Finnish employers on remote work

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In previous blogs, we have discussed employees’ experiences of and attitudes towards remote work in Finland. This week we discuss the current thoughts of Finnish employers on remote work. 

Our discussion is based on a recent study by Kirsikka Selander, Tuomo Alasoini, and Niilo Hakonen of the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health. This study is a part of the Work2030 program. That is a government-initiated development project for well-being at work. 

Selander, Alasoini, and Hakonen’s study is based on a survey Statistics Finland did on their behalf in late fall 2021. 

Statistics Finland conducted this stratified random sample of enterprises and public organizations via an online survey and by telephone. They included only organizations with 10 or more employees. They weighted the responses so that this study is representative of all Finnish workplaces over that size limit regardless of sector or industry.

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Some background

Selander, Alasoini, and Hakonen point out that Finnish employees are happy with their experiences of remote work during the pandemic. We’ve discussed these experiences.

They do, however, point out that Finnish labor laws give the employer the right to determine what the employee does where, when, and with which tools. Therefore, it is not enough to focus on how employees feel. We also need to know the thoughts of the Finnish employers on remote work.

Their study is the first to address their point of view. 

Statistics Finland ran the survey at a time when this topic was very acute for Finnish employers and employees alike. When it started, the government was lifting the nationwide recommendation to work remotely. As the severity of the pandemic fluctuated rapidly in Finland in late 2021, however, they put the recommendation back in place. Thus by the time the survey ended, we were again strongly encouraged to work from home. 

Study results

Selander, Alasoini, and Hakonen confirm what we already knew about how the pandemic affected remote work in Finland. It clearly became more prevalent. However, they conclude that in terms of that prevalence, Finnish organizations can be divided into three distinct groups. 

In about 31 % of Finnish organizations, nobody engaged in remote work at the time of the study. 37 % of organizations indicated that less than a third of their employees did remote work weekly. And in 33 % of organizations, at least a third of the personnel engaged in remote work weekly. 

Remote work was more common in large organizations. This is partly due to the fact that smaller organizations are usually in construction, wholesale and resale, hospitality, or transportation and communications industries. In those, there are fewer opportunities to work remotely due to the nature of the work itself. However, the effect of organization size remained even when they took the industry into account. Large organizations are thus more likely to adopt flexible work arrangements.

Selander, Alasoini, and Hakonen show that the attitudes employers have towards digital tools and digitalization, in general, have an effect on their attitudes towards remote work as well. 

79 % of organizations that don’t think digitalization is very important to them indicated that no one works remotely. In contrast, only 25 % of organizations that self-identify as trendsetters or followers of digitalization indicated that no one in the organization works remotely. 

The thoughts of Finnish employers on remote work have clearly changed

Selander, Alasoini, and Hakonen point out that the success of this forced experiment of large-scale adoption of remote work has changed the thinking of Finnish employers on remote work.

Prior to the pandemic, workplaces where remote work was at all a possibility usually had organization-wide policies regarding remote work. Often, when remote work was a regular occurrence, doing it required a written agreement. That agreement usually specified the days on which the employee could work remotely. It might also have had provisions regarding work equipment, working hours, etc. 

Thus, being allowed to work remotely was seen as a sign of trust being granted to some particularly deserving employees. Simultaneously, however, it was still seen as something that had to be thighly regulated and controlled. 

During the course of the pandemic, employers’ attitudes have clearly changed to include much more flexibility. 

From organization-wide policies to team decisions

Now employers in Selander, Alasoini, and Hakonen’s study say that they are considering allowing teams (38 %) or even individual employees (18 %) to determine their remote work practices. This obviously applies only in cases where working remotely is at all possible based on the nature of the work. 

They show, however, how clearly this change in attitudes is related to the experiences gathered during the pandemic. The more the employees of the organization worked remotely during the pandemic, the more open the organization is to now allowing teams and even individuals to have a say in remote work policies moving forward. 

So, one the one hand trust in employees has increased in some organizations. On the other, as they point out, the way people work in Finland is becoming increasingly diversified.

Larger organizations are more likely to extend this decision-making power to teams and individuals than smaller ones. 

Similarly, some industries are more likely to allow this than others. For example, organizations in construction wholesale and resale, hospitality, or transportation and communications industries are less likely to allow such flexibility even if the work itself would allow it. 

Some conclusions

In their conclusions, Selander, Alasoini, and Hakonen raise points that we find important to underline. 

First, they point out that the pandemic clearly brought about a leap in the autonomy of Finnish employees. 

That started from the existing digital capabilities of Finnish workplaces as well as the fast adoption of new technologies both by the organizations and their employees. These made it possible for employees to convert to remote working with relative ease. 

More importantly, however, employers discovered work got done without the overseeing eye of the manager. This had a huge impact on the amount of trust employers had in their employees. Thus, they concluded that employees can indeed be trusted to more freely determine when and how they work, when they take their breaks, and where they work. The forced large-scale experiment on remote work brought on by the pandemic proved that.

Second, however, Selander, Alasoini, and Hakonen point out that we do have to adjust our remote work practices for the post-pandemic work life. What was enough during the acute phase is not enough now. We must adjust now that we no longer absolutely need to stay away from each other. They specifically mention four different points that we want to highlight. 

Adjustments for the hybrid world

When the pandemic started, people who moved to work remotely knew their teams and their coworkers. In terms of social relationships, the problem thus was how to maintain existing ones. Now, we also need to learn how to create relationships between new workers. This is something we also have discussed

Another thing they bring up and we have discussed as well concerns the rules for hybrid work. When do people need to come in? Does everyone need to come in at the same time and so forth? 

They also suggest that employers should examine the possibility of having more remote locations. They mean spaces that are not those of their employees (homes and summerhouses) but rather spaces the employer has in other locations besides their main place of business. 

Lastly, they highlight that prospective employees will use differences in remote and hybrid work practices as a factor when deciding where to apply or which job offer to accept. Thus, having practices that not only function for the employer and its aims but also for the lives and needs of the employees will be a major factor in recruitment and retention very shortly. If it already isn’t. 

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