Living Through a Crisis: Special Issue on How COVID-19 Has Transformed the Way We Work, Learn, and Live

Guest Editors

Kori Inkpen, Microsoft,
John Tang, Microsoft,
Geraldine Fitzpatrick, TU Wien, Austria, 
Juho Kim, KAIST, South Korea,
Paul Luff, King’s College London, UK,
Naomi Yamashita, NTT Research Labs,

The COVID-19 pandemic abruptly changed all aspects of our lives, including the way we work, the nature of our schools, and how we socialize with friends and family. As many were instructed to stay physically separated at home, businesses, educational institutions, and other social institutions had to adapt to this new reality, often turning to video calling applications and other online collaboration technologies. Unlike previous crises, the global scope of the pandemic means that nearly every country is reporting cases and enacting policies that change the way the entire population lives and works. People in essential services have also had to learn to work in new ways, avoiding physical contact or being close to others, aspects that are typically considered critical for the accomplishment of everyday activities. For others, if they still have a job, they are required to work remotely from home. People have had to quickly re-negotiate new ways of being together at home, and juggling between the home as an office, a classroom, a family space, and an extended social gathering place. Not only has the crisis changed the way we live, work and stay socially connected, it has undoubtedly changed the way we will do so in the future.  Understanding these changes, learning from them, and exploring new directions is critically important. This special issue will collect together empirical work, methodological commentaries and conceptual insights provoked by this unprecedented time.

For years, CSCW researchers have considered the use of various technologies to support distributed work, from common data resources to share information to video-mediated systems to support synchronous activities. These studies have frequently raised concerns about the limitations of these technologies, not only related to general concerns like privacy, but also with regard to how they seem to constrain the most mundane aspects of collaborative work. However, within weeks people who may never have used these systems before had to undertake their day-to-day activities through these systems. It is interesting to consider whether the identified limitations have critically impacted work at the present time, or if people are managing or adapting these systems to accomplish their everyday work. It is also interesting to examine new technical innovations that have been developed to support collaborative activities.

Studies on the nature of collaborative work and interaction have examined diverse settings where participants are co-present and critical activities are accomplished through talk, visual conduct and manipulation of artefacts. Many of these activities and domains have been transformed during the crisis. Work has been fragmented spatially or temporally, prescribed policies have been put in place that undermine the informal and implicit ways that work was previously undertaken, and many important material resources and human skills on which collaboration rely are either now not available or hard to access. Popular commentaries have reported on how even the nature of activities like meetings have changed, on how work-life balance has been transformed, and on how feelings of isolation and anxiety have increased in these new work arrangements. There is a need for scholarly reflection on how work activities have been transformed, what has remained resilient and what has become more fragile.

CSCW researchers themselves have also been affected by the crisis. Studies with human participants are limited and constrained. Even simpler forms of data collection, like interviews, are constrained to be undertaken in particular ways. Many kinds of experiments and studies are impossible to undertake. In this special issue we are interested in articles which reflect on these research challenges. What are the consequences for the kinds of research that are undertaken, the methods and approaches that are utilised, and the concepts, theories, and analytic orientations that are currently prevalent in CSCW. We will be particularly interested in methodological and conceptual innovations provoked by the crisis.

For this special issue, we welcome a variety of contributions that address research related to the current challenges we are facing as a result of COVID-19. Topics include, but are not limited to:  

  • Analysing the nature of distributed collaborative work in the crisis, for example how people are managing the use of widely available technologies to support collaboration at a distance and how they are integrating this with local, co-present activities
  • Exploring the practices around reopening workplaces, schools, and social services and the tensions around coordinating among the disparate decisions and practices
  • Analysing the nature of ‘essential work’ in the crisis, whether this is in healthcare, distribution, or production
  • Analysing the nature of work communication in the crisis, whether this is through a ubiquitous video meeting or by other means, and in particular how different technologies are integrated or juxtaposed to support organisational communication
  • Studying how the crisis has affected different kinds of participants in different ways, for example those with limited access to a technology or whose work and communication cannot be mediated through technology
  • Exploring how the crisis has affected human relationships at work, the presence of diversity, and the practice of inclusion
  • Developing and evaluating novel collaborative systems/applications to support collaborative work under the crisis
  • Critically considering a body of research in CSCW that has been challenged by the issues the crisis raised, for example on studies of video-communication, crisis management, or healthcare
  • Studying non-traditional sites: museums, cultural institutions, sports activities, re-imagining collaborative hobbies, activities, and houses of worship
  • exploring how people have managed the integration of work, life, home schooling, social connectedness, etc. into the collective family space and negotiating new tensions balancing among them
  • Studying the rapid and widespread changes in teaching, and learning practices and use of technology, for students and teachers/lecturers at all educational levels
  • Analysing how people are differentially using the same suite of tools to do group work meetings, play quiz nights with family, meet friends for a cocktail hour online, etc.
  • Studying how technologies have supported new forms of local community and social connectedness, participation, and engagement;studying technologies to support social/physical distancing, contact tracing, social surveillance, and privacy implications
  • Proposing and illustrating novel methods and approaches for studying collaborative work in the crisis, assessing new technologies and designing novel technological solutions in the crisis
  • Reflecting on what transformations have occurred during the crisis for the field of CSCW:  key concepts and theories that have been drawn upon in the past (e.g. awareness, peripheral participation, shared artefacts, co-ordination mechanisms), the analytic orientations deployed and the methods used to collect and analyse data on collaborative work.

Also, given the current context and the demands on undertaking any kind of research currently, we also welcome shorter research papers that draw upon new methods or approaches for understanding work in this crisis, reflect on an established CSCW issue of contemporary concern emerging from the current situation, or review prior studies from a contemporary perspective. We envisage these shorter research pieces to be about a half the length of a usual submission to the CSCW Journal (i.e. maximum of 12 pages).  These shorter submissions will be reviewed in the same way as full submissions. Please indicate on the submission that it is a “Short Paper’.

Deadline for submission <4th December 2020>. Submissions must be formatted according to the Journal’s Instruction for Authors and must adhere to the journal standard format for citations references, etc. ( discuss a possible contribution please contact the special issue editors at


Note of intent to submit: 6th November, 2020

Paper deadline:  4th  December 2020 (but earlier submissions are encouraged)

Reviews sent to authors: 5th February 2021

Paper revision deadline: 5th March 2021

Revision reviews sent to authors: 9th April 2021

Decision sent to authors:  7th May 2021

Special issue published: Summer 2021