Thank you all for attending the third WORK2021 Virtual Meeting, December 8-9, 2021. Here are some highlights of the conference, its plenaries and workshops.
HIGHLIGHTS OF WORK III CONFERENCE: WORK BEYOND CRISES
The umbrella theme for 2021 was the Work beyond crises – indeed the theme called for three separate conferences to valorize the multiple and complex aspects of the current crises, the ongoing transformations and global and local questions we face in the world of work.
In the third part, WORK III, discussions revolved around the global and local challenges the COVID-19 pandemic has brought up in working lives, but also how the pandemic has affected people around the world socially, economically and health-relatedly. The discussions addressed also the effects of the climate change on employment, transitions to remote work during and after the pandemic, new inequalities, gendered changes and the meaningful work.
Nearly 70 presentations were held in the third conference. The topics of the presentations covered aspects and scenarios concerning the environmental issues in working life, sustainable employment in the digital work, digital readiness in education, gendered working during the covid-19, entanglements of work and free time, challenges and possibilities of wellbeing in remote work, to name a few. The abstract book is now available and well worth looking into. The WORK III abstract book will be openly published in late January in 2022.
The programme hosted a keynote speech by head of unit, doctor Massimiliano Mascherini from Eurofound on economic and social implications of COVID-19 in Europe, and a plenary panel by professor Gillian Symon (University of London), professor Katrina Pritchard (Swansea University) and professor Christine Hine (University of Surrey) on research methods for digital work and organization.
COVID-19 PANDEMIC HAS AFFECTED MOST THE YOUNG PEOPLE IN EUROPE
“The COVID-19 pandemic has radically transformed the lives of people around the globe”, Dr. Massimiliano Mascherini stated in his keynote on 8 December. The pandemic has had major implications for the way people live and work, affecting their physical and mental well-being in a profound way. The pandemic began as a health crisis, but only within a few weeks, it developed into an economic recession and profound social crisis.
Dr. Mascherini presented the results of the Living, working and COVID-19 e-survey, carried out by Eurofound to capture the far-reaching implications of the pandemic for the way people live and work across Europe. The total of 120.000 participants took part in the three rounds of the survey.
“From macro-perspective, the covid-19 crisis has been the strongest crisis that we have ever globally faced”, noted Dr. Mascherini. The European countries have faced both social and economic challenges, but both the social and economic losses have divided highly unevenly between the EU Member States with significant problems in Southern European countries, while the West-North and Center-East member states have coped better. On the other hand, the overall immediate impact of pandemic on employment is much less strong and less uneven, according to the Eurofound’s survey results.
When the covid-19 crisis is examined from the micro perspective, the Eurofound’s survey results show, that the crises has affected groups of citizens and territories differently: although older people were more vulnerable to the health crisis, they appear to have been more resilient overall to the economic and social implications of COVID-19. On the other hand, younger cohorts that were more resilient to the fatal health implications of the disease were more vulnerable to the economic and social implications of the pandemic, Dr. Mascherini stated.
Apart from economic problems, the mental problems have created a shadow that lingers a long time. In spring 2020, European citizens suffered from loneliness and depression coupled with low levels of optimism. A large share of Eurofound survey respondents claimed to have lost their job: 3 % permanently and 23 % temporarily. Teleworkers reported to experience strain when working at home with small children. Remote work became the customary mode of working for many employees during COVID-19: according to the results, 45% of people worked from home during the restrictions. Families with children have been particularly challenged by the change in work patterns, and the balance between work and free time has shattered.
“Besides causing disease and death, COVID-19 has generated a ‘parallel epidemic’ of mental health”, Dr. Mascherini reminded. There is increasing evidence for a surge in mental health problems, greater vulnerability and alarming implication for emotional and social functioning. Pandemic-related distress stems from the fear of the illness, economic hardship, uncertainty, social isolation and tensions in lockdown. “These mental health issues can affect our societies long time after the pandemic – that is why we need to address these challenges now”, Dr. Mascherini concluded.
RESEARCH METHODS FOR DIGITAL WORK AND ORGANIZATION
The plenary panelists on 9 December, professor Symon, professor Pritchard, and professor Hine gave an insight of their edited book Research Methods for Digital Work and Organization, published by the Oxford University Press. Professor Symon kicked off the panel by giving an overview of the background and rationale of the book. “The journey of our book began much before the pandemic”, Symon started. “Since then, the timing of the book was actually quite useful, as it happens”, she stated. The editors had discussed the research method book for digital data a long time, and during the four year period the discussions emerged more often within different symposiums and keynotes by various scholars, and the book started to take shape. “Then the pandemic struck, and as a consequence, the book was produced entirely virtually. The book itself has truly been the outcome of digital work”, Dr. Symon noted.
Although it has been stated, that all work entails the digital, in this particular book the scholars were interested in understanding the digital work from the perspective of the practice of every day digital work. This frame faces challenges of capturing digital work from the researcher’s perspective, e.g. in the case of blurred boundaries between work and leisure, how to recognize what is seen as work and what is see as leisure time, when the same platforms and devices are used in both. “But, we have to think about, what actually is the distinction between work and leisure in the digitalized 21st century? The digital may propose to work at leisure, for example”, Symon continued. Also, e.g. the overwhelming feature of the digital data and invisibilisation and visibilisation of the research topic at hand may cause particular challenges to the researchers.
“This is a complex area with lots of tensions and, unlike many books that focus on methods, the volume is not presenting methods as if they were separate. Methods are rather seen as a range of perspectives and research frames, and chapters are written by interdisciplinary scholars from all over the world and from all career stages”, professor Pritchard noted.
Part I of the edited volume Working with Screens, is addressing the detailed analyses of individual and group interactions with devices and through screens. Part II Digital Working Practices is capturing how contemporary digital working practices unfold from the perspective of the worker. Part III Distributed Work and Organizing explains how digital interactions both shape and are shaped by emerging work practices and organizing, and Part IV Digital Traces of Work examines following trails work and workers leave behind and curating these for research purposes.
Professor Hine gave an overview to the future of digital work and research methods: “The book is meant to be a future proof text, and it deals with as much as about methodological reasoning and how we reason methodologically in the face of the digital”. One of the key issues, in the articles is the ethics within the digital work research. The skills and the digital work researcher and the post-pandemic future of digital work are some of the key issues when addressing future of digital work and research methods. “The future of platforms and their power and role in the digital work research is one of the key issues to address now and in the future”, Hine concluded.
Text: Marja Rautajoki & Anne Kovalainen & Seppo Poutanen / University of Turku