Harnessing technology to create presence at work

22 January 2020
PhD graduate’s mission to promote 'smart' flexible work

Ella Hafermalz explores the role of technology in facilitating workplace connection and transforming knowledge work. 


Whilst Ella Hafermalz experienced the joys of working across different parts of Australia, ranging from the outskirts of Melbourne in Broadmeadows, Perth and Sydney; one challenge she faced was the disconnection from her team.

To her surprise, the use of technology was effective in overcoming such loneliness. This impact on her career led her to undertake PhD study into remote work at the University of Sydney Business School.

In an attempt to explain technology’s role in imparting sentiments of belonging, Ella took a deep dive approach into the correlation between physical presence and workplace connection. She argues that presence is not something achieved just by showing up to the office, and labels this act as presenteeism. 

Her study has been published to the public and she has also been invited to speak with companies and even a politician, and presents at industry conferences such as Worktech about flexible work conditions. 

Ella credits much of this newfound success to the opportunities presented by the research program offered by the University of Sydney Business School. Some notable opportunities included the chance to talk to people from all walks of life; from telenurses to software developers.

With a different background in Media and Communications, Ella appreciated this diversity. The program also provided an avenue for Ella to attend conferences where she presented her research globally. 

Academically, the program has facilitated Ella’s multidisciplinary approach towards research, writing and reviewing. With a Masters in Teaching, this collaborative experience that promoted mutual teaching was valued by Ella. 

People need to use a range of technologies to become present in the organisation through what we call 'presencing work'
Ella Hafermalz

Another highlight of the University of Sydney was the city itself. Ella recognises Sydney as an international hub and was excited by the thought of working with academics that are influential in global conversations. To her, ease of access to cutting edge thinking and an international network is key to future success. 

For those interested in studying a research degree, Ella advises to make the most of their network and to expand their interests past their home discipline. She also believes that taking initiative to travel to conferences, sharing work and receiving feedback are essential in tackling big problems. 

Ella is currently putting together a publication, teaching, and grant application portfolio that demonstrates the strength of her research at the School of Business and Economics, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam in the Netherlands. 

She also currently teaches subjects like "Working and Organizing in a Digital Age" and has recently published a paper titled, "Out of the Panopticon and into Exile: Visibility and control in distributed new culture organizations" in the Organization Studies journal. Her new research group KIN has a project on how AI is changing knowledge work where she is co-supervising a PhD candidate. 

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