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FLEXCOT - Flexible work practices and communication technology, for the targeted socio-economic research programme (TSER) of the fourth framework programme for R&D of the European Commission (1998-2000)

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Project summary

The FLEXCOT project (1998-2000) was supported by the European Commission (DG Research), under the Targeted Socio-Economic Research Programme (TSER) of the Fourth Framework Programme for R&D. The overall objective of the FLEXCOT project is to determine to what extent the new generation of information and communication technologies (ICT) can be used in order to develop new flexible work practices, which would be socially more sustainable than the current ones. Following the preparation of a state of the art of current research, a series of case studies was carried out, focusing on four distinct sectors: printing and publishing, civil engineering, banking and insurance and decentralised health services. Case studies were carried out in six countries (B, DK, F, I, E, UK).

FLEXCOT analysis shows that ICT interact in complex ways with other drivers to impact upon work and work organisation. The impact of ICT is mediated through a series of "institutional filters". In the case studies, the most important filter was management strategies, which were almost universally concerned with enhancing operational efficiency and cutting costs. These strategies were circumscribed to some extent by workers and union resistance, and by labour regulation. The overwhelming impression, however, is that they had only a limited impact on management who found it relatively easy to overcome them. ICT undoubtedly shifted the balance of power in favour of management.

ICT do not have a particular organisational logic. Indeed, management in individual firms often introduced what would appear to be contradictory logics around the same technologies. The important point to note, however, is that ICT do allow management to increase their organisational repertoires, permitting multiple formats, each designed to maximise profit. ICT offer different and greater opportunities in this respect than did IT developments in the 1980s. It is the "communication" element of ICT, which allows access to and manipulation of the same data and information by multiple workers and organisations, across space and time, and enhances organisational trends: blurring boundaries of working time and work location, growing importance of relationships with clients and partners, increasing role of communication skills in workers' profiles, new production rhythms in industry and services, networking and outsourcing.

In the case studies, the introduction of ICT, then, was aimed at commercial efficiency. In some respects this approach is to be applauded in that a general increase in efficiency in European companies should have wider economic benefits. However, this focus clearly creates a number of less favourable consequences and raises a number of concerns: dualisation of the labour market, new rhythms of production and unsocial working hours, intensification of work; increasing variety of new atypical work contracts; desynchronisation between working time, social time, and collective time; poor access to training and opportunities to support qualification adaptability; etc.

The final conclusion of FLEXCOT give prominence to the fact that the future of work in the information society asks for concrete measures in order to avoid a dual labour market and a widespread place for precariousness and exclusion. Innovative and positive uses of ICT as well as flexible schemes that go hand in hand with social concerns need to be supported while unsocial experiments need to be framed. In the conclusions, paths for action are suggested to public authorities at the European and national levels, to trade union organisations and to the management of companies.

Final report

Vendramin P., Valenduc G., Rolland I. (FTU), Richardson R., Gillespie A., Belt V. (CURDS), Carré D., Maugéri S., Combès Y. (LabSIC), Ponzellini A., Pedersini R., Neri S. (Fond. Seveso), Flexible work practices and communication technology, Report for the European Commission, SOE1-CT97-1064, DG Research, TSER/Improving programme, Brussels, February 2000.

Available on request by e-mail or downloadable:

Downloadable documents

  • Final report of the FLEXCOT project, as published by the European Commission (EN, 163 pages, PDF)
  • Executive summary (EN, 18 pages, PDF)
  • Abstract (EN, 1 page, Word file)
  • Proceedings of the conference "Flexible Working in the New Millennium", held in Brussels on 10 December 1999 (FR, 74 pages, PDF)

Partners of the FLEXCOT project

Fondation Travail-Université (FTU) - co-ordinateur
Centre de recherche Travail & Technologies
Rue de l'arsenal, 5
B-5000 Namur, BELGIUM
Tel: +32-81-725122, fax: +32-81-725128
Responsable du projet : Patricia Vendramin (

Centre for Urban and Regional Development Studies (CURDS)
University of Newcastle upon Tyne
Newcastle Upon Tyne NE1 7RU UNITED KINGDOM
Tel. +44-191-222-7731/8004, fax: +44-191-232-9259
Project manager : Ranald Richardson

Laboratoire des Sciences de l'Information et de la Communication (Lab.SIC)
Université de Paris Nord
Avenue Jean-Baptiste Clément
F-93430 Villetaneuse - FRANCE
Tel: 33-1-49403728, fax: 33-1-49403820
Responsable du projet : Dominique Carré

Fondazione Pietro Seveso
Viale Vittorio Veneto, 24
I-20124 Milano - ITALY
Tel. +39-02-29013198, fax. +39-02-29013262
Project manager : Anna Ponzellini

Rasmus Enemark, Anders Henten
Telecommunications Research Group
Building 371
Technical University of Denmark
DK-2800 Lingby - DENMARK
Project manager: Anders Henten

Amat Sanchez, Josep Banyuls, Ernest Cano, Alexandre Peñalver,
Josep Picher, Fernando Rocha
Fundació d'estudis i iniciatives sociolaborals (E)
Plaça Nápols i Sicilía, 5, 3a
E-46003 València - ESPANA
Project manager: Amat Sanchez


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