Finns working remotely still happy and productive, though they do miss their colleagues
After nearly a year of remote work during the COVID-19 pandemic, a new report shows most Finnish information workers – over 86 per cent – are still happy with working from home. Contrary to initial fears, Finns have successfully maintained regular working hours and a work-life balance in remote work. On the European scale, this can be considered somewhat exceptional.
’One reason why Finnish employees responded so positively to ‘obligatory’ remote work in our survey may be their earlier experience of remote work,’ explains Matti Vartiainen, Professor Emeritus at Aalto University.
'Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, in 2018, 28% of all Finnish employees had an agreement with their employer to work outside the main office or workplace. Among knowledge work professionals the number is actually much higher with 63% of men and 56% of women knowledge-workers working remotely,' explains Vartiainen.
‘This benefited the transition to more extensive remote work. Finns also have high-quality remote work tools, which helped adjust to the situation,’ explains Kirsimarja Blomqvist, Professor of Knowledge Management at the LUT School of Business and Management, who led the research consortium responsible for the study.
The project examines the future of knowledge work and how Finns adapt to remote work. Experiences were surveyed in March as the coronavirus pandemic was starting, again in May, and most recently in October 2020.
‘Finnish employees assess that their productivity has even increased in remote work because there are fewer interruptions,’ Blomqvist says.
Digital interaction is no substitute for human contact
The results of the longitudinal study, called FutuRemote, confirm the observation that keeps coming up in everyday conversation: after the honeymoon phase, people have also started to experience the disadvantages of remote work.
The study indicates, for instance, that commitment to work has decreased as the pandemic has persisted. High energy levels and excitement in the face of job duties have also declined from May to October. However, the greatest problem was social isolation from the working community. The physical absence of a community of colleagues has increased a feeling of stress at work.
‘Most people working remotely missed their colleagues. The sense of social isolation grew during our research period. Next, our research group will focus on examining cooperation processes, trust and the quality of social interaction,’ says Blomqvist.
Research results yet to be released suggest that the frequent use of a range of different digital communication tools have alleviated people’s frustration. Nevertheless, transitioning to online meetings is not a long-term solution in terms of the employee’s well-being.
More research needed on the possibilities of remote work
Overall, the satisfaction of Finnish knowledge workers in their work and daily lives increased from March to October – a time when 91 per cent of employees worked remotely at least four days a week.
‘The pandemic has shown that employees do not need to be monitored or babysat throughout the working day – they are productive and mostly happy even in remote work,’ Blomqvist states.
The team is continuing its research to find out how the pandemic has affected the way knowledge work is changing. Together with collaborating companies and public sector organizations, they are aiming to develop new approaches and work practices.
The FutuRemote project conducted electronic surveys on people’s experiences of shifting to remote work. A total of 5 450 people responded to the first survey, and the respondents had the opportunity to give their contact details for follow-up surveys. The survey was repeated in May and October, providing longitudinal data on 1 164 people who responded to all three surveys, most of whom (64%) worked in the public sector. The average age of the respondents was 47 years, and 77 per cent were women.
Professor of Work and Organizational Psychology (Emeritus)
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