Technopolis, the leading expert in shared workspace in Europe, arranged a virtual roundtable discussion among its leadership across the Nordics and the Baltics to better understand the opportunities and challenges that lie ahead for office life after the pandemic. The discussion revealed differences in the way we work between countries, but it was clear across the region that the return to the office will require companies to adapt to the new normal.
The discussion uncovered several distinct trends that will transform the way that we think of work. One of them is an ongoing revolution where employees are the ones who will decide what the future of work will look like. The office will continue to have an integral role as a place for building employee engagement, but hybrid work requires adaptable solutions that continuously ensure that employees deliver their best work, regardless of place. As employees are no longer “forced” to commute, adaptable, sustainable, and attractive offices will have an increasing role in the battle for the best talent.
1. The office will continue to be the place for building workplace culture
Employees have become accustomed to the freedom offered by hybrid modes of working, but sensationalist headlines about the death of the office are not grounded. The office is a campfire, a place for socializing and creating a workplace culture. Employers will want to ensure that employees are at their best work regardless of location, and the office will continue to be the place where employee engagement is built.
“Managers are saying that the transfer of knowledge from a long-term employee to a new employee simply does not work over Teams,” Alf Astrup, Director of Technopolis Oslo, states.
In addition, practical considerations related to day-to-day work will ensure that the office will remain a physical bedrock of the workplace, even when hybrid modes of working and organizing meetings will become the norm.
“The company base in Oulu is such that they want to work onsite: there’s a lot of engineering, R&D and innovation that requires physical interaction to be effective. In addition, many companies have test equipment, for instance, that can’t be taken home,” says Marko Lind, Director of Technopolis Oulu.
2. Open plan needs a plan B
Experiences of remote working over the pandemic have shown that the home office may suit focus-intensive work even better at times than a noisy workplace. The open plan is not suited for the way we work any longer, and there is a clear demand for new types of activity-based spaces in the post-Covid office.
“Employees do not want to work like sardines in a tin. Companies will also require more dedicated rooms for Teams meetings, which will continue also after Covid-19,” says Jarkko Mylly, Director of Technopolis Helsinki Metropolitan Area.
As employees begin returning to the office, employers should aim to find the right balance between open plan and closed cabinets. An important consideration during this transformation is that downsizing office space may easily end up costing more than is saved in lost productivity.
“Some companies will move to smaller premises, but in general we see that employees don’t currently have private cabinets. You may have one at home, so companies will want to reduce the open space and increase the number of private cabinets,” says Linas Savickas, Head of Sales at Technopolis Vilnius.
“The savings of having less space and cramming people in are very little compared to the decrease in productivity,” Alf Astrup says.
Even though many employees will continue to work a part of the week from home also after the pandemic, the transformation will likely not lead to a decrease in the demand of office space due to the overall increased need for activity-based spaces.
“The need for offices will increase, but there will be relatively fewer using the office within each company. I don’t see the number of square meters declining,” Johan Herner, Director of Technopolis Göteborg, says.
3. A modern and attractive office is part of the employee experience
When it comes to the possibility of continuing to work remotely even after the pandemic, people have become accustomed to the freedom it brings but are fed up with the challenges of working from home for more than a year. Therefore, modern, sustainable, and attractive offices will be a key factor in the competition for the best talent. Making rash decisions about downsizing office space could also end up costing more through higher employee turnover.
“If you want people to work in the best possible way, you can’t restrict them from being at the office at the same time. It is not motivating if you need to check every morning if you have a place at the office or not,” says Henri Rantalainen, Director of Technopolis Tampere.
Domestic companies may have an advantage in adapting their office solutions to best suit the needs of their employees over large global corporations. For example, in handling the Covid-19 situation at workplaces, we saw that global companies typically have strict policies and standards regarding offices, whereas local companies are more agile in making decisions.
“The fast-growing ICT sector has free hands to do stuff and experiment with different office solutions. But the problem is that local companies often have plenty of ideas but little money, while global companies have money but only standardized top-down ideas,” says Gert Jostov, Director of Technopolis Tallinn.
4. Sustainability perspectives are increasingly important also for employees
The environmental footprint, safety and overall sustainability of the office is becoming important not only for companies, but employees as well. Companies increasingly ask questions concerning environmental certifications and office space providers’ overall environmental strategies. After the pandemic, health perspectives such as hygiene and air quality are also even more important than before.
Pioneering organizations are making workspace sustainability a differentiator in the competition for the best talent. Technopolis experts also expect that there will be increasing discussion within the real estate sector on how to use the existing building stock more efficiently.
“The younger generation is not as interested in what the offices look like but rather the ecological footprint of the employer and the real estate environment,” says Gert Jostov.
5. Employees will be the ones to decide how we work, and employers must adapt
The experiences of remote working during Covid-19 have shown that the stigma of employees slacking off when working remotely is unfounded. Although there seems to be some tension between managers and employees – managers wanting to return to the office and employees wanting to have at least 1–2 remote days per week also after the pandemic – the revolution that is taking place is driven by employees.
Companies must adapt to this transformation to ensure that employees deliver their best work – whether from home or at the office. This requires trusting that employees will understand the need for the office without top-down policies, as well as ensuring that the office meets the needs of employees and that the spaces adapt to activities.
“Let’s be honest. The conditions at home are not comparable to those at the office. I would say that there are three main obstacles working from home: the TV, the washing machine and the bed,” says Gert Jostov.
Major differences in how people view work in the Nordics and the Baltics
The discussion also found differences in the way that we work in different countries as well as differences in how the large-scale return to the workplace will look over the next few months. The different countries did have one thing in common: employees are very much looking forward to returning to the office.
In Finland, there have been significant differences between the Helsinki Metropolitan Area, Tampere, and Oulu in how the Covid-19 situation has affected life at the office. In Oulu, where the epidemic situation has been slightly better, parking lots have been full and offices in use due to the company base in the area focusing heavily on R&D and engineering. In the Helsinki Metropolitan Area and in Tampere, employers have had stricter work-from-home policies, and employees have had to find a somewhat silent room to work from at home, and many have even used their saunas for Teams meetings. Even though Finns are not typically known for small talk, employees are missing company get-togethers and especially workplace pre-Christmas parties.
In Sweden, many employees have already been used to working 1–2 days of the week remotely before the pandemic, so the transformation does not look as drastic as in many other countries. But Sweden is the country of coffee breaks, and people miss the social get-togethers with standard times for fika.
In Norway, the return to the office is welcome, although it was not out of the norm even before the pandemic for Norwegians to be working from their summer cabins on Fridays for a quick transition to the weekend. Norwegians want to protect their free time, and there is a strong culture and ideology of physically ‘going to work’. For Norwegians, a separate physical workspace creates a clearer boundary between work and private life.
In Estonia, work culture depends on the sector. In traditional sectors, people still work from 9 to 5. Lunch is often served at the office and around informal conversations. New sectors are highly multicultural and often use walking meetings, for instance. People enjoy the freedom of working remotely but are tired of the ‘digital slavery’ of remote work and miss face-to-face encounters.
In Lithuania, office is the place where people meet, socialize, and have celebrations and parties, all with the aim of getting to know each other better. In Lithuania, it is common to solve problems over a coffee or on breaks.