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Remote Research and Remote Working: Connecting through technology

30 January 2019 - BY Silvana di Gregorio

The rise of remote working

If you are a millennial, this may not be news to you but anyone who was in the workforce pre-2000 (aka the 20th century) cannot ignore the fact that the way we work has been changing by leaps and bounds. We no longer need to be tethered to a desk, an office or even a country.  According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, on an average day in 2017 23% of workers spent some time working at home. In comparison, only 15% of workers in 2001 reported that they worked at least one day a week from home. Workers with advanced degrees are more likely to work at home. In 2017, 46% of workers with an advanced degree were more likely to work at home compared to 12% of workers with a high school diploma.

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The growth of co-working spaces such as WeWork also indicates that work does not have to be tied to the location of a company office. In London alone, there is a huge choice of co-working spaces. The possibility of accessing a company’s intranet where documents can be stored, the use of online conferencing tools such as Zoom means that as long as one has access to the Internet, work can be done anywhere.
What implications does this have for qualitative researchers?  In this blog (and a future one), we’ll talk through some best practices for remote academic teamworking and data collection.
 

A toolkit for remote academic teamworking


Judy Davidson (2018) makes the case that complex qualitative team research is on the increase. She claims that “studies are becoming more problem-based and less methodologically restricted”. In addition, she cites an increased recognition of the value of qualitative research as well as the complexity of global problems where an interdisciplinary approach is needed. Teams are becoming not only interdisciplinary but also cross-national. The UK’s ESRC stated, in their 2016-2020 Delivery Plan, their commitment to develop “researchers who can operate in a global context” by providing post-graduate students and early career researchers opportunities to acquire the skills to work with international partners.
To do so, researchers need to use tools to work collaboratively – across disciplinary, institutional and national boundaries. For each collaborative piece of research, researchers need to develop a digital toolkit tailored to their needs.
 

Communicating


First and foremost, teams need to decide what communication tools they will use. Teams are likely to use both asynchronous tools such as email as well as synchronous tools such as video/audio conferencing and chat tools such as Zoom, Skype or Slack. Teams need to agree which particular tools work best for them and they need to consider geographical dispersion and time zone issues. For example, a researcher based in the UK may work best in the morning and would prefer early morning meetings with his/her Australian colleagues rather than late evening meetings when his/her brain is not at its best. Others may prefer late night meetings.

 

Planning


Project planning tools are key for managing teams. A forum for planning should be set up at the very beginning of the project. There are a number of remote tools to support planning – many based on Kanban boards or Gantt charts. Trello is one example of a project planning tool. It uses a very visual Kanban board approach. Asana is another example which uses a more traditional task centred, list-based approach. Ideally, teams should build in some face-to-face time to discuss planning issues but these remote digital tools are easily accessible places to use even when working face-to-face.
 

Storing data


Teams will need to store their data where it is easily accessible by all team members. If you are storing a lot of media files, such as images and videos, you will need to make sure that you have enough storage space. There are various commercial cloud storage providers such as Microsoft OneDrive, Google Drive and Dropbox. If you are researching European citizens whether or not the research or researchers are based in Europe, you must make sure that your data is GDPR compliant and that it is stored in a secure place. GDPR compliance reflects best practice in working with human data – making sure that consent procedures are robust, that the privacy of individuals are protected and that the research is in the public interest.

Managing the literature


A cloud based bibliographic management software tool is a must for research teams to share literature relevant to a project. Examples are EndNote, Mendeley, RefWorks, Zotero and there are many more. Besides organizing your literature and offering a ‘cite as your write’ integration with Word, some of them, such as EndNote, enable you to search a range of online databases and then integrate the relevant literature into your online library – including the full text of some articles.

Analyzing


An analysis tool is essential when working with team-based qualitative and mixed methods projects. Not only do such tools organize your work and support analysis but they record and track the work of the various team members. QSR NVivo is obviously our preferred tool. There is a dedicated NVivo for Teams version where the project is located on a server and all team members can access the project and work simultaneously on it. It is also possible for each team member to work on their own copy of NVivo on their hard drive and later the projects of all members can be merged into one combined project.

Writing up


Finally, teams need to find a tool which enables them to write up collaboratively. If one of the team members has Office365, they can use Word Online and send the link to other team members (who do not need to have a subscription to Office365). Word Online allows team members to work simultaneously on drafts as well as supporting a chat facility. Another tool is Google Docs which has the same functionality.

Final thoughts


Online collaboration is a relatively new area. With technology developing at lightning speed, there are constant new tools offered for new ways to work in remote situations.  These are new opportunities for researchers.  However, another angle to consider is the collection of data from remote workers – stay tuned for our next blog post where we’ll give more into that topic.


References

  • Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, The Economics Daily, Workers with advanced degrees more likely to work at home on the Internet at https://www.bls.gov/opub/ted/2018/workers-with-advanced-degrees-more-likely-to-work-at-home.htm (visited January 02, 2019).
  • Davidson, J. (2018) Qualitative Research and Complex Teams, Oxford University Press
  • Paulus, T., Lester, J. and Dempster, P. (2014) Digital Tools for Qualitative Research, Sage Publications, London.
 

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