BL Chen: How does working virtually affect wellbeing and performance at work?

Faculty: Business and Law / Science and Engineering / Health, Medicine and Social Care

Supervisors: Dr I-Shuo Chen; Dr Lakshmi Babu Saheer; Dr Naim Abdulmohdi

Location: Cambridge

The interview for this project is expected to take place on Wednesday 17 April.

This project is also open to international applicants.

Apply online by 3 March 2024

Rapid technological advancement has motivated contemporary organisations to shift their focus from production and efficiency to employees’ wellbeing with respect to the use of virtual technologies at work. In other words, these organisations are attempting to take advantage of Industry 5.0.

Industry 5.0 refers to a situation where work involves smart technologies such as virtual platforms, and highlights a human core (e.g., wellbeing) and employees' resilience, including in the context of employees' interactions with new intelligent technologies.

Unlike previous industrial revolutions that focused more on the economic aspects of sustainability and production, Industry 5.0 highlights human-centricity. Recent and even the most up-to-date studies have further emphasised the importance of exploring the effects of virtual work on employees’ wellbeing and work performance.

Indeed, to improve work outcomes, it is crucial to investigate why and how working virtually affects employees’ mental state, such as their wellbeing, and thus their subsequent work behaviours. It is also necessary to develop corresponding human resource and business strategies. However, such research has been largely overlooked in the literature.

The future of work may require employees to work using a virtual platform on which they must interact with virtual objects or interact with other people virtually. Some companies, such as Amazon, have attempted to train their employees to be ready to work in such a context. Given ongoing innovative technological developments, this technology or similar platform(s) are predicted to be used widely across all industries in the next 5-10 years.

However, only very recently have researchers begun to discuss how working in this new environment will affect employees' wellbeing and subsequent work behaviours (e.g., task-related and environmentally friendly behaviours).

This research project aims to answer previously proposed research questions by conducting a study in the healthcare sector in the UK, namely the National Health Service (NHS). It has become necessary to promote wellbeing among NHS staff because of the recent pandemic and the corresponding transformation of working style in the sector.

Previous studies have provided insights into how the use of virtual reality (VR) technology benefits employees’ wellbeing, particularly in healthcare settings.

However, since NHS-affiliated professionals were required to work virtually due to the pandemic, it has become essential to understand whether and how working virtually affects their wellbeing and work performance, with the goal of developing managerial interventions to support their wellbeing improvement.

Research question: How does working virtually affect NHS healthcare professionals’ well-being at work and task performance?

Research objective: RO: To understand why and how working virtually influence NHS healthcare professionals’ well-being and subsequent work performance.

In this project, you will work closely with NHS staff to investigate the impact of working virtually on healthcare professionals’ wellbeing and subsequent work performance.

By using a mixed-methods research design, you will initially perform interviews with a group of NHS staff who are required to work virtually, with the goal of exploring whether and what virtual work conditions they face may affect their wellbeing at work. You will need to use NVivo software to analyse the collected data to identify the key virtual work conditions that influence wellbeing.

Furthermore, based on the findings of the interviews, you will employ a daily diary design to investigate the impacts of the key virtual work conditions thus identified on the wellbeing of another group of NHS staff members.

You will also need to ask the managers of those staff members to provide performance evaluation on their employees (i.e., manager-rated job performance).

The structure of the collected data will be multi-level in nature. You will hence need to use HLM or Mplus statistical software to test the daily impacts of the key virtual work conditions on the respondents’ daily wellbeing and performance at work. It is therefore important that you have some knowledge regarding mixed-methods research design and the use of the abovementioned statistical software.

If you would like to discuss this research project, please contact I-Shuo Chen: [email protected]

Apply online by 3 March 2024

Funding notes

The successful applicant for this project will receive a Vice Chancellor’s PhD Scholarship which covers the tuition fees and provides a UKRI equivalent minimum annual stipend for three years. For 2023/4 this was £18,622 per year. The award is subject to the successful candidate meeting the scholarship terms and conditions. Please note that the University asserts the right to claim any intellectual property generated by research it funds.

Download the full terms and conditions.