Research Output
A Study of Online Safety and Digital Literacy of Academic Researchers Working from Home during the COVID-19 Pandemic
  Universities in the UK responded to the COVID-19 pandemic by moving teaching to an online environment and requiring staff to work from home, as far as possible. Researchers face particular challenges of security and privacy where their work involves the gathering of personal data. Although there had been some research on the social, ergonomic and economic consequences of working from home (Koslowski, Linehan, & Tietze, 2019; Palumbo, 2020), there was at the time very little into security and privacy (Furnell & Shah, 2020; Lallie et al., 2021). The aim of this research was to identify technology and privacy risks associated with working from home and to explore potential responses to those risks.

In order to identify the risks, an online survey was conducted of researchers and research students at a Scottish University in early 2021. A total of 70 valid responses was received from an estimated total population of 1500. Respondents included researchers from a variety of disciplines in computing and engineering, nursing, business studies, science and creative industries. The survey was followed by two workshops to obtain more detailed perspectives on the issues raised and to identify possible solutions. The ideas arising from the workshops were consolidated and then reviewed by a panel of six experts by means of a two-round Delphi study based on an earlier study (Haynes & Robinson, 2021).

The survey showed an awareness of some of the risks of working from home. The top ranked information concerns were: privacy breaches, losing research data, data corruption, unauthorised access to research data, and loss of access to data or systems.

The following issues where there was no consensus were highlighted in the Delphi study:

• Employer responsibility for security of home devices
• lack of messaging by employers about online safety
• Dangers of inadvertently revealing pop-up messages or content of open windows during a screenshare
• Employer responsibility to provide practical support such as broadband for home workers
• Whether employers should be able to monitor home devices

It is likely that the challenges faced by researchers in one University may be replicated elsewhere. These issues could be explored in future research across several universities to see how general these concerns are.

The need to improve awareness and digital literacy of researchers working from home has been highlighted in this and other studies (Cruickshank, Hall, & Ryan, 2020; Widén, Ahmad, Nikou, Ryan, & Cruickshank, 2021). Specific measures that could be taken include: provision of guidelines for working from home, setting procedures to ensure that personal information is held securely, training staff in safe working, developing a policy on home working, and doing audits of home safety.

  • Type:

    Conference Paper (unpublished)

  • Date:

    26 April 2022

  • Publication Status:


  • Funders:

    Edinburgh Napier Funded


Haynes, D., & Salzano, R. (2022, April). A Study of Online Safety and Digital Literacy of Academic Researchers Working from Home during the COVID-19 Pandemic. Paper presented at ASIS&T Global 24-hour Conference, 2022, Online


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