The problem

Due to the COVID-19 outbreak, most of the people have to follow quarantine, which can lead to negative psychological, physical, and social effects. These effects can last for months or years after the end of this stressful event (Brooks et al., 2020). In particular, we are worried about younger adults who live alone: since 2010, the number of single-person households increased by 17% and they currently are a third of all households in the EU (EUROSTAT, 2020, April 4). Many of these young adults are teleworking now. The American Psychiatric Association ( warned that many teleworkers are experiencing this modality for the first time while being isolated from co-workers, friends, and family. Daily living routines are disrupted causing additional anxiety, stress, and strain physically, mentally, and financially. Thanks to the multidisciplinary background of our team we agree that teleworkers’ quality of life can only be addressed with a multimodal holistic approach! Wellnuts offers that solution!

The solution

Wellnuts offers tiny and actionable lifestyle challenges for better well-being in remote working. The app has four sections: nutrition, physical, psychological and medical challenges. Each challenge is designed in a way to promote healthy action in a fast and efficient manner. Users can customize the challenges for their needs and goals. The application aims to decrease the negative impacts of social distancing and isolation. With the social aspects of the app such as sending challenges to colleagues, remote workers feel less lonely but also motivated to achieve the challenges. With easy-to-achieve but also healthy challenges, Wellnuts is able to promote and maintain healthy lifestyles and work productivity.

Namely, a user could select from a variety of simple lifestyle challenges recommended by Wellnuts highly based on the users’ personal goals and preferences. Once a challenge is selected, the user is required to perform corresponding activities or exercises of this challenge each day for a short period of time: e.g., cooking for him or herself based on delicious and healthy recipes provided by the challenge, or perform a five-minute simple physical exercise in the intervals of working. By keeping practicing the challenge activities, the user will eventually receive an achievement, for instance, for doing the activities for the whole week. Such achievements, in the forms of badges or trophies, can then be shared via the user’s social network, and the user could also challenge a friend to take the same challenge that he or she has accomplished. In this way, Wellnuts creates a domino effect among the young teleworker groups, and motivates more target users to participate in these healthy and playful activities, achieving long-reading impacts on the target group, as well as meeting their needs for feeling the sense of connectedness during social distancing.

What we have done

  • Developed an understanding of the impacts of COVID-19 on young adults (25-40 years old) in remote working
  • Conducted comprehensive background research to collect scientifically-proven health advice
  • Designed the core features and mechanisms of Wellnuts through intensive multidisciplinary discussions to ensure its physical, nutritional, and psychological impact and sustainability Developed an interactive prototype of Wellnuts with 28 scientifically-proven challenges to demonstrate how Wellnuts works

How we built it

We are a team of young and enthusiastic professionals who believe in a holistic approach to the needs of these specific teleworkers. We came up with our solution after questioning some young adults about the difficulties they were facing in this period. After some brainstorming, the idea for Wellnuts came to life!

  • User-centered design: we empathized with our target group (young adults from 25-40 years old), studied their difficulties and needs in shifting towards teleworking. To do so, we used some user-centered design techniques to raise our empathy with our target group, such as contextual analysis, storytelling, user profiling (persona) and direct interaction with a small sample of our target audience (we received valuable input and very good reception of our solution). Beyond this, we also conducted an informal market analysis with our advisor from the business domain.
  • Playful interaction and persuasive technology: apart from the user-centered techniques used to understand the real needs of the target group, our team adopted methods from the domain of playful interaction and persuasive technology, to increase acceptance of our well-being interventions by our target group. All the challenges promote low-threshold, easy-to-practice lifestyle improvements, by leveraging the social engagement and gamification elements. This way, we transform healthful interventions into a playful campaign that triggers the widespread participation of the young teleworkers in a bottom-up way, which can potentially achieve profound societal impacts.
  • Multidisciplinary synergy: we consulted domain experts from business, social sciences, and we synergized our domain expertise across physiology, psychology, ergonomics, health environment, user-centered ICT design, user experience design. And finally this collaboration yielded a multidisciplinary solution starting from the real needs of the target group, supported by science-based theories, and empowered by state-of-art technology infrastructure and engaging user interface
  • Evidence-based intervention design: the physiological, psychological, ergonomics, and built environment researchers in our team took an evidence-based approach to design the interventions. They went back to their respective specialized domains to first search for the theoretical basis about the factors with the biggest impacts on our clearly defined target group’s daily well-being. Then, they identified the major categories of interventions with a high impact on teleworkers’ well-being: including physical activity, mental resilience, nutrition, social connection and daily routines management. Based on these pillars, simple yet effective tasks were formulated, which then translated into actionable, playful, and lightweight lifestyle challenges that could be practiced in teleworkers’ daily life.
  • Development of rapid and interative technology: while we were ideating the intervention and playful elements of our design, simultaneously, we implemented and evaluated these ideas through rapid, interative prototyping that features high flexibility for continuous optimization and development of the system. We started from a minimal viable prototype (VIP) built by the Google Glideapps platform, with fulfilling its very preliminary functionality and usability, and avoiding unnecessary features. Then starting from this VIP, we gradually enriched its application architecture, functionality modules, as well as interaction properties with a careful examination about what our target group really need, and how to avoid redundancy in the development of the system. We strongly believe that our users do not need another super App, and we do not aim to re-invent a social media application or mobile game. On the contrary, we aim to leverage the existing social media platforms of our target users, while at the same time reducing the cost of our development and implementation. In this way, our solution is not intended as replacement or alternative of our users’ existing social platforms, but rather as their enhancement and enrichment.

The impacts

COVID-19 crisis imposes great challenges on our society in the sense that it raises negative influences on our daily lives in multiple aspects. Therefore a solution responding to these multifaceted challenges ought to be holistic and comprehensive. As a result, our project took an ecological approach to this crisis, by aiming for positive impacts on our target group in multiple aspects, promoting their physical, mental and social wellbeing through a synthesized, socio-technical solution.

Why young teleworkers (25 - 40) who live alone? In our project, we have been pertinently focused on a subgroup of teleworkers, who aged from 25 to 40 and live alone. This is because this group of users constitute a significant proportion of the remote working population, and suffer the most from the COVID-19 crisis.

On the one hand, this group of people has not established stable daily routines in their daily lives, since they take relatively less responsibility for taking care of their family. Consequently, when this inevitable extrinsic cause forces them to readapt their daily life to new routines, they face extra challenges of formulating robust healthy rituals in their working-from-home period. This may cause major challenges to their physical and mental wellbeing: for example, irregular daily schedule or diets, lack of physical activities, mental problems caused by increased depression, and a sense of directionlessness.

On the other hand, this group of people lacks sufficient social support and social interaction due to living alone, which may in turn escalate the aforementioned mental or physical health challenges they are facing. For example, due to lack of social motivation, they become even less physically active, and due to loneliness and a sense of isolation, they might be more vulnerable to depression, anxiety, and burnout caused by the current situation.

In this sense, we believe our solution has been aimed for far-reaching societal impacts, by supporting, caring and empowering this group of teleworkers, who suffer most, both physically and mentally, in this worldwide situation of social distancing and isolation.

Leveraging a playful and engaging approach to support young teleworkers to establish a collective resilience against COVID-19 The most important thing for our society to fight against this crisis is to establish resilience in our community. To support our target group overcome the isolation and lack of social support, our project features a bottom-up approach which helps our target group strengthen their collective resilience by supporting them to care and motivate each other in a playful and enjoyable way. Namely, this is fulfilled by our solution in the following aspects:

  • Raising social awareness for healthy lifestyle
  • Motivating and engaging young teleworkers to participate in the campaign for improving their lifestyle through playful and actionable challenges
  • Educating the target group with knowledge to manage mental and physical health in this crisis based on trustworthy information sources
  • Responding to the needs for socializing due to the sense of isolation and disconnectedness
  • Enhancing the healthy lifestyle from multiple aspects: including promoting physical activity, improving ergonomics factors, facilitating the nutrition intake and healthy eating habits.

The value of Wellnuts after the crisis

While it remains unclear when the COVID-19 situation will be over, one thing that has been commonly agreed on is that this crisis will deeply change many aspects of our society, including the way we work. The full impacts of COVID-19 on the labour market are still to be seen, however, it is likely that rates of telework in Europe, and as a result employer/employee relationships, will be changed permanently. For instance, it is highly likely that the ongoing digitalization of the work environment will be considerably propelled by this situation and in the near future, teleworking will become increasingly ubiquitous in many professions.

This gives Wellnuts an opportunity to continue it’s societal impact in smoothing the transition towards remote working and improving the daily well-being of teleworkers. Although the aforementioned challenges we set out to address are especially salient in the COVID-19 crisis, they are inherently part of the challenges of teleworking in general. Therefore, our solution, which aims to strengthen the social connections among young teleworkers and improve their sedentary and relatively less socially supported lifestyle, would still remain relevant and timeliness in our future society.

From the micro level, each user of Wellnuts who has been actively involved in these playful social challenges, will continue to be motivated to accumulate challenges and increase their score and achievements on the platform. We don’t expect to face a drastic drop in users of Wellnuts once COVID-19 crisis is over.

From the macro level, the social connections built among the target users of Wellnuts during the COVID-19 will continue motivating young teleworkers who live alone to practice the tiny and actionable lifestyle challenges with their friends, since these challenges are beneficial in improving teleworking lifestyle regardless the situation of quarantine. On the contrary, the past of COVID-19 will provide even more design opportunities for Wellnuts to also integrate out-door, co-located, social activity challenges among young teleworkers. These new challenges that can be integrated into Wellnuts after COVID-19 will undoubtedly be even more physically and mentally beneficial for our target group.

What's next for Wellnuts

  • Implementing and testing Wellnuts in a larger group of our target users and receiving initial user feedback to build a plan for further improvement
  • Building a stable network of health professionals as expert users of Wellnuts to ensure the credibility of challenges to be provided to teleworkers
  • Enriching the contents of application with additional challenges approved by health professionals
  • Further developing the personalization mechanism to improve the sustainability of the application
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