Co-working, telecommuting, robotisation, digitisation, individualisation – the world of work is changing. Convinced that these changes and their effects in terms of health, work and space are worthy of study, six UCLouvain researchers have created Louvain4Work, a transdisciplinary research consortium on complex work transformations. Their project begins 17 October.
Louvain4 is the collective name for a series of UCLouvain cross-cutting research initiatives which aim to respond to our society’s present and future human and environmental challenges. UCLouvain invites its researchers in different disciplines to come together around a societal challenge in order to provide concrete answers to the major issues of our time. The tenth Louvain4 project, dedicated to the world of work (Louvain4Work), was launched on 17 October.
From hyperspecialisation to transdisciplinarity
‘Today, the trend of the scientific world is hyperspecialisation’, says Prof. Laurent Taskin, Louvain4Work initiator and spokesperson. ‘Scientists are embarking on increasingly sophisticated research.’ The nine Louvain4 projects to date address nutrition, ageing, cities, education, evolution, energy, water, space, and migration. By erasing the boundaries between disciplines, new collaborations, ideas, debates and even knowledge should emerge. This is the strength of transdisciplinarity. ‘It’s a real effort to come together and build a common language, but it’s by intermingling these points of view that we access real scientific knowledge regarding these types of issues.’
Louvain4Work: three pairs of glasses to understand work
Work is a structuring force. From a macroeconomic point of view, it finances social benefits, public services, etc. It contributes to the identity of each and every individual. In recent decades, work has been reconfigured rapidly. With that, our identities change. New forms of company structures appear. Issues of diversity (religion, age, sex), technology and planning are ubiquitous in the professional sphere. In short, new issues related to work are emerging. These observations are the starting point for Louvain4Work’s founders, who are academics and Scientific Committee members working in the university’s three sectors:
- Human Sciences: Laurent Taskin (economics and management), Laura Merla (sociology), Filip Dorssemont (law)
- Health Sciences : Dominique Lison (toxicology) et Bénédicte Schepens (ergonomics)
- Science and Technology : Yves Deville (engineering), Sergio Altomonte (architecture), Yves Hanin (architecture)
They intend to feed off each other's methodologies and perspectives in order to bring together and animate a multidisciplinary research community capable of creating knowledge. ‘Through their expertise,’ Prof. Taskin says, ‘we’ll be able to put on three different pairs of glasses and consider the issue of work in 3D.’
Research and knowledge creation are not Louvain4Work’s only goals. ‘As a university, our job is to train the workers of tomorrow’, Prof. Taskin continues. ‘We have a responsibility to them. In addition, UCLouvain is an employer. From the beginning, the Scientific Committee wanted to address work within the university. Seminars on elements of staff policy such as workspaces and well-being will be organised. Through Louvain4Work, we want to be involved in the future organisation of work at UCLouvain.’
Three aspects of work
To achieve these ambitious goals, our eight researchers have already met and started to build a common language. From these meetings emerged three aspects of work that they would like to address:
- porosity of work boundaries (private-professional sphere, time spent at work);
- workplace transformation (mobility, distributed workspaces);
- formation of new working communities (work teams whose members never see one another, new and especially virtual communities).
On 17 October, these three aspects were presented, which will make it possible to set up thematic working groups.
How to work on work?
The Louvain4Work project should unfold in different ways in the months and years to come:
- activities organised by and for Louvain4Work members (17 October, then two seminars a year to bring the community together);
- each work aspect will develop on its own from the moment its experts meet, each group progressing via seminars, conferences, meetings, etc.;
- the six founding members will focus on what UCLouvain does in the field of work, in order to question how work is organised and managed within the university.
‘In 24 months,’ Prof. Taskin says, ‘through these Louvain4Work-enabled links, the ambition is to seek research contracts or submit transdisciplinary research proposals that wouldn’t see the light of day without this pooling of disciplinary knowledge.’
The six founders created the research group on a voluntary basis. All of UCLouvain were invited 17 October for workshops where everyone can express their thoughts and expertise. The rest of the project will depend on each individual’s availability and expertise. Prof. Taskin says, ‘Within the Scientific Committee, we’re already feeding off one another’s passion and drive, guided by a dual certainty: it makes sense to study this problem and we’re responsible for providing answers to the question of work. The more numerous we are, the more we’ll produce transdisciplinary knowledge on this subject.’
A glance at Laurent Taskin's bio
Laurent Taskin is a doctor of economics and management, and a professor of management at the Louvain School of Management (University of Louvain), where he is responsible for the Department of Strategy and Organisation. A recognised expert in the field of HRM and work transformations, he holds the laboRH Chair in Human Management and is the editor-in-chief of the scientific review International Journal of Work Innovation.