Towards digitally mediated social work – the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on encountering clients in social work

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In the spring of 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic spread around the globe. The viral outbreak was followed by rapid changes in people’s everyday and working lives. Because of the wide-scale societal restrictions that took place to prevent the pandemic, social work was forced to take a digital leap. In this article, we examine Finnish social workers’ experiences of extending the use of digitally mediated social work (DMSW) in working with clients during the first wave of the pandemic, the spring of 2020. The data consist of 33 social workers’ personal diaries, which are analysed using a qualitative theory-based content analysis. Henri Lefebvre’s theory of spatial triad will be utilised in theorising how social workers represent DMSW through three dimensions of space, that is, how they perceive, conceive and live digital spaces when encountering their clients and how physical, mental and social spaces are embodied in the representations. The results suggest that the three dimensions of space 1) basis of, 2) conceived and 3) lived DMSW intertwine closely together. The results reveal how the physical space, including IT infrastructure, its functionality and applicability, along with the organisational contexts, form a bedrock for the social workers’ DMSW practice and had a decisive impact on their experiences. Second, the conceived space consists of workers’ cognitive and emotional elements, such as competencies, preconceptions and attitudes towards ICT. Finally, the third dimension of spatiality concludes with the social and relational aspects of the user experiences and encounters between clients and social workers.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-17
JournalQualitative Social Work
Early online date11 Apr 2022
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 11 Apr 2022
MoEC publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed


  • Crisis
  • communication
  • service development
  • digital social work
  • digital space
  • covid-19 pandemic
  • Covid-19 pandemic

Field of science

  • Social work


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