Master of Arts (M.A.)
Degree Granting Department
Patrice M. Buzzanell, Ph.D.
Jane Jorgensen, Ph.D.
Steven Wilson, Ph.D.
communication theory of resilience, covid-19, higher education, social construction, remote work, change management
The COVID-19 global pandemic disrupted every corner of the globe, impacting our personal and professional lives with intensity and scope that have yet to be fully comprehended. One such disruption has been to the workplace and organizational culture as businesses, non-governmental agencies, governments, and other organizations worldwide rapidly moved face-to-face operations to remote work. Two years into the pandemic, with vaccines available and the immediate health threat for most healthy individuals waning, businesses still find themselves confronting a changing paradigm as remote work becomes more of a permanent and competitive fixture.
This study explores the impact of remote work on organizational communication, particularly informal communication, sensemaking, identity, relational precarity, and resilience-building in the context of the pandemic. To further understand these issues, the following research questions served as the foundation for the design and structure of a qualitative study: How have remote university workers enacted the resilience processes during the COVID-19 pandemic? and How does remote work in a large public university constrain and enable informal communication during the COVID-19 pandemic? Participants for this qualitative study were recruited from higher education institutions, which provided a unique site of study as an extensive social system. In addition, participants included early, mid, and advanced public university career professionals representing faculty, staff, and administration.
The study included 13 semi-structured interviews based on a series of open-ended questions conducted via an audio/video-conferencing platform and provided rich data on the participants' feelings about their remote work and resilience experiences during the pandemic. Inductive and deductive thematic analyses led to results that extended the theoretical framework of the Communication Theory of Resilience (CTR; Buzzanell, 2010, 2019). These analyses found that all participants expressed a root sentiment, “Root Affect Sensegiving,” that permeated different questions in all the interviews and encapsulated affective responses embodying the fragmented, fluid, and non-linear nature of the communicative resilience processes and their adaptive-transformative tensional nature.
Evidence of how participants adapted, transformed, and embodied resilience emerged through four themes: (1) strengthening close networks and disconnecting with distant networks; (2) empowering and hindering communication and community through technology; (3) performing, hiding, and feeling invisible; and (4) escaping routine, better work-life balance, and “I’ve never worked harder.”
The study also uncovered insights into the ways workers enacted resilience to create, lessen, and manage perceived barriers to informal communication during times of remote work. These informal communication discussions pointed to a possibility of an additional resilience process of self/other care that could be considered an extension of dual-layer resilience processes (i.e., self-other, present-future; see Agarwal & Buzzanell, 2015; Lucas & Buzzanell, 2012).
Additionally, the findings contributed to CTR through practical applications; for example, the creation of a Resilience Communication Framework, which could be designed to prompt and cultivate the resilience processes while offering a set of guiding principles or considerations that addresses the associated relational and communicative needs of organizational members during disruptive events and institutional change.
Scholar Commons Citation
Vomacka, Tanya R.M., "Informal Communication, Sensemaking, and Relational Precarity: Constituting Resilience in Remote Work During COVID" (2022). USF Tampa Graduate Theses and Dissertations.