It's no secret that plenty of employers want their workers to be more flexible about how they work, when they work and where.
But what is not so well known, say a group of Ottawa researchers, is exactly how these demands are playing out in the way workers choose to live their lives. Janet Siltanen is hoping to change that.
"We are asking the big question," explains the professor of sociology at Carleton University and leader of a three-year study by the school's Centre for Labour and Community Research.
"If flexibility is going to be a requirement of the New Economy, we want to know how feasible is this and how are people coping and structuring their lives in order to make this happen."
So far, the research -- now in its second year -- has drawn upon interviews with a broad spectrum of individuals who hold jobs that require some degree of flexibility. They include workers in the high-tech sector, individuals on contract, the self-employed and people working in areas that have always offered less security and stability, such as the arts.
What the researchers have found is that individuals tend to respond in two very different ways.
While some are willing to cut personal ties and travel to wherever the job demands, others cope with the uncertainty by establishing strong ties in their community and building an extensive network of family and friends.
The first group are "tumbleweeds," Prof. Siltanen says, the others are firmly rooted in place.
Toronto-based freelance director and choreographer Glen Kotyk has taken the second approach. The father of seven-year-old twin boys, he says he juggles short-term jobs and out-of-town assignments with the help of friends and the sense of security that comes from knowing his wife has a full-time job.
"I know we will have a constant flow of income, so what I bring in is gravy," he says. "Mind you, I still like the flavourful gravy, not the bland gravy."
Mr. Kotyk, who started his career as a performer, says if anything, work in the industry has become more stable over the years as major festivals, such as Stratford and Shaw, extend their seasons and big, long-running productions offer those who want it a steady job that can last for years.
He says his network of friends and colleagues in the industry and his reputation help to keep the work coming. He also has an agent who helps him to get jobs in commercials and film.
If the money is right and the opportunity is a good one, he also is willing to uproot himself for a few weeks or a month, as he did earlier this year to work on a production of Jesus Christ Superstar at Halifax's Neptune Theatre.
He can do that, he says, because he has a wife and a support network who can cover his responsibilities at home.
"But it does get a bit tricky."
For Prof. Siltanen, the bigger question is how the responses of individuals to the demands for flexibility in their work will affect their lives and communities.
What happens, for instance, when the "rootless global warrior," who has always kept personal relationships to a minimum, experiences problems with taking care of aging relatives? And how does that person define their sense of well-being, she asks.
"Life satisfaction is generally associated with close personal ties," she says. "Are people adapting to these types of situations and thinking of their well-being in different terms?"
Finally, she says, researchers want to explore if the two approaches represent different stages of life, or whether the rootless workers, who tend to be under 40, see their lifestyle as something they could continue throughout their working lives.
"We want to know: Is this a life cycle issue? Is it just a matter of time before people find a place where they want to stay and build roots, or is this a lifestyle that is being shaped by the New Economy?
"That's what we are really focusing on -- their sense of well-being and their sense of the future," she says.