Teaming in the Time of Covid-19: Understanding how technology affordances can enable collaboration during sudden workplace disruption
Organizations have contemplated and – in some cases – experimented with the idea of remote work for several decades. The spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) has enlisted the world in an involuntary and instantaneous beta-test of remote work at scale. In the span of a few weeks, shelter-in-place orders have come down from government agencies in the US and elsewhere requiring organizations to transition nearly their entire workforces to remote work arrangements instantaneously. Undoubtedly, these rapid and wholesale shifts to remote work arrangements are leveraging recent advances in the development of digital collaboration platforms that enable teams to communicate via text, audio, and video and to share and edit documents in real-time. However, until now, we have not had the need (or the will) to experimentally – and at scale – assess the ability of digital collaboration platforms to support an all remote workforce. The pandemic offers us an unprecedented opportunity to understand how the sudden switch to remote collaboration presents challenges and opportunities to distributed teams. Thus, this research seeks to answer fundamental questions about how workers organize for remote work before, during, and after a sudden shift to remote collaboration. This includes exploring the lasting impacts of COVID-19 on organizations, even after returning to the new normal.
This project draws insights from studying workers. It leverages surveys (including questions about their social networks), HR data, as well as data from collaboration server logs that have been collected over the past year, prior to the pandemic, from four organizations. These data will be augmented by collecting new data from these same organizations to understand remote work during and post pandemic. These include surveys, HR data, collaboration server logs, as well as qualitative interviews. Taken together these longitudinal data will help us understand how the observed shifts in patterns of teamwork can be explained by the particular ways in which workers utilize technology before, during and after the COVID-19 crisis. It will explore how work-life blending and burnout differentially impact remote workers. Furthermore, to assess changes in how employees collaborate on and around digital platforms before, during, and after COVID-19 disruption, data will be collected that examine when and what workplace policies were put in place by organizations or other local, state or national agencies in response to COVID-19. These include decisions for partial evacuation of offices, total shelter-at-home, lay-offs for certain categories of employees, leave without pay for others, mandatory use of certain technologies, as well as phased re-entry back into the office. As such, the research project will advance our fundamental understanding of the manner in which digital collaboration technologies provide challenges and opportunities to teams collaborating – including the most extreme scenario – remotely. It will also provide an evidentiary base for how workplace related policy interventions impact the use of technology for teamwork. Results from this research will contribute to generating policy recommendations about how technologies should be used to enable collaboration at key transition points during a future crisis of this magnitude.