Carin Eriksson Lindvall, visiting researcher at the Department of Business Studies and head of the Unit for Career and Leadership in Academia at the University Administration, has done research on how to create good work environments and what makes work feel meaningful.
“The social aspect of work plays an enormous role. Now we’re facing a pandemic and all of a sudden our previous working patterns have been disrupted. The key thing when the old routines are gone is to come up with new routines. Life used to be planned and predictable, but now all of a sudden it’s changed.”

Bring in new routines

We need routines for working hours, communications, taking breaks and chatting in groups.
“It’s important to think about how to get relationships and social contacts to work at a distance. Humans are social beings who want to meet other people. Now we have to find alternative ways to do this, for example, Zoom meetings, phone calls, email.”

Research on people who work from home shows that people who work on their own easily drop routines and social contacts. Eriksson Lindvall notes that it is important for managers and staff to think about how to achieve some sense of belonging at the workplace.
“When you’re working on your own, it’s easy to lose track of the things that you usually like about work. Social relations of various kinds, structures or workplace chat. Chatting is an incredibly important factor, it’s a source of inspiration and information.”

We need social contacts

Extroverts can lose their drive in the absence of social contacts, while introverts can also miss being in touch.
“Reduced social contacts and interactions at the workplace can lead to a loss of commitment and involvement.”

Eriksson Lindvall’s advice is to provide regular opportunities to touch base. How and how often depends on the situation and the type of work. However, it is important that these opportunities are regular and predictable.
“Another piece of advice is to get into the habit of starting digital meetings by taking up social aspects first. How are you, how are you getting on? And it’s a good idea to bring in Zoom coffee breaks, chatting oils the machinery.”

Although many university researchers are used to working independently, the social interaction that can now easily disappear always has a meaningful role.
“It can easily happen that you sit and work non-stop and suddenly you’ve worked too long without a break and maybe you have a sore neck or you’ve carried on too long into the evening. Zoom coffee breaks can be one way to get away from the work.”

“I’m sure many people are also very worried about how long this situation will last. Right now, no one knows how long it will continue. That’s another kind of anxiety a manager needs to deal with.”