Business and Management INK

Revolutionizing Management Research with Immersive Research Methods

February 26, 2024 426

In this article, Anand van Zelderen, Nicky Dries, and Elise Marescaux reflect on their decision to explore nontraditional research. Their findings can be found in their research article, “Talents Under Threat: The Anticipation of Being Ostracized by Non-Talents Drives Talent Turnover, found in Group & Organization Management.

Researchers have frequently employed experimental vignette methodologies—brief scenarios crafted by researchers—to explore the intricate workings of various organizational phenomena. However, despite its widespread use, many scholars have raised concerns about the generalizability of study findings due to its tendency to oversimplify real-life scenarios. To illustrate, can we truly grasp the nuances of working at a certain organization based on brief descriptions like “Organization X provides you with autonomy and invests amply into your professional development”? While prominent researchers already called for more immersive experimental research methods back in 1997, the adoption of such approaches in management has been surprisingly slow in comparison to fields like psychology and marketing. We were therefore inspired to lead by example and push the boundaries of traditional experimental research methods in management science.

To study the influence of employee ostracism on turnover, we harnessed the power of immersive media. We recorded a 360°-video business meeting where an HR director introduced a new talent management practice to employees. Participants watching the video immersed themselves in the environment, witnessed events unfold in real-time, and observed their colleagues’ behavior and emotional expressions. This provided a genuine connection to the organization, its actors, and the subject matter, ensuring that participants’ reactions were captured with heightened validity. Notably, we found that videos outperformed traditional text vignettes in producing robust study outcomes.

Our discoveries emphasize the effectiveness of immersive methods in investigating sensitive and confidential organizational issues involving employees. Ostracism is but the tip of the iceberg; video vignettes can be developed to delve into similar intergroup conflicts like workplace bullying and harassment, as well as other topics that may present ethical or privacy concerns when studied within the confines of a real organizational setting.

While our initial plan was to conduct a virtual reality study—offering the epitome of immersive experiences—the unforeseen challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic forced us to reconsider. Video vignettes have demonstrably shown promise, but virtual reality empowers participants to actively engage in scenarios rather than passively observe, providing a more dynamic experience for capturing live employee behaviors. Thus, for our upcoming research endeavors, we are crafting virtual office spaces where AI-powered actors assume customized organizational roles tailored to the researchers’ study design. This innovative approach enables, for example, to delve into the intricate dynamics of leadership through meticulously crafted simulations of leader-employee interactions. It equips researchers with the tools to manipulate key elements, such as leaders’ emotional intelligence or charisma, to discern causal effects on employee behaviors.

Some scholars question the feasibility of this methodological approach due to its assumed complexity and costs. In our commitment to make these cutting-edge techniques more accessible, we are developing an Open Science platform—the Openverse. Through the Openverse, we aim to empower scholars to collaborate and create simulated organizations and AI-powered employee profiles for in-depth studies of organizational phenomena and employee behavior. Dive into this immersive research journey with us and be part of the future of management research by visiting the link below.

Anand van Zelderen (pictured) is a post-doctoral research associate in organizational behavior and virtual reality at the University of Zurich’s Center for Leadership in the Future of Work. Anand created and manages the Center’s 'Future of Work Metaverse VR . Nicky Dries is a professor of organizational behavior at KU Leuven in the department of work & organization studies and at the BI Norwegian Business School in Oslo in the department of leadership & organizational behavior. Dries is an industrial/organizational psychologist and runs the Future of Work Lab within the Faculty of Economics. Elise Marescaux is a full professor and dean of the IESEG School of Management. She received her PhD in Business Economics from KU Leuven and has research interests in human resource management.

View all posts by Anand van Zelderen, Nicky Dries, and Elise Marescaux

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