Sub-theme 54: MERGED with sub-theme 53!


Call for Papers

In an increasingly volatile environment, investments in technology and skills alone are insufficient to ensure the innovation and versatility required for a sustainable future. Effective and sustainable organizations are likely to be those in which workers at all levels use and develop their full range of knowledge, experience and creativity, responding to external challenges and opportunities while simultaneously building their own resilience and quality of working life. The emerging concept of workplace innovation describes the work practices that enable such outcomes.

In a way, innovation is standard in workplace design as workplaces are constantly being shaped and reshaped. One should distinguish between innovation at the level of individual organizations on the one hand, and on the other hand conceptual innovation, i.e. never-thought-of design ideas that are new to any organization. Both require substantial efforts to materialize. From the perspective of single organizations, each and every change in workplace design is innovative, as it requires the application and therewith translation of abstract design principles in a concrete setting. For instance, "lean production" has been the focus of innumerable publications yet applying lean insights in a hospital setting is far from straightforward. Lifting this to the conceptual level may lead to new insights on how to design "lean health care institutions" and therewith abstract design guidelines, i.e. conceptual innovation.

At the conceptual level, sociotechnical design is one of the best theoretically founded approaches to (re)design production processes and workplaces. Abstract principles such as complexity reduction and balancing control needs with control capacity have been worked out in a concrete design approach which has been validated in practice. Its strength lies in providing insights to design manageable organization structures. As an approach focusing on designing organization structures, it has been criticized for neglecting agency. A proper structure may enable proper behavior, yet this does not come about automatically as take for granted in sociotechnical design. The notion of "relational coordination" may be a useful complement to sociotechnical design. Relational coordination stands for coordinating work through shared goals, shared understanding and mutual respect. These may be fostered by organizational measures.

Another focus lies on the use of technology in workplace innovation. Technology-related reshaping of workplaces may in praxis be a more important driver of workplace change than concepts of workplace design per se. Technology does not have effects per se, but only through its enactments by human actors. Nevertheless, technology is often designed without taking into account the effects it may have on organizational structures and workplaces. Technology may thus have negative implications, both in terms of effective organizations and proper jobs. The increasing sophistication of software may even be used to fight the symptoms of poorly structured processes and organizations, thus preventing solving the underlying problem. On the other hand, technology also creates new potential for workplace innovations, supporting employees in their jobs and facilitating communication.


The sub-theme will bring together scholars with fresh and diverse insights into both the nature and impact of workplace innovation. Academic and practitioner views are invited. Prescriptive as well as descriptive papers on contemporary workplace design are welcomed. Sociotechnical design, relational coordination, and the integration of new technologies into workplaces are prioritized sub-themes.