The Role of Physical Cues in Co-located and Remote Casework

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review

Across the world, large swaths of society closed in response to the COVID-19 (C-19) pandemic, transforming the provision of government services, including welfare. The shift to remote work afforded a glimpse of what a future digitized public sector might look like. In Denmark, employment assistance went fully remote in spring 2020 to prevent the spread of C-19. Caseworkers assessed unemployed individuals' needs for welfare benefits over the phone instead of at the physical job center. With this change, caseworkers could no longer rely on nonverbal communication, such as physical cues (e.g., the appearance of an unemployed individual), in their assessment practice. Although they are not explicitly described in the formal work process, caseworkers report that such cues influence their assessment of an individual's challenges related to their unemployment. Taking a qualitative approach, we conducted 60 telephone interviews with 6 caseworkers across 3 Danish job centers during the first wave of the pandemic. Later, during the second wave of the pandemic (August 2020-June 2021), we conducted observational studies (22.5 h) including on-site interviews in two job centers where caseworkers had returned to work having consultations with unemployed individuals both remotely and co-located. During this second-wave period we also conducted new interviews (n = 18) with the caseworkers from the first part of the study. The contribution of this paper is an empirical description of how casework changes when it shifts from co-located to remote consultations, focused on two factors: (1) the role of physical cues and how caseworkers rely on these cues to communicate with and assess the individual, and (2) documentation practices, and how earlier documentation became more important when caseworkers lacked access to physical cues. We contribute to CSCW research by showing that although implicit information about the individual is valuable for caseworkers, it is not problem-free, and therefore we argue that there is a need to find new ways to assess individuals, in particular interpreting implicit or un-spoken information, as the complicated use of physical cues can tip over to become a matter of bias.

Original languageEnglish
JournalComputer Supported Cooperative Work
Pages (from-to)275–312
Publication statusPublished - 2023

    Research areas

  • COVID-19, Public services, Digital public services, Casework, Job placement, Documentation, Digital ethnography, STREET-LEVEL BUREAUCRACY, WORK, DIGITALIZATION

ID: 323618055