ISR Awards

FW-HTF-P: Connectivity and the Future of Remote Work

This planning grant seeks to identify critical issues concerning how to create a dynamic, flexible workforce through connectivity, technology, design and life-long learning. We propose that new and emerging technologies can be used or improved to address the benefits and challenges associated with remote work. We adapt the human-machine system model and propose that remote work provides a unique opportunity to develop a dynamic model that will maximize benefits and minimize problems in the constantly changing and ever-expanding landscape of work. Both increased inclusion and exclusion are possible, thus requiring careful planning and policies to increase the former and decrease the latter. We are in the midst of a natural experiment that can provide insights into technological gaps and social barriers that can lead to optimizing the potential of remote work in terms of productivity and worker well-being. This is a once-in-a-century chance to transformatively maximize benefits and minimize problems associated with remote work for both employers and workers.
Our four objectives will address issues of human and technological connectivity, productivity and quality of life: 1. Identify characteristics of work that are or can be done remotely; 2. Create measures of productivity that flexibly meet employers? and remote workers? needs; 3. Identify the major mental and physical stressors affecting remote workers; 4. Identify current and future major technologies that make remote work possible. We use a mixed methods (i.e., quantitative and qualitative) approach to accomplish the proposed objectives. We will begin with secondary data analysis of the Pew Survey and then move to an exploratory sequential mixed methods study design. This will include workshops and interviews with employers and employees, which will touch on similar topics, but from each groups? perspective. Next, we will develop a quantitative survey instrument, which will then be administered to a nationally representative sample through the University of Michigan?s Survey of Consumer Attitudes. Topics to be covered in both the qualitative and quantitative phases include: productivity (e.g., measurement of, how affected by remote work), worker health (e.g., social isolation, zoom fatigue, work-related musculoskeletal disorders), worker schedules (e.g., work, home, leisure), interactions (e.g., with co-workers, family, friends), access and inclusion, and technology use and shortcomings.

Intellectual merit
The proposed planning grant has the potential to fundamentally increase our knowledge by optimizing use of existing technology as well as identify technology gaps that will further improve future work, productivity and the experience of the worker. We aim to develop a dynamic model that will help guide remote work and the development of new technology for the near and foreseeable future. It is clear that there are challenges that must be addressed to ensure a life-long learning perspective, access and inclusion at multiple levels, and a fundamentally dynamic perspective on work and productivity. Our team will advance and integrate knowledge of cybernetics, design, education, health and behavior, group dynamics, motivation, social relations, and user experience. The intellectual merit of this planning grant and the resulting research will accelerate highly needed advances in technology and human science, facilitate convergent research and help direct the evolution of work as we know it. The proposed planning grant activities will result in the development of transformative research questions focused on how emerging technologies can lead to greater human and technological connectivity, mitigate the challenges of and amplify the positive aspects of remote work.

Broader impacts
Connectivity and remote work are fundamental challenges for the future of work, the future worker, and future technology. The proposed planning activity will provide guidance


National Science Foundation

Funding Period:

10/01/2021 to 09/30/2023