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Team meeting via online conferencing tool


Researchers at the AIT Center for Technology Experience are investigating how people fare with teleworking and where the problems lie. An initial interim summary of the study, which is still ongoing, reveals many positive experiences, but also difficulties in some places that urgently need to be resolved.

The Corona crisis was - and in many places still is - a particularly challenging situation for many employees. A majority of those affected were working from home for the first time in their professional lives, using technologies such as video telephony or teleconferencing that many had previously only heard about. How did they fare when working from home? How did they experience the use of technical aids? Where did the shoe pinch? Where were there serious problems? To what extent did the interaction of employees with each other and with the information and communication tools used change? And how would a work environment have to be designed so that working at home functions as smoothly as in the office? 

Researchers at the AIT Austrian Institute of Technology wanted to find out more and launched an online study immediately after the start of the Corona restrictions - on the one hand with surveys, and on the other with volunteers who regularly report on their daily routine. "The aim of the study is to learn from the current situation in order to be better equipped for similar situations in the future," explains Manfred Tscheligi, head of the AIT Center for Technology Experience. "For example, we want to find out which channels should be used to provide information and to what extent, what alternative learning methods and training can look like, and how social life can be maintained in a modified form in order to subsequently develop suitable solutions," adds Markus Murtinger, Head of the Competence Unit Experience Business Transformation at AIT.

Efficient work vs. lack of social contact

This study is continuing in order to be able to map longer-term developments. But the researchers have now been able to draw a first interim conclusion. The advantages of working at home were rated somewhat higher than the disadvantages by 57 study participants who were interviewed in detail. They found it particularly positive that a home office enabled concentrated, efficient and undisturbed work (24 responses), that it eliminated travel time to and from work (16), and that it also gave them more time for family and household chores and enabled them to better reconcile these with their jobs (13). However, work-related stressors, such as extra work, work intensification and more difficult conflict resolution (17), the lack of social contact with colleagues (keyword: small talk; 11) and problems with technical work equipment (10) were seen as particularly negative.

In addition to organizational difficulties, there was a particular need for action with regard to technological issues and the design of online tools. 

  • Participants felt interrupted and disturbed in their work processes particularly by problems with the stability and speed of the connection (Internet, access to VPN, during teleconferences) as well as by increased virtual communication and the associated requirement to be permanently available. 
  • Many study participants found it unsatisfactory that numerous different tools are used side by side, for example conference tools, protocol tools, possibilities for joint creative work, etc., but that these are not compatible with each other. This also leads to the problem that they do not consistently record whether one is currently busy or not. Then, for example, the phone rings even though you are in a video conference. The same applies to the most diverse access points, address books, passwords, control elements, etc. 
  • The constant question "Can you hear me?" during teleconferences was found to be particularly annoying - the tools should automatically provide feedback in this regard. 
  • It is seen as a shortcoming that conferencing tools do not have an integrated "speech-to-text" function, which would, for example, allow minutes to be taken automatically. 
  • Ways to virtually sign documents are seen as urgently needed. 
  • Also suggested was the development of tools to filter out distracting images and sounds from the home office - such as children flitting through the video frame or enjoying life. 

"We're missing a lot of important tools right now," Murtinger summarizes. Nevertheless, Tscheligi believes that the now widespread experience with home offices could pave the way to new forms of work: to a "mixed work reality" - an interaction between the real and virtual worlds. However, there are still many unresolved issues, starting with the simple-sounding question of what is meant by "office." "The metaphor of the office as a place where people work together needs to be transferred to the online world," explains Murtinger. This requires specific tools - which people don't currently have. This involves fears about privacy and data protection, for example, but also employers' concerns that employees won't work as much in the home office as they do in the office. "In the physical office, a supervisor/manager sees that employees are present," Tscheligi says. Corresponding online tools that transform the visualization of the real world into the virtual world and have a similar trust-building effect, but do not immediately violate privacy regulations, are currently in short supply.

Relevance also for education

Such considerations are highly relevant not only for the world of work, but also for education: "This can also be a future model for schools," says Tscheligi. Now that the Ministry of Education - in response to the problems that came to light during the homeschooling era - has announced a major package of measures for the digitization of schools, students and teachers, the question of the right mix of technologies, the design of interfaces and the balance between real and virtual teaching is also being raised there. User experience research can also contribute a great deal to the "virtual classroom of the future.