Socio-Technical Perspectives

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Socio-Technical Perspectives on Smart Working: Creating Meaningfuland Sustainable SystemsPeter M. Bednar1,2 & Christine Welch3The Author(s) 2019AbstractTechnological advances have made possible industrial and commercial applications of artificial intelligence, virtual reality andhighly integrated manufacturing systems. It has also freed business activity from a focus on place, as both work activities andmarkets have been able to harness information and communication technologies in order to operate remotely. As a result,researchers have highlighted a phenomenon of ‘smart’ working. Some have pointed to a fourth Industrial Revolution(Industry 4.0) in which ‘smart’ factories use robotics to achieve high performance. There is now a suggestion of progress towardsIndustry 5.0, in which technological and social systems work in harmony to deliver personalised mass customization of productsand services. This paper examines these developments from the perspective of unique, individual understandings of work rolesand sustainability, posing the questions ‘Smart’ from whose point of view? Do smart systems promote sustainable organizations?How should design of smart systems be approached? It suggests that contemporary socio-technical systems approaches toorganizational analysis are the best way to support harnessing of smart technologies in organizations.Keywords Smart working . Industry 4.0 . Industry 5.0 . Socio-technical approaches . Open systems . Emergence1 IntroductionThe term ‘smart working’ has been used to describe an evolutionary change taking place over a number of different dimensions in the world of work (Boorsma and Mitchell 2011). Theseauthors highlight ‘changes in approaches to work, work cultures, business architectures, premises, decision making, communications, and collaboration’ (2011, p.2). There has been adecline in the importance of place in work activities; greaterscope for collaboration; employee autonomy and talent management; and an emphasis on innovation (Hamel 2007). Lake(2013) highlights flexibility as a key feature of new, smartworking practices. However, flexibility and disappearance ofplace are only one feature of smart work. McEwan (2013)offers the following definition, ‘Smart working practices areagile, dynamic and emergent. They are the outcomes of designing organizational systems that facilitate customer-focused,value-creating relationships that are good for business andgood for people’. She cites reports by the Chartered Institutefor Personnel and Development, which categorize ‘smart’ worksystems as ‘managing and optimising both the physical andphilosophical work environments to release energy that drivesbusiness performance.’ They go on to suggest that a focus oncore beliefs and culture is key to defining an organization as‘smart’, and highlight a framework of ‘multiplicative relationships’ – interacting sub-systems encompassing managementvalues, high-performance systems, enabling technologies andworking environments. In the view of the CIPD, theseinteracting factors are more likely to lead to effectiveness foran organization if they are designed so as to promote selfdetermination and choice for those engaged with them. It willbe argued that a socio-technical perspective and socio-technicaldesign tools are needed in order to explore and support these‘multiplicative relationships’. In this paper, it is intended toexplore the nature and implications of smart working, askingthe questions: Smart from whose point of view? Do smartsystems promote sustainable organizations? How should design of smart systems be approached?Advantages put forward for smart working include a betterwork-life balance, less time and money spent on travel, lower* Christine Welch[email protected]Peter M. Bednar[email protected]; [email protected]1 School of Computing, University of Portsmouth, BuckinghamBuilding, Lion Terrace, Portsmouth PO1 3AE, UK2 Department of Informatics, Lund University, Lund, Sweden3 Portsmouth Business School, University of Portsmouth, RichmondBuilding, Portland Street, Portsmouth PO1 3DE, UK Systems Frontiers (2020) 22:281–298Published online: 3 May 2019#rents and running costs for organizations, attraction of newtalent into the workforce and increased productivity(Gastaldi et al. 2014; HM Government UK 2015;Dominguez 2017). At the same time, it has been acknowledged that Smart working requires very careful planningand can involve a shift of costs from employer to employee. Whilst acknowledging that employees may experienceincreased isolation, proponents of Smart working suggestthat use of collaborative and mobile technologies providebetter support for team-working and innovation. Much ofthe discussion around the concept of ‘smart’ working isfocused on work traditionally performed in offices – administrative and managerial tasks. However, the agendacan be linked to the advent of Industry 4.0 and integratedmanufacturing systems (Lee et al. 2015), as well as supplyof services (Barile and Polese 2010).Smart working practices are said to be dependent uponutilisation of advanced technological developments, supportingcommunication, business intelligence and production/servicedelivery. Smart factory systems are associated with the termIndustry 4.0. This has been heralded as a new industrial revolution focusing around achievement of competitiveness in industry through integration of ‘cyberphysical’ systems into production (Lee et al. 2015; PWC 2016). By harnessing theInternet-of-Things, Artificial Intelligence and robotics inmanufacturing, considerable enhancements to productivitycould be made. It is easy to understand the attraction of suchsystems – robots do not need sleep, do not require holidays andare readily switchable from one form of output to another.Digitally controlled tools and production lines are more reliableand accurate in output. Their use has enabled a shift from economies of scale (as achieved through specialisation and standardwork) to economies of scope, whereby detailed differences incustomer preferences can be catered for at little or no extra cost.However, some enterprises have hesitated to proceed with suchinitiatives, fearing that they may become dependent upon technologies that are understood imperfectly by managers; andthere has been anxiety in society more widely at the possibilityof mass destruction of traditional employment opportunities. Inservice industries, such as banking for instance, there are examples of whole processes becoming automated through use ofintelligent agents that can read and assimilate text rapidly andcan also observe human-customer interactions in order to learnby experience. This, managers and system designers claim,frees human staff members to deal with the more complexissues needing experience and discretion to solve (Flinders2016; Haaramo 2017). However, a question arises how in future human agents will acquire the necessary deep knowledgeof task performance to enable them to exercise discretion and/or promote innovation (Bednar and Welch 2017b).Technological changes would be expected to be accompanied by changes in relations among organizational stakeholders to reflect new thinking and to deliver the suggestedbenefits. There have been many ‘new’ perspectives on changein the past that promised much but were later abandoned, e.g.Business Process Re-engineering. If it is genuinely desired bydecision-makers in an organization to promote ‘smart’ working, by what means could this be accomplished? A search forexamples of current ‘smart working practice’ yielded ratherdisappointing results. The UK Government (HMGUK 2015)has set out a set of principles of ‘best practice for Smart working’. The UK Government is too large to be homogenous inculture. However, it is possible to perceive a paradox here,between publication of ‘best practice’ for benchmarking onthe one hand, and a statement of intent to promote flexibility,empowerment and freedom to innovate on the other. How fardo people feel genuinely empowered, or this this an exampleof empty rhetoric (Alvesson 2014)? Purposeful leadership incontext may be a key issue here (Bailey and Shantz 2017).In the next section of the paper, the nature of smartwork systems, and the concerns they give rise to, areexamined. The paper goes on to discuss individual experience of working environments and the role of management, before considering developments in the field.Finally, the paper considers the need for socio-technical,systemic approaches to organizational transformation, before attempting to draw some conclusions.2 Smart Working2.1 ConcernsThe advent of Industry 4.0 has given rise to advances in productivity but has also generated concerns among stakeholdersand wider society. Many organizations have yet to embracethe potential of cyber-physical production, fearing that theywill become over-dependent upon systems that are vulnerableto power failure, cyber-attack or embedded error. In smallerorganizations, the necessary expertise to bring about transformation to Industry 4.0 may not exist, or existing managersmay fear loss of control over systems that they understandimperfectly (Schröder 2016). Employees also have issues ofconcern, not least that they will be rendered redundant byapplication of robotics in production or service delivery.According to the CIPD (2008, p.20), the top barrier toimplementing new practices is the operational pressure thatabsorbs time necessary to develop and trial different ways ofworking. Indeed, it is clear that the advent of smart technologies has increased the challenge and range of cyber securityissues (Flatt et al. 2016; Riel et al. 2017). Unlike previousgenerations of technological development, these challengesgo beyond the sphere of control of manufacturers and suppliers. The advent of the Internet-of-Things means that everyconsumer must now be concerned with cybersecurity andprivacy, and needs to have confidence in manufacturing282 Inf Syst Front (2020) 22:281–298and business processes leading up to supply and customercare (He et al. 2016). Approaches to risk and securitymanagement clearly require that analysis goes beyondthe purely technical to address activities of people in relation to systems with which they interact, or seek toinfluence (Sadok and Spagnoletti 2011).Two examples show that implementation of smart systems is not always seen in the terms of multiplicity suggested by CIPD, but rather as a means to utilise technologyin order to make efficiency gains. The first shows the potential for electronic devices and AI to be used in a coercivemanner. Take for example the bracelet issued to staff working in Amazon’s warehouses (Solon 2018). This uses ultrasonic tracking to identify the precise location of eachworker’s hands. A buzzing sensation against the hand alertsthe wearer when moving away from the target warehousebin. It is intended to speed up the picking process against setperformance measures. In public statements, the companyasserts that this technology will be helpful to employees –saving them time and freeing their hands from scanners andtheir eyes from screens. Suggestions that performance monitoring is the real purpose of the wristband is dismissed bythe company as ‘misguided speculation’. Interestingly,however, examination of the actual registered US patentreveals that the purpose of the device is described as ‘radiofrequency-based tracking of a worker’s hands to monitorperformance of inventory tasks’ (US Patent Office 2018).The second example relates to the development of‘smart’ energy grids in India. Commenting upon this,Kumar (2019) reflects that policymakers and developersappear to perceive them entirely as a technological initiative, ignoring all other dimensions of ‘smartness’. However,as he points out, ‘a number of social, financial and governmental interventions can also make grids smart, i.e., moreefficient, more responsive, more inclusive and more robust.’In his view, there would be greater benefit in considering‘smartness’ as a socio-technical phenomenon.2.2 SustainabilityIn any organization, there will be a strategic balance to beachieved between short-term and longer-term desires, espousedvalues and policies, and the interests of differing stakeholdergroups. Clearly, an organization must be sustainable in manydimensions – financial, ecological and (socio-)technical.Pursuit of effectiveness in delivering products and services is,of course, dependent upon the financial viability of the processes involved, at least in the short-term. For many stakeholders,economic sustainability appears to be paramount. When anorganization draws up its accounts, there must be a positivebalance at least over the long-term or the organization’s veryexistence is threatened. However, traditional business reportingsystems have been criticised for a narrow, financial view that isonly one dimension of organizational sustainability (Elkington1999; Willard 2012). A wider framework could embrace the‘Triple Bottom Line’ of social, environmental (or ecological)and financial factors, or go even further towards an engagedapproach extending to politics and culture (Magee et al. 2013).Perrini and Tencati (2006) describe a sustainability-orientedcompany as one that is fully aware of its responsibilities towards different stakeholder groups. Such an organization takespurposeful action to improve its social and ecological performance, giving consideration to socio-technical issues.In a competitive business environment, an organizationmust innovate in order to generate new business throughnew products and services, or at least to challenge and replicate those of its competitors. It has been pointed out that excellence, and the competitive advantages that may flow fromit, cannot be gained once and for all. B… excellence is relativeand can shift over time. What looks like excellence today, maynot be tomorrow. Best-in-class competitors, technology, andmanagement paradigms all evolve^ (Wilson Perumal andCompany 2013: n.p.). While it is not suggested that employees spend the whole of their time in experimental, creativeendeavour, the ability to engage in reflection over context and(re-)imagine future practice is clearly a positive feature ofresilient organizations (Weick and Sutcliffe 2015).In business, any innovative development will be undertaken with a view to delivering a package of benefits to thecompany. However, the values that these benefits representto different stakeholder groups will vary. It can be challengingto resolve divergent and conflicting requirements within atransformation process towards more sustainable businesspractices. Take the example of the Automobile Association.Some years ago, the AA adopted a new strategy to deliver a‘more flexible’ service by buying in services from local garages via networked communications, rather than maintaininga fleet of dedicated patrolmen. This had the benefit of delivering efficiency gains yielding higher profits for investors, butboth customers and employees became dissatisfied, servicequality deteriorated and thus revenue streams for the futurewere threatened. Thus, utilisation of disruptive, more advanced technologies requires consideration from multiple perspectives taking into account the longer-term as well as potential short-term gains. Barber and Campbell (2001) point outthat ‘The value of today’s technology-based businesses is driven by their intellectual capital, the quality of their service, andtheir ability to attract and retain the most productiveemployees … Knowing how to quantify the impact of peopleis essential to managing a successful technology business. Itwill become even more essential in the future’ (2001, n.p.).Investment in digital technologies is clearly associated withrisk. Kane et al. (2016) refer to a need for digitalcongruence— culture, people, structure, and tasks alignedwith each other, company strategy, and the challenges of aconstantly changing digital landscape. Li et al. (2015) referInf Syst Front (2020) 22:281–298 283to a survey of managers’ attitudes to deployment of theInternet of Things, in which organizational issues, includinglack of agility and cultural complacency, emerged as evengreater areas of concern than technical or security matters.However, as Yoo, Henfridsson and Lyytinen warn, the fieldof smart work systems is still emerging and much researchwill be needed to comprehend wherein the greatest risks lie.As these authors comment: ‘We now create digitized productswith loose couplings across devices, networks, services, andcontents in an irrevocable way. Thus far, we have only seenthe early forms of such digitized products and therefore canonly dimly observe the forms of the emerging organizing logicof digital innovation’ (2010, p.734).Smart working requires an optimal balance of skills, engagement and supporting technologies and requires professional education and commitment from staff. It is easy torecognize how benefits may emerge in such examples.Whether they will emerge, however, depends crucially uponthe perceptions and perspectives of the engaged actors, andthe extent to which they have an opportunity to explore andexpress them. Social networks can be viewed as entwinedaspects of cultural behaviour (Fuhse 2015). As Checkland(1999) pointed out, when contemplating purposeful changein a system it is necessary to look for opportunities that areboth systemically desirable and culturally feasible. Proposedchange that is not culturally feasible within particular sociotechnical environments will be difficult to implement, andtherefore unlikely to deliver sustainable advantages (Bednar2000; Bednar and Welch 2016b).An important point that must be recognized when considering pursuit of benefits from smart working is that everyengaged stakeholder (customer, investor or employee) willhave a personal, unique view of what is desired in context,and this also will be subject to redefinition and change overtime. Desire by individuals to participate in, and facilitatechange in pursuit of excellence must be a key to genuinelysmart work systems that deliver benefits to all (Bednar andWelch 2006, 2009a).In the next section, human sense-making process in relationto work and work roles is considered.3 Individual Uniqueness, ContextualDependencies and Sense-MakingAs sentient beings, human beings have no choice but to think.From the cradle, each of us engages in efforts to make sense ofthe environments in which we find ourselves and our relationswith other human individuals. Human beings communicatewith intention that is context-dependent (see Habermas1984). Our interpretations of context are individually-uniqueand continually changing over time. Constant change of interpretation, and consequently of perceived meaning, constitute‘information’ for each individual, which will never be precisely the same as that of her/his neighbour (Dahlbom 1995). Herewe are engaging with phenomenology and hermeneutics –human consciousness. As Husserl (1954) emphasises, structured organizing human consciousness cannot be explained interms of generalizations learned from experience, but are presumed by experience, forming the basis of an individual’s‘life-world’. Gadamer (1987) developed this concept of lifeworld to point to individuals’ submergence in the constantlychanging context of their experiences. Individuals are embedded within their historical culture through the interdependence of language and context which cannot betranscended. According to Gadamer we interpret our worldthrough language, which is at the same time a part of ourlife world. From a sociological perspective, Berger andLuckmann (1967) suggest that individuals construct theirown views of ‘reality’ through interpretation of on-going experiences. From a perspective of Hermeneutic Dialectics,sense-making is an act of creation not just interpretation(Radnitzky 1970). There is a continual exchange/interchangebetween an individual’s pre-understanding and experience. Adialectic emerges in such interactions because each individualis concurrently interacting with others.In order to take into account unique individual sensemaking processes within an organizational problem arena,there is a need for analysts to explore multiple levels ofcontextual dependencies. Every observation is made fromthe point of view of a particular observer (Radnitzky1970). Since it is not possible to observe problem spacesfrom any point of view but one’s own, it follows that individuals within given contexts must be supported to exploreand interpret their own sense-making. When a phenomenon is observed through a systems lens, observers noticeproperties that emerge from interaction among elements,i.e. that a system is something greater than just the sumof its parts (von Bertalanffy 1966). Thus, an organizationalsystem may be seen as an emergent property of unique,individual sense-making processes and interactions amongthose people and technologies who are its members(Bednar 2007). Drawing of particular boundaries aroundorganizational systems will vary with the perceptions ofparticular individuals, and even the same individual at different times and for different purposes. This can be readilyappreciated when considering that customers, nowadays,are often perceived to be included within an organization’sboundaries for some purposes, such as product development (see, e.g. Patora-Wysocka 2016) and not for others,e.g. accountability. It is, indeed, possible to perceive individuals themselves to have emergent properties of theirown, which can be larger than (or outside of) those of aparticular organizational system of which they may appearto be part, drawing in properties relating to other aspects oftheir lifeworlds (Bednar 2007, 2009).284 Inf Syst Front (2020) 22:281–298It has been recognized for many years that effective inquiryinto the fit between technologies and business processes in aspecific organization can make or break a business (Fincham2002; Markus and Robey 2004). The scope and complexity ofautomation made possible in Industry 4.0 should not blind usto the importance of effective organizational analysis, especially as we recognize the political and social dimensions involved. If these inquiries are confined to a superficial examination of goals, tasks and decisions, the results may be veryunsatisfactory. Inquiry into opinions and sense-making processes, relating to a multitude of issues in the organizationalarena forming the context of development, will be crucial. Aspressure grows for faster exploitation of technologies, this willplace further demands on organizational and business planning processes. Tools to support mutual exploration of differing, individual and group perspectives could help to build aplatform for understanding and demand for sustainability,providing a layer of mutual communication between allstakeholder groups (Bednar 2000). Managing stakeholderrelationships and interactions will bring a whole new impetus to strategic planning, decision making and management of ‘knowledge’. In an age where personalisation isever more important to producers and consumers, andcustomers are viewed as co-creators of value (see discussion below), it is vital to recognize individual uniquenessand the ways in which perception of multiple levels ofcontextual dependencies influence our worldviews.Thus, an important point that must be recognized whenconsidering pursuit of benefits from smart working is thatevery engaged stakeholder (customer, investor or employee)will have a personal, unique view of what is desired in context,and this also will be subject to redefinition and change overtime. Desire by individuals to participate in, and facilitatechange in pursuit of excellence must be a key to genuinelysmart work systems that deliver benefits to all (Bednar andWelch 2006, 2009b). While human life has always involvedmaking sense of complex experience, in the twenty-firstCentury the pace of technological change has accelerated sothat individuals cannot fail to experience uncertainties andfresh challenges on an on-going basis. Senge (1990) suggested that ‘systems thinking is needed more than ever because we are becoming overwhelmed by complexity.Perhaps for the first time in history, humankind has the capacity to create far more information than anyone can absorb,to foster far greater interdependency than anyone can manage, and to accelerate change far faster than anyone’s abilityto keep pace….organizations break down, despite individualbrilliance and innovative products, because they are unable topull their diverse functions and talents into a productivewhole’ (Senge 1990, p.69).Much research attention has focused on acceptance of newtechnological applications by participants, e.g. via theTechnology Acceptance Model (Rogers 2003). Thelimitations of this model have been explored elsewhere(Bednar and Welch 2017b) and it is recognized that otherresearchers have tried to go beyond Rogers’ agenda (see,e.g. Wamba et al. 2017). However, if engaged actors are tocollaborate and exercise their creativity to co-create new ideasand practice, it is necessary that they go beyond mere acceptance and embrace a forward trajectory for innovation.Changing views on the role of managers is discussed in thesection which follows.4 ManagementThere have been many definitions of manager since the daysof Fayol (1917), who suggested their role to comprise planning, directing and controlling. While these roles are stillneeded (and there are still undoubtedly organizations whosestructures and culture operate on the basis of ‘command-andcontrol’) they are increasingly carried out in conjunction withwider groups of stakeholders and intelligent agents. A morerecent suggested definition may be preferable – managers as‘architects of context’ (Wrzesniewski and Dutton 2001,p.195). This seems a useful way to conceptualise managementactivities of the future.Others have suggested a need for more purposeful leadership, reflecting the cultural values that organizations purportto espouse. Too often, business websites contain bold visionstatements about ethical values that are not borne out in practice. The most extreme cases make news headlines, such as thecase when Wolkswagen were found to have introduced fraudulent software into their vehicles that gave false readingsabout harmful emissions (Tabuchi et al. 2017). The CIPD inthe UK recently surveyed organizations to establish how morepurposeful leadership might come about (Bailey and Shantz2017). They consider the parameters for establishment of purposeful leadership and conclude that ‘For employees to havepositive outcomes in terms of job satisfaction, meaningfulnessof work, organisational commitment and lower intentions toquit, it is important that they are ethically aligned – that is, seethat their leader behaves ethically and also feel that their ownvalues fit with that of their organisation’ (2017, n.p.). It isclearly a necessary quality in the context of Industry 5.0 andsmart systems, where concerns remain about a range ofinherent challenges (Rada 2018), including lack of transparency, use of tools for nefarious purposes, and issuesthat may arise through lack of balance between technological, social and business imperatives.Organizational discourse in recent years has tended to emphasise leadership roles over ‘management’. In particular, theconcept of transformational leadership has been associatedwith successful change (Khalili 2016). The idea of the charismatic leader, who inspires employees with a shared vision anddesire to embrace change is an attractive one, and may beInf Syst Front (2020) 22:281–298 285preferred over ‘management’ in organizational discourse. Aleader can be seen as an approachable figure, who coaxes,rather than coerces, compliance. Alvesson (2012, 2014), having undertaken in-depth case studies in the field, is more sceptical regarding the impact of leadership. He notes that the dayto-day imperatives of getting ‘stuff’ done require a measure ofdirecting and monitoring. Thus, transformational leadershipmay be one of the espoused theories underpinning organizational practice that does not translate fully into theory in action(Argyris and Schön 1974). It may be that the concept of leadership is sometimes used as an excuse not to take unpopular,coercive action. It may also have the effect of taking the creditaway from professionals, who are attempting to achieve excellence in their craft – since positive change is regarded as anachievement of good leadership.What is clear, however, is that leadership has a role toplay in deriving maximum benefit from the professionalcompetence, contextual-knowledge and creative energy ofemployees. Innovation is needed in order to promote sustainability over the life of the organization. Leaders/managers as the architects of context have a vital role inresourcing and empowering professionals to experimentand collaborate to generate new ideas (Hung et al. 2010).An element of risk is inherent in creativity and leaders/managers can provide legitimacy for risk-taking by thosewho might otherwise feel vulnerable to criticism. Manyideas will be generated that will not lead to practical innovations. It may be a role for leaders and managers to identifythose that have promise and justify further investigation.As suggested above, individuals form unique perspectiveson their workplace and roles (or their interactions with a valueweb in other forms). These perspectives are co-createdthrough ongoing interpretations over time of their experiencesof contextual dependencies. As human beings engage insense-making, they seek for meaning in their interactionsand the roles they perform, underpinning their uniquelyformed identities as productive beings.Wrzesniewski and Dutton (2001) suggest that individualsseek to ‘craft’ the jobs they perform by ‘changing cognitive,task and/or relational boundaries to shape interactions andrelationships with others at work. These altered task and relational configurations change the design and social environment of the job, which, in turn, alters work meanings and workidentity’ (2001, p.179). The meaning of work, and our identities at work, are not pre-determined but constructed by individuals and groups as they interact, exercising professionalskills and pursuing individual and collective values (Ghoshaland Bartlett 1994; Sandberg and Targama 2007).Job crafting enables employees to exercise some controlover their experience of worklife, perhaps in order to escapefrom alienation, to create a positive self-image or to engage insocial interaction (Braverman 1974; Baumeister and Leary1995; Wrzesniewski and Dutton 2001; Ko 2011). Job crafterseffectively manipulate the boundaries they perceive aroundtasks, task contexts and interactions with co-workers, managers and clients/customers. Wrzesrnewski and Dutton pointto two (contradictory) trends that impact upon possibilities forjob crafting. On the one hand, technologies associated withIndustry 4.0 have enabled greater scope for tight control overworker’s activities (as seen in the example of the Amazonbracelet that monitors staff movements). On the other hand,we have seen cultural shifts in industry and commerce overthe past few decades towards flatter, more democratic and lessrestrictive organizations and workplaces.We suggest that greater freedom to interpret and manipulate work boundaries, crafting different views of work roles,is essential to promote creativity and thus vital to the interestsof modern organizations that depend upon innovation forfuture prosperity. Thus, the role of a manager as an architectof context is a crucial one. The possibility exists that staffmembers pursuing individual interpretations of the work environment may be seen to be pursuing their own goals, whichmay be in conflict with the overall vision of the organization.This has been termed ‘sub-optimality’ (Bertalanffy 1969).However, it is increasingly recognized that employees intwenty-first century organizations need encouragement tobe more free to exercise their creativity, form meaningfulinteractions with one another and especially with clientsand customers – ‘not … passive recipients of job characteristics, but as active participants in the construction of themeaning of their work and themselves’ (Wrzesniewski et al.2013). This, we consider, is vital to progress towards smartworking. Organizations must innovate in order to thrive incompetitive markets, and they depend upon the resourcefulness and creativity of individuals and groups at work in orderto do so. Collaboration, often the key to successful innovation, extends to customers and clients.Dahlander and Gann (2010) highlighted the permeability of organizational boundaries to external ideas, resources and individuals flowing in and out’. Thus, anera of open innovation is suggested, i.e. ‘a paradigm thatassumes that firms can and should use external ideas aswell as internal ideas, and internal and external paths tomarket, as firms look to advance their technology’(Chesbrough 2003). This is an area for on-going research(Van de et al. (2009) but Baldwin and Von Hippel (2011),looking at Open Innovation in SMEs, note that there remain substantial barriers to be overcome, including include ‘cognitive, organizational, cultural and institutionaldifferences between collaboration partners, implying thatpotential problems may arise due to insufficient knowledge, cultures or modes of organization, or bureaucraticelements’ (2011, p. 427). Yoo et al. (2010) highlight aneed for new tools to support knowledge managementand virtual teams, which can handle heterogeneity anddiscontinuity in knowledge.286 Inf Syst Front (2020) 22:281–298Patora-Wysocka (2016) suggests that value co-creation iscentred around reciprocal interactions between customers andmembers of an organization. She relates details of a study setin a fashion company (labelled as Alfa). ‘The partners undertook to cooperate within a clear context of interaction anddirect involvement in the product development process withthe customer. The owner of Alfa emphasizes that as a result ofthis the company gained a number of new skills. It is possibleto state that in this case value is close to the concept of valuein-use in the realm of everyday activities …This use gains anew meaning as it cannot be related to the use of a product ora service by the customer, but to the processual context ofwork on the service, as a result of which the service cocreator acquires new skills that are crucial in everyday practice. There is value-in-action emerging’ (2016, p.122).Rationalist perspectives on management tend to emphasiseintervention – a visionary (outside the group) knows best whatis to be done and members of the organization are to be coaxedor coerced to ‘buy-in’ to innovative practices (Bednar andWelch 2005). Aspects of organizational behaviour, such astasks, skills and competences, are externalised and definedso that staff can be fitted to work like pegs into appropriatelyshaped holes. Sandberg and Targama (2007) point out thatsuch attempts at ‘fit’ often fail to yield satisfactory results.They suggest that managers should instead recognise that itis the understandings of participants in context that determinehow they will behave and therefore what can be achieved. Asthey suggest ‘while it is regarded as important to figure outwhat effects changed conditions have on human behaviour,how people understand the changed conditions is typicallytreated as a black box’ (2007, p.33).Managers are, of course, those who are charged with theresponsibility to detect success/failure in organizational activities and to report to key stakeholders on results. However, itmay be better to replace traditional views of management orleadership roles and to focus instead upon influences. Thearchitects of context are in a position to influence internalbehaviour by facilitating discussion and providing appropriateresources (Bednar 2000). A key factor here may be their ability to garner contextual understandings from professionalswho are carrying out their work, interacting with customersand engaging in collaborative experimentation and creativity.Thus, managers, employees and customers are co-influencerson the architecture of context. Weick and Sutcliffe (2015)point out that the most resilient organizations tend to be thosethat are able to notice small changes as they occur. They suggest that organizations practicing mindfulness, i.e. opennessand tolerance of mistakes, are those most likely to do this.Such organizations can harness contextual knowledge-in-action to identify weak signals of change in business andrespond with vigorous action before change becomes aproblem. It is important here that practice is tolerant ofuncertainty. While management has traditionally beenconcerned with promoting greater certainty, smart workingrequires a different approach. As Poerksen (2004), suggests that ‘[individuals] …must assume self-responsibility,endure insecurity, consider change as something natural,and say farewell to the idea that the true essence of theworld can be known unconditionally’ (2004, p.190).Management is essentially bound up with decision-making, and good decisions at all levels are dependent upon individuals and groups being able to surface their contextual understandings and inform themselves about relevant parameters. Informing activities include observation, exchange andinterpretation of messages, interpretation of data sources, andcollaborative activities with colleagues, customers and possibly intelligent agents and robots (termed cobotics) (Claverieet al. 2013). People have used artefacts to facilitate tasks ofinforming themselves or helping others to do so since longbefore the advent of computers or automated systems (Nissenet al. 2007). When new artefacts are devised, they may incorporate both redesign of earlier versions and/or some newaffordances of their own. However, for people who desire touse them (or are obliged by others to do so) they demand a lotof unlearning and learning over time. It has been suggested(Bednar and Welch 2007) that there is an on-going dialecticbetween use of an artefact and reflection-upon-use, whichleads to innovation. As reflection triggers change in use, andsuch change triggers further reflection, a positive spiral ofchange and development comes about. ‘Use’ is acontextually-dependent phenomenon, and deep understandings of context are only available to those actors who areimmersed in it. It is for this reason that engaged actors needto own and control the process of innovation for themselves,and collaborate with managers as ‘architects of context’ tobring about beneficial change. This includes both internaland external clients of artefacts in question. Such ownershipis expressed in the form of mindful management practices(Weick and Sutcliffe 2015), in which mistakes are toleratedas opportunities for learning and people are permitted to express ‘off-the-wall’ ideas that may arise from their engagedexperience. This is in contrast to some organizational situations that can lead to negative spirals of ‘organizational defenses’ (Argyris 2004) that are likely to dampen scope forinnovation. The definitions of ‘smart’ working discussed inthe Introduction, above, clearly include the possibility for people to inform themselves about circumstances relevant to thesituation in which they are engaged. However, it is not alwayseasy for people to judge the quality of the sources they drawupon. Business intelligence increasingly draws upon ‘BigData’, i.e. large repositories of highly aggregated data to beused in conjunction with complex algorithms for interpretation. There is much current rhetoric about the potential of suchaggregated data to benefit business, but organizations mayexperience difficulty in harnessing these benefits due to lackof readiness, i.e. poor understanding of the alignment ofInf Syst Front (2020) 22:281–298 287intelligence with core business activities. Klievink et al.(2017) point out ‘the mere fact that Big Data and the toolsto analyse it are available does not in itself constitute a valueproposition’. Popovič et al. (2018) point out that Big DataAnalytics (BDA) can be integrated into organizations in sucha way as to augment management capabilities, providing thereis sufficient attention to readiness factors such as resourcing,senior management support and employee engagement.While such aggregates have potential to support greateraccuracy and more focused decision-making, individuals havelittle power to influence how it is gathered or for what purposes. Many instances of ‘fake news’ have been exposed inrecent years, and not just in the political arena. However, it isimportant to realise that sources of information require carefulinterpretation even when they have been compiled with integrity. Those taking part in inquiry, or making efforts to communicate, may intend to take a neutral or objective stance, but stillfind themselves entrapped in processes of misinforming(Bednar and Welch 2008). As people collaborate in groupsor across organizational boundaries, the scope for misinformation clearly become greater. Individuals require opportunities to construct forms of inquiry to suit their own individualneeds, and to be aware that there are no neutral ‘facts’ to begathered, but that informing is an active process of inquiry,interpretation and evaluation.Advanced technological and socio-technical developmentsare expanding the possibilities for informing activities, collaborations and smart working. These advances are discussed inthe next section.5 Developments in Smart Working5.1 Industry 4.0Industry 4.0 has been enabled by simultaneous advances inmany fields over the past decade, including artificial intelligence, machine learning, robotics, Internet-of-Things, autonomous vehicles and self-driving cars, 3D printing, virtual andaugmented reality, wearables, additive manufacturing, nanotechnology, biotechnology, energy storage and quantum computing are blurring traditional boundaries and creating newbusiness models (Vollmer 2018). These and other technologies have had a disruptive impact on both personal and working lives. The term ‘Industry 4.0’ is potentially misleading.Indeed, the suggestion that this is a fourth IndustrialRevolution has been disputed, e.g. by Garbee (2016), whopoints out that the term has been applied to many other technological breakthroughs since the 1940s. Many large organizations have already taken advantage of the opportunitiesthese developments afford, but many others, especiallySMEs, have yet to do so due to the concerns outlined above.Schröder (2016) suggests that ‘While many large companiesare already attempting to anticipate the potential and risks ofdigitalisation for their respective business models and haveintroduced innovation processes, small and medium-sized enterprises appear to be making heavy weather of it’ (2016, p.3).The structures of industries and markets have been transformed and new products and services never before contemplated have come into being. This wave of industrial transformation has enabled mass customisation of products, so that acustomer’s exact personal requirements for a product can bemet at little or no additional cost to the producer. Masscustomisation may be very pleasing to customers, but theimpact of this transformation on both producers and employees may be more detrimental, removing a need for management intervention and often requiring residual employeesto act as if they were indeed robots. It must be rememberedthat reducing labour costs can also mean a loss of income topotential customers. At societal level, the logic of Industry 4.0to produce productive efficiencies could be self-limiting if it isnot accompanied by opportunities for retraining and emergence of new occupations.However, even while this industrial and commercial revolution has been in progress, it has been overtaken by a furtherdevelopment termed Industry 5.0. It has been pointed out thatcustomers have not been satisfied with the potential of masscustomisation, but now demand mass personalisation(Østergaard 2018). Producers are therefore obliged to considerhow a more personal experience may be delivered to customers, and thus move towards more collaborative businessmodels. Technologies have emerged that support on-goinginteraction between consumer, supplier, and indeed ecosystems for use, supply and maintenance of diverse products –from fridges to intelligent running shoes. Continuous, detailedfeedback from consumer to supplier becomes possible viadigital networks, as does interaction among users. The customer is effectively integrated into the web of production as aco-creator of value. Skobelev and Borovik (2017) go furtherto suggest that the concept of industry is becoming redundant,as we move towards Society 5.0. Certainly, reflection uponsystem boundaries will be needed at all levels as citizens seekto reap the benefits offered by digitally-enabled integration,whilst avoiding its pitfalls.5.2 Moving to Industry 5.0While Industry 4.0 has been concerned with creation of ‘smartfactories’ through application of robotics and virtualisation inproduction systems, Industry 5.0 is more concerned with synergistic relationships between such systems and people, including socio-democratic and ethical considerations(Özdemir and Hekim 2018). It is suggested that Industry 5.0will be characterised by human intelligence working in tandem with cognitive computing to produce more value-addedproducts and goods. Current systems have the potential to288 Inf Syst Front (2020) 22:281–298waste human capacity for creativity and problem-solving aslayers of management disappear and human workforces areengaged in programmable tasks (McEwan 2013).Organizations embracing the scope of Industry 5.0 will againharness these unique human qualities.McDonnell (2018) sets out a vision for an Industry 5.0manufacturing environment in which humans and AI artefactsinteract continuously in order to manage processes effectively.She highlights how digital assistants (similar to the nowfamiliar Amazon Alexa) will support monitoring and management of complex systems in dialogue with human managers,using AI to give expert advice to optimise production. Virtualand augmented reality systems (AR and VR) will supportmodelling and envisioning the state of systems for effectivecontrol. Moving beyond coercive uses of artefacts such asAmazon’s bracelet (see above), intelligent fabrics will enablepeople to manipulate their environment simply by moving ahand or arm. A manager can tour a factory and see real-timeinformation about its status and activities through AR glasses.Many of the applications and possibilities still feel like sciencefiction as the domain is developing rapidly but, undoubtedly,Industry 5.0 can support new, creative endeavours and business models as time goes by.Cobotics is one such endeavour that characterises the movetowards smarter working systems. The term ‘cobotics’ hasbeen in use for some years, and refers to use of workstationsat which human and robot actors collaborate in a particularprocess. Thus, a cobot is a robot that has been designed specifically for the purpose of collaborating with human coworker(s). Those who are designing and building cobotic systems require a deep understanding of the possible behavioursof each element separately, together with their constraints, andadditionally, the emergent properties that arise through theircollaboration that may impact upon the behaviour of the system (Moulières-Seban et al. 2017). It is important to rememberhere that robots are designed in many different forms for different purposes, and are not necessarily android. It is clear thatcobotics cannot be viewed as an entirely technological concern. Its deployment requires a socio-technical perspective inwhich inter-human and inter-system interactions are considered carefully in conjunction with contextual dependencies,going beyond first-order cybernetic considerations. Özdemirand Hekim (2018) point out a need for careful design in orderto secure this: ‘Industry 5.0 is poised to harness extreme automation and Big Data with safety, innovative technology policy, and responsible implementation science, enabled by 3Dsymmetry in innovation ecosystem design’ (2018, p.65).Undoubtedly, however, these developments will createnew challenges for enterprises and service providers, leadingto a greater focus on interactions among stakeholders andbetween stakeholders and intelligent, integrated systems.. Itis now apparent that a socio-technical perspective is neededwhen organizations embark on ‘smart’ initiatives. Only in thisway can opportunities be pursued in a way that balances theneeds and desires of different stakeholder groups and ensuresthat the full potential of intelligent technologies is harnessesfor the benefit of all.Socio-technical perspectives are considered in the nextsection.6 The Need for a Socio-Technical SystemsPerspective6.1 Why Socio-Technical?Effectiveness in any purposeful activity is a socio-technicalphenomenon. People use tools in order to be productive.Tools are designed for use. Systems for the effective use oftools by people, to bring about desired outcomes, requiressocial and technical elements to be considered together.Thus, a contemporary, socio-technical approach does not pursue two separate (social and technical) strands for examination, but one, integrated whole. Mohr and van Amelsvoort2016) have defined a contemporary socio-technical approachto comprise: ‘The participative, multidisciplinary study andimprovement of how jobs, single organizations, networks,and ecosystems function internally and in relation to theirenvironmental context, with a special focus on the mutualinteractions of the entity’s … value-creation processes’(Mohr and van Amelsvoort 2016, p.2). This definition is notentirely satisfactory, however, since it tends to ignore the participation of real human beings, whose contextual understandings, skills and desires are crucial to the achievement of suchvalue-creation processes.Any effort to bring about change in an organization in orderto develop smart working practices must be considered from asocio-technical perspective. A relevant question to pose ishow far traditional ideas of ‘organization’ can be useful inan age of smart living and working. Much of the businessliterature suggests that an ‘organization’ was identifiable byits corporate status, brand, distinctive culture and carefullymanaged activities. Organizations were associated withformally-defined missions, such as profit-making or religiousobservance, and tended to be associated with place – land andbuildings. Any given organizations will have unique characteristics making it distinctive. As other organizations attemptbenchmarking and copying ‘best practice’, they will probablyacquire some of that organization’s market share or reputationassets; but those organizations that achieve sustained successare likely to do so through continuous innovation. As hasfamously been pointed out (Davenport and Prusak 2000,p.15), the only sustainable source of competitive advantagefor organizations in the long-run is the ‘know-how’ of thosewho work in them. Thus, organizations perceived to be successful are those within which employee enthusiasm,Inf Syst Front (2020) 22:281–298 289creativity and team working are continually engaged. A journey of co-creation is undertaken by engaged professionalsseeking to achieve excellence in their practice, supportedand facilitated by leaders. To what extent is the concept of‘smart working’ relevant to such a journey?Business activities can be considered to form webs of value, often generated through a loose-knit collection of partnercompanies and individuals who come together to source,produce and/or deliver a collection of benefits perceived as aproduct/service. As Za et al. (2014) suggest, gradual blurringof organizational, social and temporal boundaries has beensupported by evolution of new ‘digital ecosystems’, allowingnew products and services across multi-connected, transformative systems of collaboration, co-operation and learning(Za et al. 2014). Joint ventures, collaborations and outsourced activities are increasingly the norm.It becomes increasingly difficult to express organizationalboundaries with clarity – when someone logs into a socialnetworking site (such as Facebook or LinkedIn) are they engaging in business or social activity? Or a combination ofboth? Only an engaged individual can tell where such boundaries lie, for them and from moment-to-moment. What sort of‘organization’ is Airbnb, for instance? Who are its members –renters, owners, facilitators? When people engage in purposeful activity, they often desire to become ‘organized’ so thatactivities are not missed or duplicated, methods and channelsare chosen, and so on. Does this mean that ‘an organization’has come into being? Possibilities for smart working and living have created an environment in which many things become possible at short notice, with little capital outlay andcollaboration can be supported over wide distances.‘Organization’ becomes an increasingly temporary and informal concept. Pop-up restaurants, festivals and galleries arecommon examples of ephemeral ‘organization’. Communitylife may be enhanced within smart cities, that enable factorssuch as government services, transport and leisure to be‘organized’ as integrated socio-technical systems.Personal life can be enhanced through smart homes thatsupport advanced communication with devices via anInternet-of-Things (Carillo et al. 2017). Where is theboundary between personal and professional life to bedrawn? It may be that the mental model of ‘an organization’ is less helpful than an alternative view of ‘work systems’ in which actors collaborate, communicate and useavailable technologies for particular purposes (Alter 2013).In contemplating design of work and/or organization, asystemic perspective is needed. Checkland (1999) discussesemergence in systems. Originally a chemist, he uses the analogy with chemical elements. The distinctive smell of thehousehold cleaner ammonia has little to do with the propertiesof nitrogen and hydrogen atoms, which are involved in ammonia’s chemical structure (NH3) – the whole is more thanjust a combination of its parts. Thus, an organization might beseen as a purposeful whole, made up of smaller, interactingelements combined in an organized way to bring about a desired transformation of some kind (see Fig. 1). Since definitiondepends essentially on an observer who describes a phenomenon, it follows that purposeful activity systems will be defined differently according to the perspectives (or whatCheckland calls Weltanschauungen) of the individuals whoview them. Thus, a system’s emergent properties exist onlyas a reflection of the mind of a person who contemplates them(1999, p.671) and chooses to draw a particular boundaryaround a system of interest (Checkland 1983). Attempts todefine a system from a particular perspective at a given moment in time can only result in a ‘snapshot’ view, meaningfulto a particular observer only.When a systemic lens is turned upon the nature of organization, it is possible to perceive that a higher order of complexity is involved. As Mumford (2006) points out, organizations can be perceived as dynamic and open systems – elements continually entering, interacting and/or leaving overtime. Thus, an organizational system’s uniqueness derivesfrom the qualities of the individual people who create andrecreate it on an on-going basis by their participation andmutual interactions. Furthermore, as Bednar (2007, 2009)suggests, individual emergence is worthy of special consideration in relation to organizational systems, since it would benaïve to regard people simply as interchangeable ‘units’ oflabour. Uniquely of all systemic elements, human beingsmay exhibit emergent properties greater than those of thewhole system within which they interact, since human livestranscend any particular organizational context and human lifeis reflexive – we recreate ‘ourselves’ on an ongoing basisthrough experience and learning. Participants’ roles, relationsand perspectives in organization overlay one another and subsist in a constant state of flux. An organization may be viewed,therefore, as an open, complex social-technical system, affected by aspirations, behaviour and values of individuals withinit (Schein and Schein 2016). Indeed, it is the interactionamong engaged actors on an on-going basis that co-createsand re-creates what is recognizable as ‘organization’ (Fig. 1,System View B). Schein uses the term ‘organizational culture’to reflect these recognizable characteristics. All of this demonstrates the challenges involved in design of flexible, dispersed organizational systems to promote creativity and autonomous, continual innovation.Attempts to separate technologies underpinning smartliving and working from the activities of the individualswhose desires are supported seem increasingly unhelpful.Kappelman et al. (2017) point to a study carried out by theSociety for Information Management, in which it isestablished that business-IT alignment is still the first concern of senior managers of companies around the world.Such ‘alignment’ has been a focus of discussion in IS circles for a generation (Henderson and Venkatraman 1993).290 Inf Syst Front (2020) 22:281–298However, as early as 1966, Langefors had already pointedout that a need for reporting was a crucial feature of management roles, and that it was therefore impossible to drawa meaningful distinction between Information System andorganization (Dahlbom 1995) – the latter’s structure beingcrucially influenced by the former. Since Langefors time,technological developments have gone far beyondreporting of management data, to pervade production anddelivery of desired outcomes. It is suggested, therefore,that a concept of alignment between separate businessand data sub-systems is not a useful construct. As longago as 2002, Lin and Sun were suggesting that ‘When anIT system is viewed as a part of the business organisation,and both the IT and business systems are designed in thesame time, the gap between them can be minimised’ (2002,p.251). In the context of smart work systems, the idea isnow receiving recognition that dynamic co-evolution ofsocio-technical elements is needed (Kahle et al. 2017;Amarilli et al. 2017). A contemporary socio-technical approach is therefore required to support an on-going journeytowards smarter working and living.6.2 Contemporary Socio-Technical ApproachesA contemporary socio-technical perspective can be seen asa cornerstone of discussions about smart working in thecontext of Industry 4.0 and 5.0. Earlier applications of asocio-technical perspective, emerging from the TavistockInstitute after World War II, focused on improving the experience of work and the work environment for employees(see, e.g. Mumford 2006). Contemporary approaches buildupon this to focus on achievement of excellence and sustainable systems (Bednar and Welch 2016a). Sarker et al.(2019) argue that interest in a socio-technical perspectivehas waned within Information Systems research community, but that it has the potential to draw together the dimensions of this ‘diverse, distinctive, and yet unifieddiscipline’ for the future. Phenomena such as human useand engagement with mobile technologies, the Internet-ofThings, or social networking are all factors that have potential to promote or inhibit major changes in organizationsand in society (Bednar and Welch 2017a). These changes,however, must be designed and created. Such design mustFig. 1 System Views: A –organization as an emergentwhole comprising hierarchicalsub-systems (adapted fromCheckland 1999), contrasted withView B – organization as anemergent property of interactionsamong individual actors (adaptedfrom Bednar 2007, 2009)Inf Syst Front (2020) 22:281–298 291focus on individuals and groups, according to a philosophyof human-centred design (Shin 2014), and by taking intoaccount systemic interactions among people and technologies (Kling and Lamb 1999; Mumford 2006; Lyytinenet al. 2016. Technical systems must be recognized to beintrinsically incomplete, and therefore continually open todesign and redesign in relation to human engagement(Kallinikos et al. 2013). It is possible to point to adouble-helix relationship of use and reflection-upon-usein relation to IT artefacts, driving this process onwards(Nissen et al. 2007). Thus, design and re-design of sociotechnical systems must be conceived as a continuous process involving innovators and recipients dealing with complex and evolving artefacts (Mumford 2006). This processcannot be decoupled from soft, social, cultural and evenpsychological components of individual and organizational experience (Nissen et al. 2007; Bednar and Welch2017b). Conceptually, we can distinguish between designof a new artefact, and design of systems for use of that typeof artefact in real-world contexts, by real people, pursuingtheir own desired activities. In practice, socio-technicalsystems are indivisible as they form dynamic, evolving‘wholes’ through human agency (Silver and Markus 2013).It can therefore be demonstrated that human action, andinterface with changes in personal and organizational life,are driven by desire. Too often, this crucial factor has beenoverlooked in efforts to develop and exploit new ideas for ICTartefacts and systems (Bednar and Welch 2006). Consultationabout ‘requirements’, followed by a phase of ‘beta testing’have been considered all that was necessary as engagementwith human motivation to use designed products. However, inan age of rapid technological change and virtualisation ofsupply chains, organizations that wish to achieve innovationin working practices must pay attention to collaborative endeavours and human desire to achieve excellence. There aremotivating factors for use of mobile and smart artefacts thatmight be described as ‘fun’, e.g. to be able to keep in touchwith friends via social media, play games or to stream musicand film. People may be motivated by factors equally compelling in the work environment, i.e. to engage with fellowprofessionals in carrying out tasks effectively to achieve professional excellence (Bednar et al. 2016).While designers may give adequate attention to the technical workings of artefacts and the ways in which they can beexploited for smart working, this is often limited to a perspective we might term first order, ignoring the impact of interaction and communication among engaged actors. Here, a sociotechnical system, incorporating mobile devices, intelligentagents, and including human use of that system, form whatis understood as a system of work. The boundary of this system is perceived as limited by the extent of artefacts, directhuman use and interaction. Those who wish to support designof genuinely smart working and living environments need tofind ways to encourage genuine professional commitmentthrough collaborative endeavour and creative energy.It is suggested that system design requires specific attentionto the factor of desire – desire-for-use, including job craftingand/or pursuit of purpose. This can only be achieved within asecond-order interpretation of relevant socio-technical systems. Here first-order elements are considered together withother, further, inter-human communication within a work system (or other human activity systems in social contexts suchas communities and groups) (Bednar and Welch 2009a).Viewed in this way, a work system (organization) can be seento be both ephemeral and limited only by perceived boundaries of social networks out of which it is created. Desire toengage with such a system can only arise through opportunities for human agents to create and explore these boundariesfor themselves. Designers then take the role of interested andsupportive ‘by-standers’, supporting actors to build systemsthat can contribute to empowerment for use (Friis 1991). Ifhuman agents are to be supported to pursue excellence in theirprofessional environments, then they need appropriate supportto create purposeful revisions of contextuality – to explore andshape the contextual dependencies inherent in their workinglives (Bednar 2000), and to design innovation in workingpractices from a socio-technical perspective. Every aspect ofsocio-technical change requires a human-centred design perspective, whether work systems comprise people-to-peopleinteractions, machine-to-machine interactions, or combinations of both (Bednar and Welch 2016a). Professionals aredistinguished by their ability to reflect upon practice of a professed skill set in context, and to relate these reflections to abody of standards and values transcending their immediate jobrole, and to interact with other professionals in doing so.Often, this involves membership of wider ‘landscapes of practice’ – formal and informal (Wenger-Traynor 2015). It is theseinteractions, and those of professionals with other stakeholders within and outside of work environments, that continually co-(re)create ‘organization’. Engaged professionals pursuing excellence will engage in extra role behaviour, e.g.experimenting, making suggestions for improvements, innovating methods or making efforts to help others in their professional roles. They are likely to bring experiences from othersocio-cultural dimensions of life into their reflections uponpractice. It is through such attachment to a transcendent system of values, standards and experience that we recognizeprofessional practice (Bednar and Welch 2016b).Even where there is a focus upon human agents as part of asocio-technical system, innovations are not always designedin such a way as to support collaborative pursuit of excellence.An example is explored in Solon’s (2018) discussion ofAmazon’s patented a bracelet as worn by staff working in itswarehouses. Leaders of organizations may seem to recognizethat investment in enabling technologies must be combinedwith redesign of whole working systems (Gastaldi et al.292 Inf Syst Front (2020) 22:281–2982014). However, it becomes ever more necessary to ask thequestion from whose point of view resultant systems may beregarded as smart, genuinely socio-technical or supportive ofa journey towards professional or organizational excellence?Such initiatives often appear to be motivated by a wish toachieve cost savings, yielding quick returns for investors, rather than developing excellence in practice through smart working. It may be worthwhile here to reflect that efficiencies areoften an expensive luxury in practice – achieved only by sacrifice of other, valuable assets. Too often, it appears that policies suggested to encourage innovation and smart workingare not translated into effective change (Alvesson 2014).Smart working practices are not always rewarded in practice,but rather incentives are applied in such a way as to createdisorder and unintended, negative consequences. We also seethis in personal life as individuals become attached to smartmobile devices and social media to an extent that may amountto addiction. The intended opportunities to stay connected,access leisure facilities and eCommerce can lead to fear of‘missing out’ on desired contacts and an unreasonable focuson artefact use. In organizations, people may wish to be seento carry out policies promoting innovation, rather than genuinely understanding or desiring beneficial outcomes fromthose policies. The resultant distortions in practice may leadto the opposite of excellence.Ciborra (2002), drawing on Heidegger, distinguishes between two types of indication discernible in organizational lifeand discourse. The first, he terms illusory appearances: the setof ideas and models that are readily espoused in the domain oforganizational theories or consulting models (p.176). Thesecan lead to taken-for-granted assumptions that are not challenged, stifling responsiveness and innovation (Alvesson andSpicer 2012). The second indication he labels apparitions,which belong to a space that cannot be filled by any model,surfacing in informal communication that host ‘the unexpected aspects of organizational life’ (Ciborra 2002, p.177). It isonly the latter that can actually illuminate investigations intothe desires of engaged actors for beneficial change. Again, it isclear that those who desire the benefits of smart working within co-evolving socio-technical systems need support to engagein inquiry into contextual dependencies and thus unveil theirdesires and possibilities from use of innovative processes.Efforts to assess the benefits of any particular innovationneed to take into account both the positive and negative factors that may arise (Bednar and Welch 2013). However, it ispossible that those who seek to bring about change that willbenefit an organization will ask the question ‘What are thenegatives of the current system / behaviour?’ in conjunctionwith the question ‘What are the benefits to be expected fromthe posited future system / behaviour?’ and use this as thebasis to initiate action. However, in doing so they haveneglected to ask the questions ‘What are the negatives of thefuture system / behaviour?’ and ‘What are the positives of thecurrent system /behaviour?’ Both of these questions are relevant to consider in taking an open systems perspective, andtheir neglect is likely to detract from achievement of desiredoutcomes (Bednar 2018, p.44). Such a problem seems likelyto occur when managers have published policies for ‘best’practice in advance of any particular innovation in pursuit ofsmart working (as in the example of HM Government above).In pursuit of professional effectiveness, the potential to gobeyond the basic requirements of a role in order to create newboundaries involves a higher order of reflection. It becomespossible only through commitment to on-going reflection upon competence (Bateson 1972) in which the individual concerned is reflecting not only upon experience, but also uponthe process of reflecting on exercise of judgment. This development of a learning ‘spiral’ may be regarded as an exercise inpractical philosophy. In a socio-technical context, such a spiralmust be generated through collaborative inquiry. Figure 2 provides a summary of a contemporary, socio-technical approachto design of smart working systems. It shows how individualsinteract within an organizing space, each with unique experiences of inherent contextual dependencies arising around theirprofessional roles, and bringing their unique life experiencesinto the space. Human actors may be engaged in collaboratingwith different types of intelligent agent, including cobots.These also bring their learning into the interaction, althoughreflection and imagination are still the exclusive sphere ofhuman beings. This figure therefore reflects multiple boundaries drawn from the perspectives of different human actorswithin the space. Recognition is given to individual emergence, showing how human lives transcend the space thatforms current system(s) of interest. Individuals interact withinan organized working system, continually creating and recreating it. This system of interest is open and dynamic as different people, in multiple roles and with unique perspectives join,interact in and leave the system. These interactions overlapwith a co-created system of inquiry into meaningful actionthat supports continual (re)co-creation through interaction, reflection and learning (Bednar and Welch 2009b, b).7 ConclusionsIt is clear that we are at a watershed in the progress of smartworking, in which we contemplate moving forward into adigital age from Industry 4.0 to Industry 5.0. Organizationsthat have not yet embraced the potential of AI, VR and integration may be encouraged to discover that they are not leftbehind – the opportunities of Industry 5.0 are open to them.However, their hesitation may have reflected genuine concernfor the experiences of the unique individuals from whose interactions the organizations have emerged. Smart workingmust mean more than saving on accommodation costs or faresfor commuters. Collaborative systems will enable humanInf Syst Front (2020) 22:281–298 293individuals to realise their full creative potential in deliveringpersonalised goods and services to consumers, with whomthey can engage in a co-creative partnership through valuenetworks. Collaboration with intelligent agents, cobotics anduse of augmented reality systems can assist staff to find greatermeaning in their work roles by removing dull and monotonous tasks and automating control systems. However, greatcare is needed in (co-) creating the organization of the future.Never has there been a greater need to consider sustainabilityin all its dimensions (Magee et al. 2013). There are manychallenges and concerns to be addressed if balance is to beachieved among the needs of differing stakeholder groups.It is important to recognize the potential benefits that ashift towards smart working might realize for differentstakeholder groups, but at the same time to understandthat smart working strategy requires a balancing betweendiffering interests. Benefit realization is not automatic.Desire for the benefits of smart working may genuinelyexist within an organization, but inertia may mean thatsuch aspirations are not translated into action. Where desire for smart working does exist, even the greatest advocates may inadvertently sabotage realization of these aimsin practice (Argyris 2004). Such phenomena have beenwell documented in the past, e.g. the (1928) comment ofJustice Louis Brandeis in his dissenting judgment inOlmstead v United States, on the role of governments,‘The greatest dangers to liberty lurk in the insidious encroachment by men of zeal, well-meaning but withoutunderstanding’ (Brandeis 1928, inscribed on the CapitolBuilding in Washington DC). People may desire to engage in smart working, resulting in demand for greateraccess to supportive services. How is such demand to bearticulated, assessed and acted upon? Organizationalleaders may be ambitious to support smart innovation.However, consideration of support for meaningful practice, and learning for meaningful practice are required inorder to bring about such a transformation (Bednar andWelch 2007, 2017b; Bednar et al. 2016) and this aspect isfrequently overlooked. Argyris (2004) suggests: ‘It is notpossible for human beings to engage de novo the fullcomplexity of the environment in which they exist. Lifewould pass them by. Human beings deal with the challenge by constructing theories of action that they can useto act in concrete situations’ (2004, p.8).It can be seen that a rational planning model to expandorganizational choices involves an inherent paradox.Since any observation must, by definition, be made by aparticular observer, adoption of a ‘neutral’ stance cannotbe achieved in practice. This means that those who espouse rational planning are unaware that any data theygather about a dynamic and constantly recreated problemspace is inherently misleading. It is possible to observethe practice of others, consider it in relation to our owncontextual experiences and desires, and learn from it.However, attempts to copy practice from one unique context to another are unlikely to yield unsatisfactory results.Fig. 2 A contemporary socio-technical approach to engagement with smart working294 Inf Syst Front (2020) 22:281–298Only a human-centred stance, recognizing that organizations subsist from moment-to-moment as self-creating,dynamic and open systems, is likely to lead to successin smart innovation (see Fig. 1). Thus, if expressions ofaspiration for smart working are to lead to design ofsocio-technical systems that are experienced as smart byprofessional human agents, support for professionals toexplore their contextuality in pursuit of excellence mustbe more appropriate than policies setting out principlesfor supposed ‘best’ practice.We suggest that contemporary, open, socio-technicalsystems perspectives are needed, harnessing appropriatetools and techniques to ensure that systems are created thatare meaningful to all engaged actors. Not only is purposeful leadership from managers a desirable quality, but recognition is needed that transformational change will impact upon the unique experiences of all staff and customersin differing ways. Change does not simply involve technical advances, it disrupts a socio-economic ecology of workand community, which is unique to every different environment. Engaged actors require support to own and control the process of transformation, revising and recreatingtheir understandings and interactions for the positive benefit of all concerned. It may be better to see managers notas architects of context, but as cultivators.Open Access This article is distributed under the terms of the CreativeCommons Attribution 4.0 International Li cense (, which permits unrestricted use,distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to theCreative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made.ReferencesAlter, S. (2013). Work system theory: Overview of core concepts, extensions, and challenges for the future. Journal of the Association forInformation Systems, 14(2), n.p. accessed on-line 8 November2018 at, M. (2012). Studying leadership – Taking meaning. Relationalityand Ideology Seriously: Paper, Lund University, Sweden.Alvesson, M. (2014). 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He is also an affiliated AcademicResearcher in the Department of Informatics at Lund University,Sweden. He is the leader of the Systems and Information SystemsResearch Group at the Portsmouth University. He has a background inindustry before teaching and researching in Systems and InformationSystems and related fields for many years. He is a board member of theBCS Specialist Sociotechnical Group and a member of the EditorialBoard of several journals. He has published many papers andbookchapters in the fields of Systems, Information Systems andKnowledge Management.Christine Welch is a Visiting Fellow in the Business School at theUniversity of Portsmouth, UK, after more than 30 years teaching andresearching in Systems and related fields. She is a former Director andpast-President of the UK Systems Society and a member of the EditorialReview Boards of a number of journals. She has published many papersand chapters in the fields of Systems, Information Systems andKnowledge Management.298 Inf Syst Front (2020) 22:281–298

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