Dr. DaJung Woo and colleagues examined how remote workers communicate with one another to navigate uncertainty in the workplace. This is particularly relevant considering COVID-19 and the increasing rise of remote employees who may not have pre-established relationships that were forged in person before beginning their remote tenure. This type of newcomer socialization occurs so employees can learn more about their role in the organization and accrue organizational knowledge, especially in light of organizational turbulence or unknowns. The authors sought to explore how newcomers engage in information-seeking behaviors remotely to manage or mitigate emotional uncertainty, particularly during the early onset of the pandemic.
In order to explore this issue, in-depth interviews with 30 participants were conducted with individuals who began new positions between late February through November of 2020.
1.) Employees who sought information were mostly curious and reported uncertainty regarding workplace relationships and the hesitation to reach out to coworkers who do not know them personally for organizational assistance.
2.) Employees working remotely mostly organized virtual small groups or talks to get to know one another.
— This was done intentionally and proactively to mimic casual conversations.
3.) Employees also engaged in unsanctioned in-person meetups to get to know their fellow coworkers.
4.) Participants in the interviews reported feeling uncertain about their roles and organizational norms and sought information and relationships with fellow employees to help reduce that uncertainty.
5.) Participants reported success in asking their coworkers virtually for help in a direct manner to help better understand their role or be coached through a challenge.
— Impersonal digital tools, such as social media or intranets, also provided an additional way to seek information and gain role-specific and organizational knowledge.
Implications for Practice
Employers should remember remote employees need additional up-front information about the organization as well as increased access to social and relational opportunities with their peers to assist with alleviating their uncertainty, increasing the efficacy of onboarding, and increasing feelings of belonging. Additionally, employers should consider proactively maintaining and creating digital spaces such as digital intranets or online social networks where employees can casually converse with one another and get a stronger feel for the organizational culture as well as become familiar with members of the organization.
Woo, D., Endacott, C. G., & Myers, K. K. (2022). Navigating Water Cooler Talks Without the Water Cooler: Uncertainty and Information Seeking During Remote Socialization. Management Communication Quarterly, 0(0). https://doi.org/10.1177/08933189221105916