How can Norway ensure the best possible working life post corona?

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There is a high level of agreement between the social partners in Norway when it comes to working from home and other remote working arrangements. The important issue is to find the right dosage to provide the best possibilities for performing the actual tasks. In order to determine this dosage, we need more knowledge and the ability to tailor the solutions to each workplace.

One and a half year ago, society was closed down overnight. Solutions that enabled remote working or working from home was established in a hurry all over Norway, changing the way we worked and collaborated.  Suddenly, we only met other people by means of different digital tools and platforms. Self-governance and remote leadership became the every-day situation for most of us, and we approached working life from the car, bedrooms, sofas, and the kitchen table.

As society reopens – something we now are experiencing to some extent – both employers and employees are asking themselves what the regular workday will look like in the future. The need for knowledge and reflections about future working environment issues has probably never been higher. What should we bring into the future of work?

The National Institute of Occupational Health in Norway (STAMI), together with representatives from the major trade unions and employers’ organisations in Norway, addressed this issue at «Arendalsuka 2021». Arendalsuka is the largest political gathering in Norway and aims to lower the threshold for political engagement and inspire civic engagement.

The importance of flexibility

The Director General of STAMI, prof dr Pål Molander, stresses that regardless of location, the key to a good working environment lies in how we plan, organize, and perform the work. If this is taken into consideration when planning the way forward, businesses will gain higher productivity, better health and better results.

“Working from home or remote working needs to be a positive part in the mixture – as long as the use is aligned with the business. We don’t want to end up having a rather large «home-alone-party”, Molander points out.

STAMI recently performed a systematic literature review on remote working /working from home. It finds that such arrangements will yield good results given that they are voluntary, and the dosage is not too high.

“If we end up ordering people to work from home three days a week due to other measures, such as office space and usage, green economy, or transport needs, they will neither have the needed flexibility nor a voluntary arrangement. In that case, remote working or working from home may have negative effects”, Molander warns.

Kari Sollien, Director General of The Federation of Norwegian Professional Associations (Akademikerne), quoted a survey performed among their members. The survey showed that eight out of ten would like to work less from home post pandemic, but still more often than they did before the pandemic. The director warns against the potential of creating a division between a new «home office nobility» and the rest of the workforce in relation to the digital future of work.

“Many of our members would like to keep a degree of flexibility in the period after the pandemic, and we believe this will increase productivity. Still, quite a few employees miss the social aspect of work as well as professional collaboration and development. This is a question of finding the right dosage”, Sollien states.

Dialogue and knowledge

“The primary aim for most businesses is to earn money, or for public servants, to deliver high quality services and welfare”, says Anne-Kari Bratten, Director of The Employers’ Association Spekter. She stresses that this should guide the volume of remote work going forward.

“The workplace presents us with community, a shared culture and the possibility to learn from others and gain competence. Analysis shows that experienced workers, to a greater extent than younger and more unexperienced workers, prefer working from home. Having the more experienced workers and their competence away from the workplace is not a sustainable solution. The two-part dialogue between the social partners at work (union representatives, executives and co-workers) is crucial in finding the right balance”, Bratten emphasizes.

Nina Melsom, director of Labour Relations at the Confederation of Norwegian Enterprises (NHO) calls attention to the importance of having, and using, knowledge when we plan our future working lives.

“It really starts now, and it is of the uttermost importance that we have the researchers with us”, she states.

Julie Lødrup from The Norwegian Confederation of Trade Unions (LO) states the need for good regulations and better protection for workers when it comes remote work and work from home.

“In the workplace, you have a leader or a manager, union representatives, safety representatives and a work community. These functions are missing when you are working from home, so a sharply defined framework is necessary”, she points out.

Hybrid offices – working from everywhere

Major Norwegian and international companies predict that hybrid solutions will become the new norm post corona. More and more office workers will shift between working from home and working from the office. A popular theory is that a workforce working partly from home will result in money saved.

Nevertheless, several voices in the panel warn against letting office square meters and economy control the business when choosing between potential solutions for the future.

“We will lose sight of both work environment and collaboration if we cannot all be in the office at the same time. After all, we are at work to perform together”, Anne- Kari Bratten, director of The Employers’ Association Spekter, states.

Pål Molander, The Director General of STAMI, points out that some tasks are more suitable for remote work than others. Having employees with tasks where collaboration and co-working is not needed, working from home can result in productivity gain – but it comes with a warning:

“If production workers must show up at the workplace while officials and agents may work from home, we risk creating a «home office nobility.” This can lead to discourses challenging the Norwegian model where equality is of high importance.

Kari Sollien of The Federation of Norwegian Professional Associations (Akademikerne) also expresses the difficulties of speculating about the future and points to the need for more knowledge.

“There are still a lot of uncertainties, so we will do well in building on our good traditions of keeping an open dialogue between the employer and employee side, while at the same time testing solutions, evaluate and build knowledge”

Research based knowledge – providing the premise

In the debate on remote working and working from home, the needs of other sectors battle for attention, Pål Molander states. Examples of this are space requirements, environmental issues, district policy and transport policy. Far too few address the most important issue in this debate – what factors provide the best conditions?

“Solutions that yield the best work will also provide the best working environment! Everyone is talking about the social meetings next to the coffee-machine, but what actually provides productivity and creates a good working environment, is the way we work and create together. We need to discuss this issue in a bigger perspective, and to test and evaluate before we conclude. Research will provide the premise for how we should structure this in the future – post corona”

More information
Sture Rolfheim-Bye
Communications Director
e-mail: sture.rolfheim.bye@stami.no

Kari Larssen-Aas
Communications advisor
e-mail: kari.larssen-aas@stami.no

This text is translated from Norwegian

Photo: From the left: Moderator Svein Tore Bergestuen, Kari Sollien, Director General of The Federation of Norwegian Professional Associations (Akademikerne), Julie Lødrup from The Norwegian Confederation of Trade Unions (LO), Anne-Kari Bratten, Director of The Employers’ Association Spekter, Nina Melsom, director of Labour Relations at the Confederation of Norwegian Enterprises (NHO) and Pål Molander, Director General at the National Institute of Occupational Health in Norway (STAMI).

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