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How to work better during a pandemic

What implications does the Covid-19 pandemic have for our way of working together? How does working at home for an extended period of time affect us and what should we be mindful of? We asked an expert.

Lena Lid Falkman has been conducting research on modern working methods since 2013. Activity-based offices, digitalisation, how relationships change with social media, virtual meetings, leadership at a distance are examples of aspects she has been studying.

She is currently leading two research projects, “The Office of the Future – Effective Limitless Communication”, and the other “Place for Innovation – About modern working methods”. So we wanted to ask her advice on how to work better – and safer – during the current pandemic. 

Now that many if not most of us are told to work from home, how can we take advantage of the possibilities of digitalisation and digital tools?

We have had suitable technology for some time, for video conferencing and video meetings for example. What needs to be developed now is our approach to technology and our way of using it. I don’t want to be too cheerful and say that good things will come out of this crisis, but I believe the development of our use of this technology will be sped up by several years.

What you need to handle these digital tools is, above all, practice. And now we will get it, reluctantly or not. Working with others without meeting physically at all can actually work very well! What is decided at an online meeting is just as valid as what is decided at a physical meeting. 

Should you think of anything in particular when working from home?

Think about your health! Your physical as well as your social health. There is a big difference between working from home the odd afternoon and working almost exclusively from home. You can sit on a kitchen chair or hang out on a sofa for a few hours, but not for a whole week. We need a good chair and a table at the right height when we spend many hours working at home.

In addition, we need to move. When we go to work, we walk to and from the bus, we go out and buy lunch. People who work from home also need to take a break and move around and get some air. Then there is the mental aspect. It might be nice to sit alone an afternoon at home and get things done, but when you work from home all the time, it becomes boring and asocial. Meet online for a cup of coffee and a little chat, too! 

Are new working methods (distance work, online meetings and so on) also creating new demands on leadership? 

Yes, much more distinct leadership is needed! Many people feel that you have to book more meetings to have check-ins and make sure things move forward. So, make it clear what results you expect during the week, and make sure employees have the conditions to achieve them, then check up on how things went. It is more important and sensible to monitor the results employees deliver, than when or how much they work.

There is research that shows that a particular kind of trust arises from cooperation at a distance – action-related trust. E-mailing what you said you would, logging in to the meeting at the set time and delivering what is expected is more important than appearing authoritarian or smart. This clearly applies right down to how we lead online meetings. When we sit around a table, we use body language and eye contact for guidance, for example to know when someone has finished talking or whose turn it is to speak. Now the person leading the meeting has to conduct the turn-taking, because we are not sitting in line. As a meeting leader, you need to be clear: “Kalle it's your turn now… if you’re finished there, it's Anna's turn”.

Also, leaders have to keep track of how people are doing. When we don’t see each other at lunchtime, you may need to call and ask: How are you? I think it’s especially important in these times of great anxiety that the manager be not only executive, but also empathetic.

With Covid-19 in mind, is it possible to prevent or limit contagion by rethinking the office environment (for those whose jobs require them to be on location)? If so, how?

We know from a few studies that permanent placement next to others is worse from a health perspective. So, having a fixed place of one’s own in an open landscape is worse than having your own room or having free placement, such as in flex offices or activity-based offices. 

If it isn’t possible for everyone to have their own room, it’s better to have free placement. Then you can choose to move away from someone you are disturbed by, or someone you do not feel is completely healthy. But obviously we should work from home as much as we can!

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