University of Surrey Institute of Advanced Studies

University of Surrey


Research Methods for Digital Work: Innovative Methods for Studying Distributed and Multi-Modal Working Practices

25 May 2017 - 26 May 2017

University of Surrey, Guildford, UK


As digital technologies have matured, various forms of distributed working have become commonplace. The contemporary workforce includes many people who move between different sites during the course of a working day or week, and who switch between offline working and diverse forms of online work and mediated communication. Virtual teams coordinate activities across geographic locations, using multiple channels of communication to organize their work and to build identity as a team. Organizationally-sanctioned online communications and digital repositories are used alongside extra-organizational resources such as social media and informal face-to-face conversations. Professional and personal activities share communication channels, and boundaries between work and non-work can become blurred. Work is thus both spatially and temporally complex. This complexity provides many challenges for the researcher aiming to capture and understand these practices, tracking activities - and their meanings for participants - across multiple formats connected in an unpredictable fashion. This meeting focuses on a key question for studies of contemporary work across disciplines: how can we combine methods or devise new methods to capitalise on diverse forms of data to build rich and theoretically-fruitful understandings of digitally-suffused working life?  


This meeting focuses on methods to study distributed and multi-modal working practices drawing on expertise across a range of disciplines, including management and organization studies, sociology, anthropology, Science and Technology Studies, work psychology, design. informatics and HCI. Each of these disciplines has a theoretically-motivated need for detailed insight into what people do in their working lives and a distinctive set of methodological expertise in capturing working practice. By focusing on innovative methods for the study of work across disciplines, we aim to promote cross-fertilization of approaches across disciplines and to instigate conversations on the theoretical purchase offered by different ways of studying work.


We are inviting contributions that present innovative methods for the study of working practices, particularly those that present the method in the context of successful use within a research project. We welcome papers that involve practical demonstration of an approach to data capture or an analytic technique.


Key themes at the conference are likely to include:


*capturing transitions between modes of work: what methods can we use to explore how, when and why people switch between online and offline?


*capturing experiences of fluid, unpredictable work: how can we employ observational and diary-based techniques effectively under such circumstances?


*quantitative approaches and logging across media: how can we build approaches that exploit the richness of data provided by individual media but also recognise the complexity of transitions between media? Where are “Big Data” approaches helpful?


*how to research screen-work: what new methods for understanding what is happening when a worker engages with a screen have become available?


*private and professional social media: how can our research methods enable us to understand transitions between formal work-spaces and personal online interactions?


*mixing methods for study of work: what challenges and opportunities emerge when we attempt to combine different methods for capturing the experience of work?


Extended abstracts of no more than 1500 words should be sent using the submission form below by 10th February 2017.


Following the meeting we anticipate production of an edited volume drawing on papers presented at the conference.  Contributions from international scholars and early career researchers are particularly welcomed. Participation will be limited to 50 attendees. Registration fees are £60 (£40 for students/unwaged). Attendees will be responsible for their own travel and accommodation – links to local accommodation will be available at the time of registration via the event website



Online registraiton is available here


The meeting is being organized by Christine Hine (University of Surrey), Katrina Pritchard (Swansea University) and Gillian Symon (Royal Holloway, University of London) in association with the Digital World Research Centre at the University of Surrey. The meeting has received funding from the Institute of Advanced Studies at the University of Surrey and the RCUK-funded NEMODE Network Plus.


For further information please contact Dr Christine Hine.