Doctoral dissertation

Hanne Vesala: Retreat working calms down the pace of work and supports reflective work activity

Hanne Vesala
Blurring boundaries and fragmentation of work plague knowledge work and challenge work and career management. M.Soc.Sc. Hanne Vesala’s dissertation examined how a temporary change of environment to a natural and rural archipelago alone or together with colleagues affected knowledge work and the experiences of well-being among workers. The study found that an extraordinary work environment may produce a creative liminal space that provides a push for developing one’s work and career in a collegial atmosphere.

There exists an increasing interest in knowledge work environments, especially as corona pandemics has boosted telework arrangements. However, this development entails contradictions. Although telework increases worker autonomy as regards practical work arrangements, home office does not always blend well within family life. It is difficult to detach from work matters when they loom behind one click on an IT device. On the other hand, the lack of a face-to-face work community may diminish the experience of the meaningfulness of work.

The dissertation utilises interview and questionnaire data that were gathered from professionals representing different lines of knowledge work in the context of an experiment where they retreated to a rural archipelago to conduct their work from there in a group of their own choice or alone. Total of 49 persons participated in the research.

A natural and calm environment in the archipelago decreased experiences of work pressure, interruptions, and fragmentation of work activity. The environment offered a possibility to reflect upon work and life without disruptions, but the situation could also evolve into a creative world of its own reminiscent of traditional rites of initiation with, to paraphrase a participant, the sky being the limit.

"The participants experimented with different spaces, ways, and rhythms for working. Some of them found a situated rhythm supportive of creativity, where independent work, group work and enjoying the natural surroundings were synchronised with one another", Hanne Vesala describes.

"Yet for others, living and working in such an environment made them look back at their everyday routines, awakening critical reflection about their working conditions and the course of their careers. The fractured character of knowledge work was a source of strain for many, and, in particular, for those working independently this experience could be combined with a sentiment of work having become somewhat flat and lacking in clarity."

This study emphasises the significance of the lived body and space for the formation of work practices and meaningfulness of work. Our environment affects our perception, and in a habitual environment our activities and pathways may become rather formulaic. With a change of environment, one could pursue a liminal space, which is the realm of experiment, potentiality, and imagination. Such a space can break the automatised, habitual loops that a person has formed in a routine environment.

"A new environment that is open and malleable accentuates the importance of the regard of the actor. Such a space can offer a new outlook and sensation. What kinds of possibilities do you see, how would you use this space? This was at the core of the creative activity in the archipelago", describes Hanne Vesala.

" When organising creative knowledge work, it could be useful to increase awareness of the embodied, lived rhythms in addition to linear time management. The question is how to create qualitative variation in the intensity of work activity. One needs challenges and expansion of horizons, but there is an equal need for the protective shelters where reflection and incubation happen. The idea of rhythmic variation could be applied to different scales of activity", Vesala suggests.

The doctoral dissertation of M.Soc.Sc. Hanne Vesala in the field of sociology titled Grounded transformations: Body, space and creativity in an increasingly virtual world of work will be publicly examined at the Faculty of Social Sciences of Tampere university at 12 o’clock on Thursday 9 December, 2021. Professor Maria Daskalaki from the University of Southampton will be the opponent while Professor Harri Melin will act as the custos.

The public defense is organised via remote connection

The dissertation is available online at


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