Flexibility in time and place – opportunities and risks

Published on: 09 Aug 08:11

Bruce Mars

Digitalization makes work get more and more flexible in terms of working hours and workplace. Mobile devices enable working remotely and time-independently as well as constant reachability. Virtual and mobile work increases, business meetings are held via video conferencing and new work models like crowdworking arise.

According to a study of Bitkom, 79% of the employees are working with mobile devices, like computers, smartphones, notebooks and tablets. 75% of them are sometimes working remotely, while one third works regularly from home.[1]

But which opportunities and risks do this new forms of working implicate?

Flexibility and self-determination

Flexible working hours and places lead to the fact that companies entrust control of its employees work to the employees themselves. This corresponds to the increasing level of education and the desire for self-determination.[2]

Thus, the productivity will probably increase. On the one hand, employees work more efficiently if they can choose the working hours themselves. It makes no sense forcing somebody to be productive at 8am, if this person actually works more concentrated from 12pm.[3]

On the other hand, employees work more efficiently when working remotely, because nobody can control the amount of time they are sitting at the desk, but only the reached goals.[4] Therefore, a quicker goal achievement may lead to an earlier closing time.

Due to the reconciliation of professional and private life, new professional fields like home office, telework or crowdsourcing are becoming increasingly popular.[5]

Crowdworkers and freelancers appreciate particularly the flexibility and the opportunity for self-realisation. Besides, travel costs and commuting time can be saved. Companies also get benefit from the conversion of work: Instead of paying for own office rooms, they share more and more frequently office rooms with other companies. This modern concept is called Office-as-a-service.[6]

Uncertainty and permanent availability

The latest developments also involve risks. Employees feel pressured by the new working models, because they have the impression of having to do more in the same amount of time.[7] That‘s due to the increasing complexity of work and the higher requirements of flexibility, self-organisation, individual responsibility and especially permanent availability.[8] The last one also endangers the compatibility of privat and professional life, when the workplace is suddenly situated at home. The work doesn’t end coming home, but continues online. It’s a big challenge to relax after work when the phone is used privately as well as professionally.[9] According to Bitkom, 78% of the employees are reachable for their employers after work, for acomplishing the expectations of their superiors, customers and colleagues.[10] Every fifth person also responds voluntarily to calls and messages while being on vacation.[11]

With a bit of self-discipline this problem can be solved. For example, working at home should always take place in the same room, at the same time and without interference source. Professional and private mobile devices should be different for facilitating the separation. Besides, in some countries a right of non-availability was introduced, for guaranteeing the end of the work with the closing time.[12]

Another problem is the rise of free employment and service contracts.[13] This forms of activity – comparing them to the usual form of work – are very unsecure, because freelancers, crowdworkers and so on don’t have the normal labour contracts. They only get paid if there is a job order and they have to cover the insurance costs themselves.[14] Sometimes employers take advantage of this system. By passing activities online to freelancers (no codetermination) instead of their own employess, they can save a lot of money for the insurance.[15] But this models of work should also be included in the security system. In some areas of the labour law and pension insurance employee-like workers are already registered. There are also discussions about introducing a minimum wage for freelancers.[16] The development of digitalization and the work conversion bring demanding challenges. With the rise of flexibility the security falls, but at the same time the possibility of self-determination increases. Nowadays, employments, working conditions as well as social insurance should be combinated in a way that guarantees a balance between flexibility, security and [17]

[1] cf. Bitkom (2013), p. 9, 13
[2] cf. Bitkom (2016), p. 2
[3] cf. WiWo (2017)
[4] cf. Bitkom (2016), p. 2
[5] cf. Kleemann (2005); Kesselring/Vogl (2010), zitiert nach Carstensen (2016), p. 187
[6] cf. Bitkom (2016), p. 2
[7] cf. Absenger et al. (2016), p. 9
[8] cf. Schwemmle/Wedde (2012)
[9] cf. Wacjman et al. (2010)
[10] cf. Bitkom (2013), p. 28
[11] cf. Bitkom (2015)
[12] cf. Rolfs (2017)
[13] cf. Schulze Buschoff (2016)
[14] cf. Flecker/Schönauer/Riesenecker-Caba (2016), p. 31
[15] cf. ibid
[16] cf. Absenger et al. (2016), p. 13
[17] cf. ibid., p. 12

Absenger, N./Ahlers, E./Herzog-Stein, A./Lott, Y./Maschke, M./Schietinger, M. (2016): Digitalisierung der Arbeitswelt!?, Mitbestimmungsreport, No. 24, Hans-Böckler-Stiftung, Düsseldorf.
Bitkom 2015: „Drei von vier Berufstätigen sind über die Feiertage erreichbar“, in https://www.bitkom.org/Presse/Presseinformation/Drei-von-vier-Berufstaetigen-sind-ueber-die-Feiertage-erreichbar-2.html, (07.08.2018).
Bitkom 2016: „Thesenpapier Arbeit 4.0 Die deutsche Arbeitswelt zukunftsfähig gestalten“, in: https://www.bitkom.org/Bitkom/Publikationen/Thesenpapier-Arbeit-40.html, (07.08.2018).
Carstensen, T.(2015): „Neue Anforderungen und Belastungen durch digitale und mobile Technologie“, in Schwächen des Arbeits- und Gesundheitsschutzes in veränderten Arbeitswelten, 3/15, p. 187-193.
Flecker, J./Schönauer, A./Riesenecker-Caba, T. (2016): „Digitalisierung der Arbeit: Welche Revolution?“, in Zukunft der Arbeit, WISO 4/16, p. 18-34.
Rolfs 2017: „Keine Entscheidung des BAG zum ‚Recht auf Nichterreichbarkeit‘",in: https://community.beck.de/2017/08/22/keine-entscheidung-des-bag-zum-recht-auf-nichterreichbarkeit, (07.08.2018).
Schulze Buschoff, K. (2016): Solo-Selbständigkeit in Deutschland – Aktuelle Reformoptionen, WSI-Policy Brief Nr. 4, 3/2016, Wirtschafts- und Sozialwissenschaftliches Institut (Hg.), Düsseldorf.
Schwemmle, M./Wedde, P. (2012): Digitale Arbeit in Deutschland: Potenziale und Problemlagen, Friedrich-Ebert-Siftung (Hg.), Bonn.
Wacjman, J./Rose, E./Brown, J. E./Bittman, M. (2010): Enacting virtual connections between work and home, in: Journal of Sociology 46 (3), S. 257 – 275.
WiWo 2017: „Hören Sie auf Ihre innere Uhr“, in: https://www.wiwo.de/erfolg/nachteulen-und-lerchen-hoeren-sie-auf-ihre-innere-uhr/10707474.html, (07.08.2018).