In recent years, new data protection laws have put more responsibilities on researchers covering how we gather, store and process participant data. Many researchers find these requirements confusing and it’s easy to become overwhelmed with the sheer amount of legalese one has to read to truly understand data protection laws and its practicalities.
At the same time, researchers have to obtain ethics approval from their institution and make sure that their project complies with any associated requirements.
This is why we are designing a tool called Research Compliance Buddy. This tool will guide researchers as they fill in applications to register their research with the Data Protection Team and the relevant Ethics Committee. It will help them decide which aspects of applications are relevant to them and which are not, to quickly understand jargon, and guide them directly to the information they need to read to best plan their particular type of research.
At this time we are preparing to conduct semi-structured interviews with a diverse group of researchers within the Division of Psychology and Language Sciences at UCL. The data collected during these interviews will be analysed and will guide the first stage of the design of the tool.
This project is being developed by Dr Anna Rudnicka and Prof Anna Cox.
As the lockdown restrictions came into place in spring 2020, we were interested in how much physical activity people were engaging in – after the move to remote working erased the need to commute, the gyms closed and, for a period of time, even going out to exercise outside was only allowed once per day. We also wanted to understand the role of digital technology in helping people stay active during the lockdown.
We created a Physical Activity survey that was distributed on social media and through newsletters at University College London. The initial survey attracted a total of 390 participants who told us about their physical activity habits: how much time they spent exercising, commuting and sitting – before and during the lockdown and at the start of the survey, in May 2020.
We then sent out four weekly follow-up surveys, so that each week participants could tell us about the changes in their physical activity as well as their motivations and experiences of using technologies aimed to support activity, such as apps, online classes or step trackers. A total of 126 participants completed all five surveys.
We found that people who used digital activity trackers during lockdown demonstrated an increase in vigorous physical activity. This suggests that a robust exercise regime can be maintained even when access to gyms and classes is restricted and using digital activity trackers may facilitate it. On the other hand, we did not find the use of technology to be related with levels of sedentariness during lockdown. Moreover, although many people became more aware of the importance of physical activity during lockdown, problems with motivation and injury resulting from rapid changes in exercise routine, posed a challenge to staying physical active.
In 2020, many university programs had to shift at least part of their teaching online. This opened up many questions about the impact of online learning and the lack of in-person interaction on students’ ability to learn and socialise and on their mental health. Professor Anna Cox and Professor Yvonne Rogers led a study investigating the the role of digital technology in the academic and personal lives of undergraduate students who started their courses in autumn 2020.
The study combined mixed-methods surveys with focus groups, conducted in November 2020, and involving a total of 38 student participants. The overarching aim was to understand how these students made use of technology to support themselves through starting university, in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Each focus group participated in four half-hour discussions, centred around the following themes: (1) use of technology to improve mental wellbeing; (2) impact of social media during Covid-19; (3) impact of technology on students’ self-regulated learning strategies; and (4) challenges to maintaining focus during online lectures and strategies adopted to overcome them.
The participants reported using a number of technologies to support learning, social interaction and mental wellbeing. With lectures moved online, students appreciated being able to learn in their own time and at their own speed, however they also reported challenges around effective scheduling and motivation. Online lectures that involved polls and quizzes worked well at maintaining engagement. However, the use of different platforms and technologies across different modules created confusion and made it hard for students to figure out a timetable.
We also learned that some students shifted academic conversations to social media channels such as Instagram, as that was seen as a more reliable way of reaching people. Creation of breakout rooms during lectures was not always effective at facilitating social interaction, as some students struggled with starting a conversation, let alone making new friends. Messenger and social media groups organised by universities were seen as helpful at facilitating interaction between students, but were not available to everyone.
Moreover, the students reported that listening to music helped manage negative emotions and lift mood, and playing video games could help flatmates get to know each other. Other forms of online leisure, however, such as watching films, were often seen as a way of procrastinating, and associated with guilt, unless used sparingly.
Read about how we developed the eWork Radio browser application
Nearly 500 participants contributed to our research on remote working
In spring 2020, an unprecedented number of people suddenly moved to remote working, many of them with little to no previous experience of working from home. This happened as a result of the nationwide lockdown restrictions taking place in many countries, in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.
From the early days of these lockdowns, we studied that impact that the shift to home-working has had on people who previously worked in offices. So far, we have surveyed nearly 500 participants from the UK and beyond, and provided them with personalised work-life-balance recommendations. We also conducted follow-up interviews with 25 respondents.
This data collection exercise allowed us to achieve an in-depth understanding of the problems that new remote workers are faced with. Some of the most common included:
- A lack of distinction between work and personal time
- Back and neck pain and other physical problems due to increased sedentary time
- Loss of opportunity to relax, exercise and disconnect during the commute
- Working in long blocks of time, without the breaks that used to happen naturally while working in the office
- Loss of the many opportunities for physical activity during the workday, like going out to buy lunch or walking to a photocopier
In sum, we found that, rather than being more relaxed while working from home, many people worked longer hours, with few breaks. The situation was particularly challenging for those with caring responsibilities, who found themselves in an endless marathon of work tasks and home duties, with little to no rest.
Your responses helped us create eWork Remote Work Radio
Based on these findings, we set out to design an accessible online tool that could be widely used by home workers and help them take more breaks during their workdays. When working from home, away from one’s colleagues, it can be easy to forget to take breaks, or even to feel like we should always be online and available. However, taking breaks throughout the day is crucial not only for achieving a better work-life balance but also for physical health, as stepping away from the desk on a regular basis helps prevent excessive periods of sitting which can be associated with negative health outcomes.
This is why we created eWork Remote Work Radio – a browser app that uses music to help you balance periods of work and periods of rest. You can help us trial this app simply by creating an account and using the app when you work, for as long as you wish.
A team of researchers developed this project: Professor Anna Cox, Dr Sandy Gould, Dr Joseph Newbold, Dr Marta Cecchinato, Dr Anna Rudnicka and Dave Cook.
eWorkLife Remote Work was a project that ran from 2020 in response to the sudden switch to remote working that was brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic.
We designed a self-reflection tool which aimed to help workers understand their remote working needs and provided personalised recommendations. This tool took the form of a brief survey, which included some open self-reflection questions and some validated surveys that were used to both help workers reflect on their work practices and provide recommendations to strategies they could adopt to help them adapt.
Our 3 step process
- Before you start, take some time to reflect on your work-life balance and what is it exactly you would like to improve. You can spend as much time as you want on this activity. Don’t know where to start? Click here to take part in our research project – we will guide you through a self-reflection exercise (10 mins) and provide you with guidance as to which strategies are most likely to work for you
- Select one or two strategies to start with and see how you get on. Remember, your time = your rules. If something doesn’t work for you, you can always revert back to old habits or try out new strategies. Click here to find an overview of the evidence-based strategies that can help you stay productive while working from home
- We know from psychological research that goal setting is really important in terms of changing a behaviour. A bit like setting an objective, it’s important to choose a clear and measurable goal. In order to help you stick to your new goal, we recommend you write down what you intend to try. You can also decide to share your commitment on social media, or just by talking to friends, family and/or colleagues. Keeping track of how are you going, and what is working, or not working is really important. Also, you will find that as time goes by, or situations change, you might want to revisit your strategies. Don’t be hard on yourself if you don’t achieve your goal. If that happens, set a more realistic goal and start again. It’s best to set small achievable goals than lots of different ones. Most importantly, make sure you give yourself a reward when you have achieved your goal! Those taking part in our research project receive additional support with setting goals to change their digital behaviours.
We have carefully chosen the examples of apps that are listed on this site and we hope you find them beneficial, however, unfortunately, we cannot be responsible for the information provided on other websites or in the apps listed.
A team of researchers developed this project: Professor Anna Cox, Dr Sandy Gould, Dr Joseph Newbold, Dr Marta Cecchinato, Dr Anna Rudnicka and Dave Cook.
- Index of Strategies
- Video content describing the strategies
- The science behind these strategies
- Feedback from people who have used our recommendations
We also produced a podcast as part of this project.
Prof Anna L Cox and Elahi Hossein are collaborating with researchers at University of Melbourne and Stanford on this project that aims to develop a theoretical framework and novel technologies to investigate how, where, when and why people engage in digital emotion regulation. Existing research shows that individuals often use digital technologies to shape their emotions in response to situations; yet social norms often cast such technology use as disrespectful or distracting. The discrepancy between the practice and perception of digital emotion regulation is due to the lack of a systematic understanding of these practices. This project aims to develop a novel framework for better understanding digital emotion regulation, ways to study it in everyday settings, and evidence-based recommendations for managing it in ways that benefit individuals and society.
The evidence provided by this project will inform the societal debate about technology overuse and its impact on work, education and interpersonal relationships. The created knowledge will inform policy-makers, designers, and end-users about appropriate use of technology in everyday settings.
With her colleagues in the Research Department for Medical Education (RDME) at UCL Medical School, Dr Antonia Rich recently interviewed 96 trainees who told them the many challenges to work-life balance they face. The study, “You can’t be a person, and a doctor” (Rich et al., 2016), was published in BMJ Open: https://tinyurl.com/Richetal2016.
They found that a lack of work-life balance in postgraduate medical training negatively impacted trainees’ learning and well-being. The expectation to prioritise work at the cost of their personal lives resulted in low morale and harmed well-being.
To help address this, Prof Anna Cox and Dr Antonia Rich developed an intervention to improve junior doctors’ well-being. In March and April 2018 we ran a series of free workshops with postgraduate medical trainees in three hospitals: the Royal Free, Whittington and University College Hospital. At the workshops, we explored how to enhance resilience and improve well-being. The first part of the workshop looked at how we can increase our resilience through self-care, and the second part of the workshop looked at how creating microboundaries can support work-life balance. Using “reflection cards” we prompted discussions in which participants reflected on and shared their own experience of the practical issues they face.
- Visit the iWARDS website
- Rich, A., Aly, A., Cecchinato, M. E., Lascau, L., Baker, M., Viney, R., & Cox, A. L. (2020). Evaluation of a novel intervention to reduce burnout in doctors-in-training using self-care and digital wellbeing strategies: a mixed-methods pilot. BMC Medical Education, 20(1), 1-11.
The GetAMoveOn Network+ is an interdisciplinary community of researchers and practitioners, funded by an EPSRC grant running from June 2016 to the end of May 2021. Our aim is to transform health by enabling people to lead more active lives with the help of digital technologies.
When we move more, we become smarter; as we become stronger, chronic pain decreases. Greater movement, especially in social contexts, improves collaboration. As we move, not only do we reduce stress: we improve our capacity to handle stressful situations and to see more options for creative new solutions. Movement enhances both strength and stamina, improves bone mineral density and balance, reducing incidence of falling and associated hip injuries (causes of death in the elderly). Movement complements other functions, from assisting with sleep and therefore memory and cognition, to helping with diet and associated hormones – improving insulin sensitivity and balancing cortisol. There are recent studies showing benefits of movement related to dementia. And yet, physical inactivity is the fourth leading cause of death worldwide; sedentarism has been called the “new smoking”. Meanwhile costs to UK GDP from sedentarism and associated disease are increasing – from sick days lost to work, to elders losing mobility and having to move into care homes.
We have designed ourselves into our sedentarism: sitting during our commute, at desks while we work, and at home on the sofa. There is a critical need to design ourselves back into the natural effects of health accrued simply by moving more. We need solutions that will help build both the evidence and the experience that movement can enhance and benefit people’s lives.
New technologies are transforming our ability to capture lifestyle data on individuals in real time. Consumer technologies such as step counters and wifi scales are the tip of an iceberg – research programmes worldwide are proposing lifestyle data capture from devices ranging from video cameras to electricity meters to wearables. Meanwhile pervasive connectivity allows that data to be transmitted, processed through powerful machine learning tools and provided back to people in a heartbeat. While we understand the potential technologies, we do not yet know how to leverage the technology effectively to support transformative health.
Current approaches in ehealth generally only reach a small part of the population that is already interested in fitness, personal data capture, or both. Their uptake is, furthermore, of dubious effect as two recent medical reviews have shown. To have a national impact on health and wellbeing, to reduce the crippling burden of long term health conditions and to move healthcare from the clinic to the community, we need to reach everyone, across a range of abilities and aspirations. We need to connect the potential of the technology with the potential of people and realise the benefits of a healthy, brilliant, population.
Realising this potential requires research on novel technical solutions, supported by theories from sports and health sciences on blending appropriate movement strategies for particular performance aspirations to behavioural and cognitive sciences on ways to engage people to make effective and meaningful progress. We need to understand what measures are appropriate not just to evaluate progress, but to guide it and adapt to it. To have meaningful impact across these dimensions we need to combine a range of expertise including sensor networks, data analytics, interactive visualisation, human computer interacton, online citizen engagement, behaviour change, sports, exercise.
ECLIPSE -Exploring the Current Landscape of Intravenous Infusion Practices & Errors- was a research project funded by NIHR (2014-2017) studying medication practices with infusion devices, to document the variety of existing practices and deliver recommendations for best practice in different situations. More details are available on the project website and on the NIHR site (including the research protocol).
The advances in technology in recent years have had many positive effects on the ways in which people can combine work and personal life. For example, being able to access email via a smartphone means that many can work from home, or work a flexible work pattern that successfully fits around caring responsibilities. However, the resulting “always-online” culture in which people expect almost instant responses to email messages, brings stresses and strains to those who feel under pressure to respond immediately and be available on a 24/7 basis.
Despite widespread and proliferating debates about the impacts of digital technologies on work-life balance, few empirical studies have explored how these technologies are being used and what impact their use is having on people’s work and personal lives. This project seeks to enhance our understanding of the paradoxical and double-edged effects that new technologies and digital practices are having on work-life balance.