Professional Isolation and Connectedness in Computer Supported Cooperative Work Systems : A Focused Ethnographic Study of Knowledge Workers Working from Home

University essay from Linnéuniversitetet/Institutionen för informatik (IK)

Abstract: Both companies and individuals have observed positive effects after implementing working from home (WFH) practices as digital technology expands collaborative possibilities. As a result, the hybrid workplace has emerged as a sustainable possibility for future workplace solutions. In a hybrid workplace, the workforce is distributed between a co-located office and WFH to different extents, naturally inferring an intense use of collaborative technology in daily operations. However, despite reports of aforementioned positive effects, research show that the feeling of professional isolation (PI) is a reoccurring issue for knowledge workers WFH. And although the spread of the issue appears to be severe in literature, little is known about the effects that the collaborative technology actually has on the level of experienced PI.  Within the interdisciplinary research field of CSCW (Computer-Supported Cooperative Work), collaborative information technology systems are studied from both technological and social perspectives. Thus, in order to gain a deeper understanding of the phenomenon of professional isolation in relation to the use of collaborative information technology systems, this study aims to explore how knowledge workers currently WFH experience and perceive the support of CSCW systems for communication in relation to PI.  Based on a qualitative, focused ethnographic approach, nine knowledge workers from different companies and positions currently WFH were interviewed about their perceptions of CSCW systems for communication support in relation to PI. The empirical data that the interviews generated was subjected to a thematic analysis, from which five themes emerged and constituted the empirical findings. These themes were then analyzed in the light of the research questions and discussed with the concepts in the literature review as well as with a symbolic interactionist perspective.  The results of this master’s thesis research show that most of the participants do not experience professional isolation as defined in literature, however, they display a loss of connectedness to co-workers when using the CSCW systems for communication support when working from home. The connectedness in question is achieved with ‘social interaction’, however, the research findings of this master’s thesis illustrate that ‘social interaction’ is not symbolically connected to any of the CSCW systems for communication support for the participants. Based on these research findings, it is proposed that ‘social interaction’ is not included in the concept of ‘communication’ within the field of CSCW. Furthermore, it is suggested that organizations aspiring to implement working from home (WFH), or hybrid workplace practices may want to re-evaluate current and future social activities within the CSCW systems for communication support based on the insights provided by the master’s thesis research study. 

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