United Against COVID-19? A Mixed-Methods Study Examining the Impact of the Global Pandemic Crisis on Work Life and Workplace Connections
The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic was a crisis that caused a radical change in the way organisations and their employees could operate on a global scale. This research investigates the impact of the pandemic on employees’ experiences of work as their in-person interaction was reduced and, at times, eliminated. There were two major areas of the work experience that were disrupted. Firstly, the pandemic forced an unprecedented, sudden transition into remote work for non-essential workers; more specifically, changing from formal, co-located work to working from home. This surfaced the importance of work environment factors that had been previously taken for granted such as work-life boundaries, appropriate technology, sufficient office space, and easy access and communication with co-workers and managers. The implications of remote work also affected employees on an individual level, including impacts on personal well-being and work-life balance. Secondly, the disruption caused by the sudden transition into remote work affected trust in workplace connections; this was also attributed to the general stress and anxiety that comes with experiencing a crisis. So, the related concepts of organisational support and organisational culture played a critical role in maintaining and developing organisational relationships. As such, this study explored these two areas of employee work life and workplace connections in further detail. This study used a mixed-methods approach, a pragmatic paradigm, and a concurrent triangulation research design to analyse secondary data collected using a cross-sectional survey. The postgraduate student researcher was given access to the survey, which was conducted in May 2020 while employees were working remotely during New Zealand’s first lockdown. Of the prioritised qualitative results, two types of themes emerged after using codebook thematic analysis: contextual and remote work experience themes. The two contextual themes situated participants in the present-time, existing circumstances: the era of a global pandemic and the organisation’s existing familial culture. The four remote work experience themes were underpinned by the contextual themes and pertained to participants’ actual experiences: removing in-person interactions, the toll of technology, the element of humanity in trust, and questioning where loyalties lie. To support these qualitative themes, relevant quantitative factors were analysed using descriptive statistics and correlations, which revealed two salient component types: work lifestyle and relational components. The disruption caused by COVID-19 impacted participants’ lifestyles and workplace connections immensely. By integrating the findings from these qualitative themes and quantitative factors, this study depicted discoveries around enablement and equipment, communication, collective synergy, understanding during crisis and loyalty in organisational relationships. These integrated findings corroborated existing academic research regarding relevant topics such as crisis management, organisational support, collaboration, organisational culture, and trust. The overarching practical implication of this study emphasised the need and value, to employees and employers alike, of being empathetic and compassionate, understanding that we are all human and that people are imperfect. Empathy and compassion are especially important to consider in times of crisis, where people are just genuinely trying to do their best in difficult circumstances, and the consequences of not demonstrating empathy and compassion may result in undesirable, disruptive behaviour.