Covid-19 has been a boon for the growing work-from-home trend, turning millions of people into remote workers almost overnight as companies seek to continue operations amid the ongoing global pandemic.
But while that’s saving many industries from certain doom, a study suggests that companies need to be careful about which medium they use to communicate with their remote workers.
The study, undertaken by the University of Cologne in Germany and published in the journal of Behavioural and Experimental Economics, suggests that employees were more likely to be dishonest when the form of communication was more remote.
The study, led by Dr Julian Conrads and Dr Sebastian Lotz, involved 246 participants (49% female and 51% male) from a pool of 2 000 students at the University of Duisburg-Essen, Mail Online reports.
Participants were asked to flip a coin four times and then tell researchers what it landed on. If it landed on tails, they were given a financial reward.
The volunteers were split into groups and while some reported their results not using any technology (face-to-face in a lab), some did so over the phone while in the same building, and others did so over the internet with no contact whatsoever, The Telegraph reports.
In every type of communication people lied, but the more remote the method of communication –email compared to video chat, for example – the more likely they were to lie.
“The research reveals that an individual’s lying cost may be affected by social distance concerns,” says Dr Conrads, of the university’s department of corporate development and business ethics.
This research project is relevant to organisational decision makers who must decide which channel to rely on when organising communication among employees during the ongoing pandemic.
For example, how often do they carry out face-to-face Zoom meetings compared to relying on email or even text messages through apps like Teams or Skype.
“As face-to-face communication is unavailable due to most employees working remotely, the next best thing is video conferencing rather than chat,” Dr Conrads says.
“Dishonest behaviour was prevalent in all experimental treatments but increased as the method of communication became more ‘distant’ and ‘anonymous’.”