UCL Anthropology


Unlocking the Secrets of Remote Work: A Transformative Study at UCL (2020)

In the wake of the sudden Covid-19 lockdowns in 2020, organizations worldwide faced an unprecedented challenge: transitioning large teams, including HR and Professional Services, to remote work practically overnight.

At University College London (UCL), this shift raised critical questions about the evolving nature of organizational life. Our ground-breaking online ethnography during this period illuminated the uncharted territory of remote work, offering invaluable insights that revolutionized UCL’s approach to workforce dynamics.

Our strategic approach

Harnessing the power of ethnographic research, our team delved deep into the virtual corridors of UCL's remote work environment.

We observed and analyzed how individuals' relationships with their work transformed, how crucial organizational knowledge circulated in this new landscape, and how employees' professional identities were shaped and acknowledged in the virtual realm.

Impact and insights

Our study uncovered transformative insights:

Workforce Engagement & Recognition: We identified the importance of ‘seeing others’ and ‘being seen’ for maintaining employees’ engagement and employers’ recognition of engagement when working remotely.

Knowledge Circulation: By mapping the flow of knowledge in the remote setting, we rendered visible the forms of knowledge and information that are routinely lost or buried in contexts of remote working, and we developed strategies for safeguarding and better circulating easily lost knowledge.

Outcomes and benefits

UCL's proactive adaptation to our insights resulted in:

Achieving belonging through reformulating ‘value’: Employers can respond to the huge changes of a fully remote work environment by cultivating employees’ sense of belonging through reformulating their value and how it is recognised.

Adopting a ‘remote’ not ‘distant’ approach: Employers can embrace the newfound benefits and flexibility of remote work without losing the benefits of sharing space, conversations, and enjoying a sense of belonging by changing their strategies of connection and engagement in the workplace.

Our ethnographic journey illuminated the path to successful remote work integration, offering practical strategies for enhanced workforce dynamics.