Ali Aslan Gümüsay and Leonhard Dobusch, both contributors to the collaborative open course “Organizing in Times of Crisis”, have have published a brief reflection piece on organizational coping-strategies with the Corona crisis from reactive to proactive in MIT Sloan Management Review: “This is not (digital) business as usual”.
Many students taking this course will already have passed through class 3 with the topic “Crisis Management and Bureaucracy“. On the background reading list, they will have found a reference to Paul du Gay’s book “The Values of Bureaucracy“. Bureaucracy is probably one of the most hotly debated subject and object of organization studies, at least among the general public. While organization scholars tend to agree that bureaucracy has many merits, not least its founding on rational-legal rather than traditional or charismatic forms of authority as argued by sociologist Max Weber, the general public tends to speak about bureaucracy in negative and derogatory terms: as too much red tape and as a synonym for slow and inefficient procedures. Du Gay discusses his thoughts on the ambivalence of bureaucracy for society in his new “quarantine podcast” – a great addition to your readings for this course.
Urs Bolter is member of the Management Board of Blum, an international and family-owned manufacturer of furniture hardware with its headquarter in the Austrian province Vorarlberg. Blum employs close to 8.000 people and, in addition to Austria, has production plants in the United States, in Poland and in Brazil.
In this interview, Leonhard Dobusch, Professor of Organization at University of Innsbruck, speaks with Urs Bolter about the challenges Blum faces in managing (through) the ongoing Corona crisis.
Hopes are high that the Covid-19 crisis will improve working conditions for people in so-called “critical” sectors such as nurses, delivery drivers or supermarket cashiers. So far, however, it seems that the ephemeral sound of balcony applause for these workers is trailing off without any substantive improvements being reached. Instead, it seems that inequalities are being cemented further. Large digital platforms like Amazon or Instawork are offering thousands of new gig jobs with excruciating working conditions. Many workers from other sectors, such as hospitality workers, have no alternative but to take up these jobs for a living. Supermarket workers remain scarily unprotected from – sometimes abusive – customers. Worker in garment supply chains remain the weakest link in the chain despite many attempts of improving their working conditions in recent years and now face devestating conditions amid the pandemic outbreaks after many brands have refused to pay for orders, not assuming responsibility for suppliers and workers. In many developed countries, migrant workers living in overcrowded dormitories are the ones most affected by Covid-19 outbreaks, as recently evidenced in Singapore or in the German meat industry. Other developments are more ambivalent. Home work is on the rise, making it easier for some to balance family and work demands and avoiding long commutes, but Silicon Valley companies such as Facebook already announced that this shift would go along with a wage cut, whereas news abound over new and intrusive forms of surveillance of workers in the home office. There is some hope in progressive governments’ attempts to use this crisis to trial out new forms of work, such as Jacinda Arden’s call for a four-day work week to buffer the effects of Covid-19. The global attention that the #democratizework appeal by thousands of academics has received clearly shows the urgent need to rethink the way work is organized. It is now up to each one of us to – as explained in our first lecture – maintain attention to this critical issue for precarious workers at home and abroad. There are many, and each one of them deserves a fair wage and protection at work.
The journal Business & Society has started its own Covid-19 blog “with the intent of building bridges between the academic research published in the journal and the wider community of scholars, practitioners, media, and interested public.” The blog will link academic articles published in the journal to current events and topics.
Daniel Geiger, together with two co-authors, recently published a brief article in BMJ Leader entitled “Managing enduring public health emergencies such as COVID-19: lessons from Uganda Red Cross Society’s Ebola virus disease response operation”. The abstract reads as follows:
In this piece, we translate insights from our study of routine coordination in the Ebola virus disease response operation by Uganda Red Cross Society (URCS) for managing long-lasting public health emergencies. We further show how these lessons are relevant to the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) pandemic. Commonly, emergency response organisations, like the URCS or hospitals, are ill equipped to handle longer lasting emergencies. These emergencies require special measures that combine ad-hoc action, continuous awareness over longer time periods, and the collaboration of multiple actors such as the government, public health institutions and other non-governmental organisations (NGOs).
The article is available online as an open access full text.
In their timely new article “Privilege and burden of im‐/mobility governance” published in Gender, Work and Organization, Laura Dobusch from the Radboud University und Katharina Kreissl from the university of Salzburg analyze how the Austrian lockdown has reinforced social inequalities already in place. They argue that in order to contain the COVID‐19 pandemic, governments mainly focused on regulating mobility: certain mobility restrictions were enforced, while simultaneously some forms of mobility were maintained or even enhanced in order to keep the system running in crisis mode. With a special focus on Austria, they identify specific politics of im‐/mobilities concerning the organization of paid work and show how the socio‐spatial conditions of who is permitted, denied or urged to work are inextricably linked to inequalities.
For instance, people with lower paid jobs such as supermarket cashiers or care personnel – often women and migrant workers – were urged to go to work because of their ‘system relevance’ and thereby exposed to health hazards. On the other hand, people – disproportionately men without migration background – employed in better paid knowledge work and desk jobs could stay home and work from there.
It becomes apparent that while in principle all bodies are equally dependent on collective social relations and enduring infrastructure such as health care provision, food supply or public transport, not everybody contributes equally to their maintenance. In fact, the governance of im‐/mobilities follows and reinforces already prevalent inequality regimes based on class, gender and migration relations, thereby differentiating between bodies perceived as highly valuable and worth protecting and those categorized as less valued and potentially disposable. The authors emphasize that it’s not enough to acknowledge our collective interdependence, but that forms of (political) organizing are needed that reflect and acknowledge such interdependence on egalitarian terms from the start.
I have blogged before about the 63th episode of the TaO podcast which focused on the Hudson’s Bay Company which went faced numerous pandemics during its early existence. Also the 64th episode of the podcast relates directly to the Covid-19 pandemic. With a focus on disasters and crisis management, it discusses two management articles and their different takes on risk and resilience: one is the 1990 piece “The vulnerable system: An analysis of the Tenerife air disaster” published by Karl Weick in the journal of management studies; the other is the more recent 2009 article “Reclaiming resilience and safety: Resilience activation in the critical period of crisis” published by Edward Powley in Human Relations. Together, by zooming on on different phases of crisis, these articles provide an processual perspective on the structures and mechanisms that make organizations vulnerable and, potentially, resilient.
Under the hashtag #democratizingwork, more than 3,000 researchers from over 600 universities worldwide have united to publish an op-ed in 36 newspapers in 31 countries on the 16th of May, issuing an urgent call (here The Guardian version) for rewriting the rules of our economic system to create a more democratic and sustainable society. Spearheaded by three scholars, Isabelle Ferreras, Dominique Méda, and Julie Battilana, the call centers on the way we work and organize production: exploiting humans and the natural environment in order to maximize shareholder profits. While this model has long been criticized not just by left-leaning politicians and civil society, but also from within the business community, the Covid-19 crisis has made disturbingly clear how deeply we are in a health, social, climate and political crisis. The call paves an alternative path forward, following three core principles: democratize (firms), decommodify (work), and remediate (policies) in order to respect planetary boundaries and make life sustainable for all. Will our leaders seize this historical opportunity in the right direction?
In this video interview, economist Mariana Mazzucatto explains her view on the role of government and public policy in shaping economy and society. Her talk links to the themes tackled in this course in several ways. First, she addresses the need for governmental decision making – not just in crisis – to be strategic and driven by missions. This is the opposite of garbage-can-like, short-term oriented decision making dominating in crisis situations as discussed in lecture 1. Second, she clearly argues that policy makers need to think about societal grand challenges and the UN SDGs as interrelated, a point made in class 12. This also means that policy makers need to move beyond departmental silos – the dominant way of how (see class 3) public bureaucracies are organized – towards interconnected decision making, most importantly regarding public investment decisions as well as public procurement. As discussed in lecture 10, basing public procurement decisions on the basis of fair trade and environmental standards is one important mechanism of organizing our global economy towards sustainability.