The merits of #Virtual Coffee Breaks 

Trying to keep a sense of normality can make a huge difference in these difficult times and it’s important that we all support each other.  We are all coming to terms with different working arrangements and disruptions to our daily lives, not least if you are combining remote working with home schooling as I’m sure many you are!

Digital technology and social media are playing a more important role than ever during this time, enabling us to continue to collaborate and be productive and even enabling us to be more creative than we have perhaps needed to be before.  Being productive is key, we can all be busy, but it is our productivity that enables a sense of achievement and wellbeing.

One of the key things I’ve been thinking about is that a workplace is so much more than just a place of work.  It’s a place to meet socially with colleagues, interacting and sharing ideas and experiences on a regular basis.  I remember when I was lucky enough to go on an Erasmus exchange visit to Stockholm in 2014 and witness how they go about their work.  Employees were encouraged, actually it was the norm, to get together at a specific time in the morning and again in the afternoon, and just have a coffee break.

They call it ‘Fika’ and it would often also include cakes and other snacks, often homemade.  The fundamental social difference between the way we work here in the UK and the way they did it there was that they did it together, they moved away from their desk and took the time to talk and share. They also sat and ate lunch together and everyone brought different foods in for people to try and share.  It was this principle that made it so much more of an enjoyable and sociable experience being at work.  In some offices they would also have group stretching and exercise sessions after lunch to boost energy levels, to be honest I found this aspect, with my English sensibilities a little disconcerting.

These Fika’s created a community and opportunities for human interaction that wasn’t necessarily work-related, (though of course they discussed work too) – it was focussed more on chatting about a film they had watched the previous evening or books they were reading, family or the latest news.  People in that environment were more able to easily understand or identify where colleagues were engaging or not engaging on a daily basis.  They could see when someone was in a low mood and they could lift each other’s spirits collectively. 

This led me to thinking that the Coffee break doesn’t have to be a physical entity. With the use of technology it can be successfully replicated in a virtual environment and here’s a podcast that is dedicated to explaining just how to do that:

Taking this virtual Fika idea from Sweden is one idea to engage socially when we are isolated, but people are also starting to look at more inventive ways to engage virtually.  Having organised hangouts is also a great way to help you feel less isolated when working remotely.  It needs direction and focus but it can provide an opportunity and time to reflect and engage, network and chat. 

The IEP’s SocialLink app can help our Members to do this by providing a platform to virtually connect with colleagues but you can really take it to another level with face-to-face video technology such as House Party, Whatsapp or Zoom video conferencing. 

It’s a great way to connect socially or to set up a specific network group or theme – how about a weekly pub quiz or a book club or even a happy hour? You can just chat about your week, home schooling ideas, the best exercise routine – anything that resonates with your group.  You can arrange a specific time and place to down tools and connect. The principle of the virtual hangout is that it is non-work related and everyone gets a chance to chat. 

The IEP have introduced new ways to try to support our Members during this time.  Our weekly IEP Learning Network e-bulletin is full of useful resources from ways to support your mental wellbeing to activities to do with the kids while you’re all at home.

We’ve also launched a series of webinars with our Corporate Affiliate Partners ‘The Better Health Generation’, the first of which attracted a huge number of attendees themed ‘tips and advice around coronavirus anxiety’.

If you have any tips and advice of your own on ways to engage and keep motivated during this challenging time, please do share them with us so that we can share them with others.  We might all be socially distancing physically but there’s no need to do it virtually!

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