Silenced Coffee Rooms—The Changes in Social Capital within Social Workers’ Work Communities during the First Wave of the COVID-19 Pandemic

Sanna Saraniemi, Timo Harrikari, Vera Fiorentino, Marjo Romakkaniemi, Laura Tiitinen

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The sudden outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic and the ensuing restrictive measures to combat infections led to a significant change in working life and social work within working communities. Workers had to switch to telecommuting quickly, which also affected the interactions between co-workers. In this research, we examined Finnish social workers’ experiences of their work communities during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. We explored (1) how the restrictive measures affected social workers’ work communities and (2) what types of factors promoted and challenged the cohesion of social networks and mutual trust between colleagues. The conceptual framework was based on social capital theory, in which social relations are seen as a resource of a community. The data utilised in the study were social workers’ diaries (n = 33) written from mid-March until the end of May 2020. The data were analysed by a qualitative content analysis. The results highlight how the multilocation of work, fear of viral infection and varying attitudes towards the viral outbreak affected the interactions between colleagues in the early stages of the pandemic, increasing tensions and feelings of social distance between co-workers. The common professional value and knowledge base of social work, as well as remote work practices developed during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, supported interactions between colleagues. Although remote interaction options were developed, they could not, however, fully replace the advantages of face-to-face interactions and everyday informal encounters between colleagues, the importance of which is essential for developing and maintaining the social capital of work communities.
Original languageEnglish
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2022
MoEC publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed


  • COVID-19 pandemic
  • social work
  • work communities
  • social capital

Field of science

  • Social work
  • Social policy


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