Researchers Study Teleworking Effects during COVID-19

Tyler Wilkins

Thursday, May 28th, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic and social distancing protocols resulted in many workers conducting business from home, altering the environments in which they work at a moment’s notice and allowing organizations to continue their operations. 

What are the effects of this rapid transition to working remotely? That’s what researchers at the University of Georgia and the University of South Florida are trying to figure out.

There is not a lot of translational research on the topic, according to Kristen Shockley, associate professor of psychology in UGA’s Franklin College of Arts and Sciences. She and her collaborators plan to develop a best-practices guide based on their research that will help organizations when employees transition to working from home. 

“There were so many people who, all of a sudden, had to transition to remote work,” said Shockley, director of the Integrating Work into Life Lab. “Working remotely is going to extend beyond just COVID-19. People worked remotely before, and people will work remotely after, so we’re hoping [our study] has broad applicability moving forward.” 

Along with co-investigator and USF Distinguished University Professor Tammy Allen, UGA graduate student Hope Dodd and USF graduate student Aashna Waivoord, Shockley received a $199,574 National Science Foundation RAPID Grant, which are quickly disbursed to researchers in times of unprecedented events—like natural disasters or pandemics—to study their effects. While it would normally take about six months for researchers to learn whether NSF would provide funding for a study, Shockley said her study was funded just eight days after submission.

The researchers are currently collecting survey data from people who work at least 32 hours per week and, prior to the pandemic, worked no more than 10 percent of the time from home. 

Respondents are asked to take a one-time survey that takes about 30 minutes, followed by five-minute surveys every workday for four weeks. The questions in the initial survey ask respondents background information about their jobs and lives, and the questions in the subsequent daily surveys cover how respondents feel each day as they continue to work from home.

“With the daily survey, we’re trying to get more factors that vary from day to day, relating to communication, specific technology used, interactions with manager and co-workers and interruptions from family members,” Shockley said. “We’re trying to see how those various factors link to daily reports of performance and well-being.” 

The team began collecting survey data in late April and expects to complete it by mid-June. The researchers will analyze the data as quickly as possible to create a best-practices guide that will be disseminated to the general public, human resources organizations and industrial/organizational psychology groups.

“We want people’s experiences working remotely to be the best possible, so that they feel productive and happy and not burned out,” Shockley said. “We want organizations to have a resource where they can say, ‘Here’s what we know that actually does work based on the data, so let’s use this as a guide.’”