Remote work is here to stay?

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In this blog post, we discuss the attitudes of employees in Finland towards remote work. We wonder to what extent remote is here to stay. 

Currently, the recommendation to work from home is ending at the end of February. However, it is unlikely that we’ll revert back to the practices we had prior to the pandemic. We’ll discuss why we suggest that and what that might mean.

This conversation is to a large extent based on a research publication by Statistics Finland. In this publication, Hanna Sutela and Anna Pärnänen report on a project researching the effects of the pandemic on gender equality in Finland. A couple of weeks ago we based our blog on another part of that same publication. We describe the project more thoroughly here

Sutela and Pärnänen base their work primarily on a representative employee survey they conducted in the spring of 2021.

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Predictable increase in remote work

It’s no news that the share of employees working remotely increased significantly during the pandemic. 

In the fall of 2018, 22 % of all employees in Finland worked remotely. In the spring of 2021, 41 % did. A further 8 % had worked remotely at least at some point during the pandemic although they weren’t doing that at the time.

Prior to the pandemic, employees working remotely all the time or even partially were usually highly educated professionals. During the pandemic, remote workers included also other white-collar workers. Blue-collar workers continued overwhelmingly to commute to work.

Despite the overall increase in remote work, it was still most common among highly educated professionals. In the spring of 2021, 79 % of them worked remotely. An additional 11 % had worked remotely at some point during the pandemic. 

The corresponding percentages for other white-collar workers were 40 % and 8 %. 

Only 4 % of blue-collar workers worked remotely in the spring of 2021, and an additional 4 % had worked remotely at some point during the pandemic. 

For a significant portion of employees in Finland, the change brought on by the pandemic was huge. 

21 % of employees switched from always working at the workplace to now working remotely. 18 % increased their remote work hours from what they had been before. 

Those working remotely in the spring of 2021, worked remotely full-time or nearly full-time (60 %). About 80 % of remote workers worked remotely at least half of the time. 

The reality of remote work

Employees in Finland were by and large relatively happy with working remotely. 

In the spring of 2021, 91 % of employees said they were at least relatively pleased with remote work. Only about 3 % were very or relatively unhappy with it. An additional 5 % couldn’t say one way or the other.

People’s facilities for remote work have, however, varied considerably. 

About 37 % of those working remotely had access to a home office. Another 35 % had a designated area for work such as a desk in a bedroom. 25 % of those working remotely didn’t have a designated room or an area in which to work. They’ve been using spaces normally meant for something else like a dinner table. 

Women (32 %) more often than men (19 %) didn’t have a permanent workspace or location. 

The difference between genders is even more pronounced in families with children. 

In those families, 31 % of mothers were without a designated work area. Only 16 % of fathers were.

In addition, 50 % of those men who were working remotely and whose spouses were also working remotely had their own office. Only 32 % of women in a similar position had an office space. 

These differences are slightly less pronounced if we only look at parents who were working remotely full-time or almost full-time. Then, 43 % of parents had an office. Fathers, however, more often (42 %) had a designated work area than mothers (30 %). Mothers were more often (26 %) than fathers (13 %) without a designated work area. 

Therefore it is probably understandable that women were less often (19 %) than men (22 %) very satisfied with their working conditions while working remotely.

How, then, do employees feel about working remotely post-pandemic? We’ll talk about that next.

Remote work is here to stay?

Now that the national recommendation for working remotely is ending, will we go back to working the way we did? We doubt it.

First of all, attitudes towards remote work have become more favorable overall. Most importantly, many leaders have changed their tune. Previously many employers and supervisors might have felt that allowing employees to work remotely means a reduction in productivity. During the pandemic, they saw that this is not necessarily true. 

This is visible in the interviews Sutela and Pärnänen did for their study. The interviewees describe such a change in attitudes of their superiors. 

Not only are leaders more likely to allow remote work post-pandemic than before it, but employees themselves are also more likely to ask for the opportunity to do so. 

67 % of employees in Sutela and Pärnänen’s study say that after the pandemic they would like to be able to work remotely more than they did before it. 

Most commonly employees (31 %) hope to be able to work from home about half of their work hours. Only around 10 % think that they don’t want to work remotely at all or they want to do it for a quarter of their work hours at a maximum. 19 % would like to work completely remotely or for the majority of their work hours.

Remote work is here to stay but not working only remotely. The ideal for work in the post-pandemic world is a combination of remote and at-location work. Employees feel this combines the best of both worlds: independence and social connection. 

Employees hope that now they could be trusted to know where which task or part of a job should be done. 

What does this mean for workplaces?

It is clear that work is much less location-dependent now than it was two years ago. And it will remain so. People are going to return to the office but they will most likely return only partially. 

All of this requires that we openly discuss how this multilocal work affects the culture of the workplace. We need to renegotiate our practices and create new ways of communicating and engaging with each other. 

It is not enough to rethink our formal rules and practices. We also need to think about how we create space for those chance encounters innovations require to happen. We discussed this issue in a blog last fall.  

Martine Haas lists these as well as other challenges related to hybrid work in this article in the Harvard Business Review

It is thus clear that it is time for a culture change but how do you go about it?

We argue, like our colleague Inna Tuka does here, that engaging a Global Dexterity-trained cross-cultural advisor can help!  

We are trained to facilitate cultural discussions and development projects that stem from those discussions. We’d be happy to help your company and your team to succeed!

This is your ultimate guide to rules governing Finnish employment relationships. Get it from our online store!

The mission of Finnwards is to help internationals thrive in their life abroad. We provide coaching, consulting, and training services that help them do just that. Check out our Services for Businesses and Organizations or our Expat Inspiration Catalog for more information! While we serve internationals and their employers all over the world, our specialty is Finland. With our help, internationals can build a uniquely Finnish life for themselves and their family. In addition to the coaching, consulting and training services, we also offer a wide selection of self-guided online courses about Finland. Contact us and let us help you or your employees succeed in their professional and private lives abroad and in Finland.

Minna
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