“Considering the length of work-from-home policies in multiple sectors and industries, many with no returning plan, the results from this work underscore the necessity of further research on remote work. The human resource management field and its ability to address the positive and negative aspects of remote work are essential to explore and to establish better conditions and resources for employees.”
Impacts of work-at-home policies on systems engineers and the general population
When the Covid-19 pandemic was declared and many employees were allowed to work at home, the advantages and disadvantages of remote work quickly became apparent. Many factors contributed to the complexity of what employees and their employers experienced: everything from distractions at home (often due to lack of daycare or in-person school attendance), changes to teamwork and lack of experience with technologies for team collaboration, limited or no access to software, hardware, or secured data platforms, to the sudden absence of unplanned conversations at the office where critical knowledge is often shared. In addition, the pandemic has accelerated existing trends, such as flexible workspaces, decreased work-related travel, and greater use of automation and e-commerce.
A team from the Stevens Institute of Technology School of Systems and Enterprises, and the Systems Engineering Research Center (SERC) gathered survey data in the early months of the pandemic and again one year later from the systems engineering (SE) community, and Twitter data from the general population during those periods. Their research, published in Systems Engineering, presents a framework that parses out the factors that rated positively or negatively during work-at-home experiences. The findings are relevant to employers and human resource departments as they address work-at-home policies and issues and work to better understand how to retain talent, generate innovation and maintain productivity.
Lead author and SERC Principal Investigator Jose Ramirez-Marquez and co-authors: Kara Pepe, Dinesh Verma, Maria Jose Perez-Pereda, and Pouria Babvey present the purpose and design of the study in the article:
- Provide insights into how work-at-home policies impacted the SE community at different timeframes of implementation;
- Apply text analysis techniques (i.e., topic modeling and sentiment analysis) to social media data to identify the needs and limitations of work-at-home arrangements;
- Present the analysis of different types of questions in a survey, including open-answer questions with topic detection techniques;
- Compare the behavioral changes from the beginning of the pandemic and the behavioral changes one year later; and
- Compare, leverage, and contrast the responses of the SE community with that of other population cohorts.
“The use of social media significantly increased during the early stages of the pandemic providing a rich source of information with respect to community response to and effects of work at home policies. By identifying social media data related to these topics we were able to compare the systems engineering community against the general population and to understand the narrative of these communities,” said Ramirez-Marquez.
The team’s research and approach to understand employees’ responses to work environment changes is critical, particularly the shift to remote work during the pandemic. The McKinsey report on Agility in the time of COVID-19 points out that “Before the coming of COVID-19, business and technological forces already required organizations to manage change and make decisions more quickly than ever before. The pandemic has vastly intensified those needs. Never have companies of all sizes felt so much pressure to make their business models fit changing requirements. And the need for speed won’t be temporary—digitization, globalization, automation, analytics, and the other forces of change will go on accelerating too.”
This trend will demand employees to have the competencies to collaborate effectively in the digital environment, and for employers to understand and respond to the factors that influence employee satisfaction, and how to provide the required conditions for effective communication, collaboration, and innovation.
Pepe noted, “It was important and timely for the SERC to look at the impact work from home was having on the broad SE community. It will continue to impact our workforce across academia, government and industry and something we’re going to have a continued and growing interest in understanding further.”