Digitalization is key to organizational success and it is inevitable to thrive and survive in a rapidly changing and unpredictable environment. New technologies are being developed, implemented and deployed, revolutionizing every sector. Such transformation is having an impact on the Organization Studies field, creating spaces to reflect on the challenges and opportunities offered by digital technologies.
The emergence of platform-based organizations (epitomised by companies such as Foodora or Uber) has paved the way to significant shifts in the way people work, changing social relations in and around work. Whether these novel ways of organising work offer individuals with opportunities for autonomy and self-fulfilment, or enable new forms of exploitation and counter-exploitation, remains to be seen. Similarly, the broad family of Industry 4.0 technologies is redefining issues of workplace commitment and control. Indeed, “the machine” and its algorithms enable the re-design of organizations with the aim to perform a fine-grained controlling function over the workforce or, alternatively, developing a more committed workforce by expanding the areas of employee’ discretion and increasing the level of participation.
In the public sector, new technologies such as social media are enhancing e-Government solutions, facilitating innovation in organizational processes, new forms of HRM, co-production and access to information, and openness. They are fostering transparency and accountability while increasing the citizens’ engagement. Moreover, recent advances in Information Technology in the healthcare sector are changing the way practitioners interact with patients, providing opportunities for proactive care, and patient-centred care methods. At the same time, the adoption of new technologies in the public sector is bound to provide opportunities by simultaneously increasing and decreasing social inequality or by reducing and raising costs.
As a consequence, in the upcoming years new approaches to organizational design will most likely be introduced and implemented. Indeed, it is likely that in the next future relevant (and, probably, new and emergent) actors will re-negotiate the very meaning of established constructs such as work, worker, manager, organization and, ultimately, society. The breadth and scope of such changes calls upon organizational scholars to explore the specific processes through which such transformations are taking place at the micro (i.e., individual/team), meso (i.e., organizational), and macro (i.e., institutional) levels. The adoption of a multilevel perspective in studying such phenomenon is consistent with the need to highlight the interaction among different organizational and institutional actors, as digital technologies blur the boundaries between the internal and external aspects of an organization. Indeed, in the last few years, there have been several calls in order to grapple with the important challenges that today’s organizations and management research face. These challenges have been primarily intended as major social challenges such as the climate change, poverty alleviation, gender equality, human rights, health, food, education and decent work for all. Therefore today it has become increasingly important to explore whether the new season of organizational design, triggered by current disruptive socio-technical innovations, is going to result in an opportunity or a constraint to the social context.
The time has come for organizational scholars to address relevant issues and to deal with highly complex problems within and beyond their discipline. Therefore, the 21st edition of the WOA invites participants to reflect on these and other related questions.