FINDER and COVID-19: Research Update

SARS-CoV-2. Image credit: the CDC/ Alissa Eckert, MS; Dan Higgins, MAM.

As the pandemic continues to challenge even the most basic aspects of our everyday life, it’s common to see projects in corporate, academic, and government spaces among many others being majorly disrupted. The association for PhD candidates in The Netherlands, PNN, has discussed at length how the pandemic has ground various PhD projects around the country to a halt.

Luckily, and in no small part due to the already digital nature of the FINDER project’s operations, the project’s fate has not been jeopardized to such a drastic extent. This, of course, does not mean that the pandemic is a faraway concern: it and the threats it presents are very near and have even affected the lives of members of the FINDER team. That said, it’s worth taking stock of what the future of the FINDER project’s research entails at this time.

As has been previously discussed here, the Strategic Management Conference has been cancelled. Additionally, the European Group for Organizational Studies’ Hamburg Colloquium, to which one PhD was slated to go and present his research, has been cancelled (and replaced with a virtual one). While these events are a pity, they also come with a silver lining: the chance to uninterruptedly continue the in-house refining of the PhDs’ research projects (virtually) alongside their Atos and Voleo counterparts as well as to closely monitor their responses as data.

As has been somewhat alluded to here, the switch to a completely digital way of working means a more intense exchange of data between stakeholders and research subjects. The FINDERS are consistently attending strategy meetings with their coaches and informants in the field in order to capture what is turning out to be a bountiful field of research opportunity. This has involved, for example, seeing how clients reorient their strategies and demands for digital infrastructure, as well as seeing how Atos as a firm that provides such is handling the changing landscape of client demands. As more and more companies prepare for a long-term remote operations scenario, additionally observing how these infrastructures move from contingency-to-permanent states will likely elicit interesting conclusions.

This, in short, has shown that researching the phenomena within the project’s scope remotely is not only feasible but, in certain circumstances, preferable. There is, of course, no substitute for shaking hands and making observations physically in the field, but it goes without saying that neither of those opportunities will be an option in the foreseeable future, even if European society is slowly trying to stagger back into normalcy.

What, then, does this look like? From the quantitative angle, not much changes: data files still transfer digitally, and while operations have generally slowed down as different organizations find their footing, the agility with which the FINDERS and their Atos and Voleo counterparts have navigated new norms means that data collection has suffered minimal delays. From the qualitative angle, interviews and “field observations” have been ongoing in digital conference rooms, via email, and the like. While these come with new challenges, they also alleviate old ones. For example, digital conference calls make accounting for who’s saying what when much easier, as in-person meetings tend to move quickly and chaotically when thinking minds reach synergistic levels.

Of course, the pandemic, while tragic, has also exposed the world to new research opportunities, as we have never before seen how highly digital societies deal with wide-scale, debilitating events such as this. Where that goes and whether or not it becomes core to the project’s outputs remains to be determined, but naturally, the pandemic will make its way to some extent into many if not most or even all FINDER publications, which will add weight to what will very likely be a boom in COVID-related research publications in the coming months and years.

S. James Ellis, ESR

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