlineFirst, Published February 27, 2020
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From the abstract:
Despite the great potential for flexible work policies to increase worker temporal flexibility—the extent to which workers control when and where their work tasks are completed—organizational scholars have found that employees rarely use them for fear of career penalties. This study sheds light on this flexibility paradox by drawing attention to the overlooked yet crucial role of physical space. Using 14 months of field research during an office redesign at a large professional sales organization, I find that a reconfiguration of physical space intended to reduce costs had the unintended consequence of disrupting taken-for-granted greeting practices, noticing practices, and evaluative beliefs. Changes to social practices led employees to feel less concern about trait inferences of dependability and commitment arising from their physical presence and to experience greater temporal flexibility. The findings contribute to a model in which the relationship between flexible work policies and temporal flexibility is moderated by the physical space. By identifying the physical space as a novel determinant of temporal flexibility, the study reveals the structural underpinnings of the flexibility paradox and more generally contributes to our understanding of how physical spaces structure social life in organizations.