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’Jumping Out from the Pressure of Work and into the Game: Curating Immersive Digital Game Experiences for Post-Work Recovery

Mella, J., Iacovides, I., & Cox, A. (2024). ’Jumping Out from the Pressure of Work and into the Game: Curating Immersive Digital Game Experiences for Post-Work Recovery. ACM Games: Research and Practice.

In this paper we explore how digital games can be used for psychological recovery after work. We conducted a study involving eleven participants who played games post-work and participated in follow-up interviews.

Key points:

  1. Immersion in Gaming for Recovery: The study focuses on how immersion in gaming can aid in the recovery from work-related stress. Immersion is seen as a multifaceted experience that can help players detach psychologically from work stresses and recover their mental resources.
  2. Strategies for Immersive Experience: Participants reported various strategies to enhance their gaming immersion to optimize recovery. These strategies included selecting games based on their ability to provide challenge, mastery, relaxation, or a sense of control.
  3. Framework of Immersion Optimization: The research contributes a framework for understanding how different elements of games can be used strategically to facilitate recovery. This includes aspects such as game choice, gameplay settings, and in-game goals.
  4. Impact of Gaming on Recovery Experiences: The study found that strategic gaming can effectively provide recovery experiences such as psychological detachment, relaxation, and mastery. These experiences are crucial for recuperating after work and preventing long-term stress effects.
  5. Methodological Insights: The use of a laddering methodology provided detailed insights into the specific components of gaming that support recovery. This approach highlighted the direct connections between game features, player experiences, and recovery outcomes.
  6. Implications for Game Design and Use: The findings suggest that both game developers and players can benefit from understanding how different game features can be used to enhance post-work recovery. The study advocates for games designed with features that support recovery needs.

“Sometimes It’s Like Putting the Track in Front of the Rushing Train”: Having to Be ‘On Call’for Work Limits the Temporal Flexibility of Crowdworkers

Lascău, L., Brumby, D. P., Gould, S. J., & Cox, A. L. (2024). “Sometimes It’s Like Putting the Track in Front of the Rushing Train”: Having to Be ‘On Call’for Work Limits the Temporal Flexibility of Crowdworkers. ACM Transactions on Computer-Human Interaction31(2), 1-45.

This paper examines how the design of crowdsourcing platforms impacts the temporal flexibility of crowdworkers. We argue that being ‘on call’ limits workers’ ability to control their schedules and pace of work due to the unpredictable availability of tasks on these platforms. Despite the promise of flexibility, crowdworkers often have to be constantly available, which disrupts their ability to plan work and personal time effectively.

Key findings include:

  1. Impact on Schedule Control: Workers struggle to stick to planned work hours due to the unpredictable posting of tasks. This results in less actual work time and more time spent in unpaid ‘on call’ activities like waiting for new tasks.
  2. Impact on Work Pace: The on-demand nature of task availability forces workers into a state of constant readiness, which interferes with the natural pacing of work and break times. This can lead to increased stress and decreased job satisfaction.

The paper also discusses broader implications for the platform economy, suggesting that real temporal flexibility is often not realized for many workers in these environments. It calls for platform design changes to enhance real flexibility and improve working conditions for crowdworkers.

How did people respond to the disruption to work caused by the pandemic?

Our paper “The new normals of work: a framework for understanding responses to disruptions created by new futures of work” has just come out in Human-Computer Interaction Journal.

Open access to the paper is available here: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/07370024.2021.1982391

In the paper, we explore how people adapted to work during the pandemic and how we might understand people’s response to disruption in the new future of work. We highlight a number of issues, tools and strategies that people used in their work to support them while working remotely. For example, virtual commutes, having dedicated space, new scheduling techniques or staying connected with colleagues through virtual chats and async chats 

Exploring these with the Genuis and Bronstein model of “new normal” we show 3 kinds of responses:

  • waiting to return to old normal,
  • finding a new normal and
  • anticipating a new future of work.

These new normals of work help us to understand how we can help workers going forward.

We’d like to thank our reviewers for their feedback and our participants for helping develop our work within eworklife.co.uk and a special shoutout to @DilishaBP whose work with the new normal model inspired this work 😀 You can find their paper on Finding a “New Normal” for Men Experiencing Fertility Issues here: dl.acm.org/doi/abs/10.114…

If you find this interesting you might also like our other papers on work during the pandemic:

The first draft of this blogpost was written as a twitter thread by Joe Newbold and unrolled using ThreadReader

Media interview: Deutsche Welle TV News

Dr Marta Cecchinato was interviewed by Deutsche Welle TV News , Germany’s international broadcaster on their show ‘The Day’ about our work on work-life balance during the pandemic.

Media interview: Londoners urged to do ‘pretend commute’ during Covid-19 lockdown to protect health

Prof Anna L Cox is quoted in the London Evening Standard. Londoners urged to do ‘pretend commute’ during Covid-19 lockdown to protect health By Nicholas Cecil

Talk: Facing the Future: what lessons have we learned?

Prof Anna L Cox gives an invited talk at the Facing the Future: what lessons have we learnt? event to celebrate National Work Life Week 2020.

Boundary Management and Communication Technologies

Marta E. Cecchinato and Anna L. Cox have published a chapter titled Boundary Management and Communication Technologies in The Oxford Handbook of Digital Technology and Society.


We live in a world of communication overload, where there is a wide range of platforms and devices to choose from, each providing massive content, offering different affordances, and fighting for our attention. Mobile technologies have contributed to expectations of anywhere anytime connectedness, making it hard for individuals to switch off. As a result, it can be hard to feel truly disconnected from work. A lack of control over work-home boundary cross-overs and interruptions can reduce post-work recovery, reducing productivity and increasing stress. Technology is not inherently good or bad, but rather, the way it is adopted and used can positively or negatively color one’s experience. As such, in this critical review we take a social constructionist approach to emphasize how communication technologies are challenging, as well as supporting, work-home boundary management. In doing so, we bring together work from occupational psychology (boundary theory) and human-computer interaction (computer-mediated communication and cross-device interaction). Understanding how these aspects interact and influence each other is important in order to support individuals appropriately, inform policies and guidelines, and ensure both social and digital interactions are designed carefully.

Digital work-life Boundaries for when you’re working from home

Prof Anna L Cox talks to Andrew Kun and Orit Shaer about Digital work-life Boundaries for when you’re working from home on their Future of Work Conversations webinar

The Psychology of Successfully Working from Home

Prof Anna L Cox talks to Prof Joe Devlin from UCL Changing Minds about The Psychology of Successfully Working from Home

Remote working: the new normal for many, but it comes with hidden risks – new research

Cry freedom.
Matej Kastelic

Dave Cook, UCL

Many of us have had little choice but to resort to remote working in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. It is just days since Google, Apple and Twitter were making headlines by ordering their employees to work from home, but you could now say the same about lots of companies.

Whatever you think about this style of working, the trend is increasing. Remote working was already growing fast – more than doubling since 2005 to 4.7 million workers in the US, for example. If you believe recent headlines, the transition is all too easy and seamless.

Yet the march towards this utopian future has been uneven – witness IBM’s decision to dump remote working several years ago, because it was preventing innovation and collaboration. I have just published research that highlights additional challenges and difficulties. And if people don’t approach remote working in the right way, they risk making their work lives worse.

Pros and cons

When discussing remote working, academics and the media have been split into opposing camps. The pro camp talk about cuttng out commutes, increasing quality family time and productivity and achieving a better work-life balance. Sceptics reply that flexibility comes at a cost. They warn about losing social interaction, nuance and community – and potentially becoming less productive. These give us mixed messages when we need certainty.

As an anthropologist, I’ve spent the past four years researching how people adjusted to becoming an extreme type of remote worker known as digital nomads. These workers move from country to country, always working online. I followed more than 50 in total, employed in a range of jobs including computer coding, graphic design, online marketing and travel journalism.

After an initial honeymoon period, remote working quickly became too isolating for over 25% of my participants. As one said, “Some aren’t naturally self-motivated, and no end of self-help books will change that”.

One solution turned out to be the coworking space. It gave a sense of community and face-to-face interaction, but more important was just to be around other workers – academic jargon for this is co-presence. As a remote employee working in ecommerce explained: “Just being around other folk working turbocharges your day.”

I completely understand this sentiment. I wrote most of this article in a coworking space, and just being around others tapping away at their keyboards creates a feeling of effortless productivity.

Yet things change quickly. Coworking spaces are not going to be an option for many people for a while. Some of those in house shares will be able to recreate the same environment at home. There are various forms of coworking space etiquette that can be adopted at home, such as having quiet zones for focused work and having separate areas for voice and video calls.

Digital discipline

If working near other people is important, the need for a disciplined work life is everything. For my research participants, this was the secret ingredient in sustaining remote working – whether the discipline was self-imposed or externally set by deadlines.

My participants never discussed discipline at first. The initial excitement of remote working made them productive for a while. But after a few months, motivation became harder. At this point, some participants gave up on this lifestyle.

Productivity waning?

Those who thrived tended to be more strict, ensuring they went to coworking spaces every day and put phones and social media noise out of reach. Many also set up rituals. One graphic designer deliberately chose to work in a space that was 15 minutes walk from their home, to “mentally gear up for work” on his way in and to decompress before he got home.

Fascinatingly, here was a worker who had not only given up one office for another, but was recreating the daily commute. And just because coworking spaces are off limits at the moment it doesn’t mean you can’t consider equivalent rituals. It is still an option to build a short walk into the beginning and end of the working day, thereby creating a clear division between your home and work life.

Always on, always available

Digital technology may free people to work remotely in the first place, but it also causes unforeseen problems. My participants reported a growing expectation to be available 24/7, reflecting similar findings in other studies.

This is an issue for the entire workforce, but it is arguably exacerbated by remote working. Our 24/7 work culture didn’t happen overnight, or because of coercive managers. Instead, the perceived division between work and non-work has steadily disappeared over time, while few of us were paying attention.

Sociologist Judy Wajcman argues that this mentality is even restructuring how we think about time, as Silicon Valley designs devices and apps that urge us all on a never-ending quest for productivity and self-discipline. Besides work, the ways in which we read books, watch TV, exercise and meditate can now be timeboxed into app-sized chunks as well.

This culture has led some remote workers to experience mental health issues and burnout. Reflecting back on his burnout, one interviewee called Sam explained:

I didn’t have the concept of free time until I found myself scheduling four-hour meetings in my diary titled ‘downtime’. It’s insane; I look back at this period in my life and wonder why it took so long to burnout.

‘Yes boss.’
Aldeca Productions

We all need to keep an eye on this dangerous trend. It is crucial to set clear boundaries between home life and work and not put pressure on ourselves to be available outside working hours – particularly during a crisis when many of us will need to support family and friends.

Finally, remote working could well become permanent for many people. Many companies were encouraging staff to work elsewhere to reduce office costs before the outbreak, and this will probably be all the more attractive to the businesses that survive this crisis. One wonders if in ten years we will look back from our remote workstations and remember 2020 as the year we last went into the office. Either way, we need to be careful. Remote working always tantalises with the promise of freedom, but it can end up delivering the exact opposite.The Conversation

Dave Cook, PhD Researcher, Anthropology, UCL

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.