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Working remotely during the pandemic created social filter bubbles

Woman sitting as desk at home
Photo: Johan Persson

Deeper relationships with colleagues we were already close with, while others drifted further away. During the pandemic, spontaneous meetings decreased, and we created social filter bubbles. This is shown by a study from Lund University in Sweden that investigated how we managed our work relationships during the Covid-19 pandemic.

During the pandemic, many colleagues were reduced to tiny digital faces - at best. At digital meetings, some were not visible at all because they chose to switch off the camera. How were our work relationships affected when we could no longer meet physically?

“Something similar to conscious and unconscious filter bubbles were created. People were more selective in their contacts. Some connections became more intense, and the respondents feel that they got to know their closest colleagues better. At the same time, others relationships became more distant. In some cases, it was simply nice to avoid certain people”, says Alina Lidén, researcher in service studies at Lund University and one of the researchers behind the study.

The study, carried out in 2021, is based on in-depth interviews with employees in knowledge-intensive professions. The results reveal fewer contacts, reduced availability and weakened dynamics between colleagues.

Spontaneous conversations disappeared

Overall, 30–40 percent of Swedish workers worked remotely during the pandemic, partially or full-time. When meetings went online, conversations that take place before, during and after also disappeared. These conversations tend to be characterized to a greater degree by non-work-related topics. How are the children? What is happening in the outside world?

According to the study, digital meetings during the pandemic were perceived as more efficient and disciplined, but the respondents also felt that something was missing.

“The respondents had limited social contact with a focus on efficiency. They did their job, but otherwise did not make themselves visible. Many told us that they missed saying good morning and knowing what is going on in their colleague's life; little things like how the child who plays football is doing or how the house renovation is coming along”, says Alina Lidén.

Unclear who is responsible for social relations

According to the study, it was considered the employer's responsibility to maintain social relations, and the existence of digital events, such as digital coffee or after work get togethers, was seen as positive.

“However, individual employees took no personal responsibility. One conclusion is that maintaining social contacts requires effort, regardless of whether it comes from the company or the individual employee. If no one does that work, contacts based on spontaneity disappear”, says Malin Espersson, researcher in service studies at Lund University.

The study clearly shows that working undisturbed and being efficient is prioritized over being available to others via digital channels or joint meetings. Digital meetings are described as being a little more structured, and that order is reinforced.

“At the same time, it is also suggested that digital meetings make it more difficult to create the dynamic needed for creative and planning work. This has a major impact on development issues. Being creative and innovative requires having access to more colleagues, with diverse knowledge and opinions”, says Ulrika Westrup, researcher in service studies at Lund University.

“What will happen to social relationships in the future is difficult to predict. The fact that remote work seems to benefit the individual at the expense of the collective, is important to bear in mind going forward”, concludes Malin Espersson.


Alina Liden

Alina Lidén
Lund University
alina.lidén [at] ses [dot] lu [dot] se


Malin Espersson

Malin Espersson
Lund University
malin [dot] espersson [at] ses [dot] lu [dot] se (malin[dot]espersson[at]ses[dot]lu[dot]se) 

Ulrika Westrup

Ulrika Westrup
Lund University
ulrika [dot] westrup [at] ses [dot] lu [dot] se