Would you like to hear something amusing? A good laugh not only reduces the risk of stress, stroke and heart attack, it can also boost creativity and a sense of community; something we all benefit from, especially in the semi-quarantine enforced by Covid-19. On the other hand, we do like to joke about the things we all have in common and, given the fact that a virus is constantly foremost in all of our minds, perhaps it is not entirely appropriate. In certain quarters, jokes on the subject have already been decreed off limits, which raises the eternal question: can we really joke about absolutely anything?
“Personally, I don’t even see how it’s feasible to ban jokes on a given topic; firstly, when it comes to humour everything is grist for the mill and, secondly, like weeds, jokes will unfailingly spring up anyway. Not only that but humour is a tool that helps us to get through difficulties such as the coronavirus. That said, we do find ourselves in a situation that demands caution. You never know who may have just lost a loved one, so it is probably wise to confine jokes to the behaviour of the healthy rather than the disease itself,” says Maria Ohlsson, senior lecturer at the Department of Scandinavian Languages.

This advice is unlikely to shock anyone, unless you happen to be Lenny Bruce or Roseanne Barr; the vast majority of us generally try to get a feel for new groups and situations before we unleash our inner comic. At best, jokes that land beyond the pale may be perceived as inappropriate drivel but, with a touch of bad luck, we also risk offending any number of people. The next –and hopefully not quite so timeless –question is therefore: how do we keep office humour alive when so many of us are working from home and are likely to continue doing so for some time to come?
“Being funny remotely is hardly an extraordinary feat given the amount of technology surrounding us; for example, we might simply take a moment each day to send each other amusing items found online. Many workplaces have also introduced video coffee breaks, which are a nice alternative when we can’t meet around the water cooler. That said, even on Zoom the boss needs to demonstrate that laughter has its place, just like in the office. That doesn’t mean being a compulsive joker but rather creating an inclusive climate in which employees can express their sense of humour,” says Maria Ohlsson.

So, how much fun are we having in the current corona crisis? Well, we can at least amuse ourselves by looking at some statistics. Studies show that before the outbreak of the virus we laughed around five times per day per employee, a little more often for management. One might call that a Pass withroom for improvement; so, why not utilise our time in quarantine to develop a humour strategy? An open, secure and tolerant atmosphere is a good foundation; otherwise, there is no patented solution. If we play our cards right, the pot contains a better work environment, stronger sense of community and, in all likelihood, reduced sick leave. Good luck!

Magnus Alsne