Interactional variation online: harnessing emerging technologies in the digital humanities to analyse online discourse in different workplace contexts


We are more connected than ever before but are we communicating effectively? Amid COVID-19 and the so-called ‘digital pivot’, online virtual communication has been placed at the heart of our daily lives, both professionally and privately. As we move into a post-COVID context, the affordances of this digital turn have shown that we can operate professionally online but there is a need for a better understanding of what has become, and is likely to remain, a new way of communicating in the workplace. The current pandemic has acted as a catalyst for change and has impacted on the behaviours of producers and consumers of digital interactional content. Businesses, for example, have changed their interaction with customers. Cultural organisations have embraced different forms of digital delivery of content, often co-produced by their audiences. Education has seen large-scale adoption of online modes of interaction. In this time of substantial change to how we interact online, there is a need to take stock of whether the virtual communication is equitable and whether our existing paradigms for analysing discourse are fit-for-purpose.

This project draws on the expertise of leading researchers in the UK and Ireland to propose the next generation of analytical frameworks for analysing this new type of discourse and will make these frameworks available to all arts and humanities research and end user communities, leading to a step change in our ability to develop equality of access in online communication.


This project aims to first examine virtual workplace communication to gain depth of insight into the potential barriers to effective communication. We are exploring not only what makes for success or failure in virtual workplace discourse, but what also allows for the identification of specific variables associated with such successes and failures. This study is multi-modal, focusing both on what is said and also on how it is said (e.g. pitch, intonation, facial expression, accompanying gesture or gaze). Findings from this study will lead to the creation of awareness-raising artefacts and training materials that will be co-designed based on the needs of our project partners.

Our second aim is to enable future research into spoken language by developing appropriate technical protocols for capturing and analysing interaction multi-modally (e.g. how to transcribe a gesture and align it with an utterance). Our goal is to evolve standardised ways of approaching questions about language use which are accessible and (re)producible by other researchers and non-technical experts in the Humanities, with the production of an online archive asset.

This project runs from August 2021 – February 2024.

Funding acknowledgement

This project is funded by UKRI-AHRC (Arts and Humanities Research Council) and the IRC (Irish Research Council) under the ‘UK-Ireland Collaboration in the Digital Humanities Research Grants Call’ (grant numbers AH/W001608/1 and IRC/W001608/1).