This is how industry managers tackle the demands of remote work – “must be in the right dose”

There was a time, not quite as long ago as it seems, when you were at work five days a week. What was then completely normal has been radically redrawn during and after the pandemic. But what the normal model will look like going forward is still emerging. And which is best depends, as usual, on who you ask.

In a new thesis presented at the University of Gävle, however, it is clear that managers and employees do not always have the same view of remote work.

Linda Widar, who researches remote work and health, has conducted two qualitative interview studies, one with managers and one with employees, and she has seen that there are differences in the two groups’ experiences of remote work.

While employees are generally more positive about the flexibility and efficiency you can get with remote work when you can work quietly and undisturbed, managers see a lot of challenges. What the managers above all highlight in the interviews is that it is difficult to gain insight into the psychosocial work environment when the organization works remotely.

– It was clear that managers felt limitations and difficulties when it came to, for example, work environment work with employees who work remotely, and then they also find it difficult to find a good way to support the employees, says Linda Widar.

Photo: Anna Sällberg/University of GävleLinda Widar does research on remote work and health.

From the managers’ answers, it appears that it became especially clear during the pandemic. Even if there were employees who felt bad and felt isolated, it was difficult for the managers to know what to ask about.

– They felt uncertain whether they even had the right to ask questions such as “How are you at home”, “how are you” and “are there problems in the work environment at home”. And then it became difficult to find a good way to be able to provide support remotely, she says.

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Must offer flexibility

The interviews in the thesis are conducted among people who work in the academic world. But the challenges of keeping track of the psychosocial work environment that managers face are also familiar in the Swedish IT industry. But the managers we spoke to are very clear that despite this, they do not want to come up with any hard rules that the employees must be at work.

– Today you have to be able to offer the flexibility of being able to work remotely in order to be an attractive employer, says Peter Hellgren, CEO of the consulting company Consid.

And he seems to be right about that. One survey conducted among IT academics by the trade union Akavia shows that a very large majority state that they would not apply for a job where you do not have the opportunity to work remotely. But he agrees that there are challenges in ensuring that everyone is well when working remotely.

– We have a large HR department and do a lot of measurements of how the staff are doing. It is clear that it is easier to discover things when you see each other in person. Then it’s easier to notice if it’s not working and to know if people are psychologically well, says Peter Hellgren, but emphasizes that there are big gains with a more flexible way of working as well.

– An important part is that you get family life to go together with work. If you get it to work, it’s usually very good.

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Challenge create corporate culture

Visma’s head of strategy Carola Lissel has also encountered that challenge in the past two years.

– At a distance, you can’t see everyone mentally. You can’t really cope with that, so there is an absolute risk of mental illness, she says and notes that it has been noticed in several parts of society.

– It was seen that many leaders felt bad about it during the pandemic. It is especially difficult to see those who live alone.

Carola Lissel was also not completely convinced at the beginning of how it would go. And she still sees challenges with, for example, onboarding new employees and creating culture and knowledge transfer. But at the moment, she sees no reason why you have to be at work five days a week.

– No, I don’t think so anymore. I appreciate where we have ended up now with work life balance. Now we see each other when needed and everything can be made easier. And when we see each other, it should be for the real stuff. There is no reason to go into work and sit in a corner with noise-cancelling headphones in order to concentrate.

She also says that remote work places high demands on the employees as well, and can sometimes feel that the opportunity to work at home is taken a little too well for granted.

– It must be in the right dose. If your first question in a job interview is whether you can work from home, you can work somewhere else. How can I contribute when I’m in the office? I think that feels like a better question.

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Geography plays a role

The Visma Group consists of many different companies, all of which have their own rules.

– It goes in all possible directions. Some are reducing office space and creating collaboration departments, says Carola Lissel, who has, however, seen a clear trend and it has a lot to do with commuting distance.

– Those who sit outside the big cities are more often at work and usually have stricter requirements to come in. I would say that working very little in the office has really become a big city thing.

The same trend has been seen at Consid, which has offices in approximately 40 locations in Sweden.

– We are often close to the employees. And if there are no long commuting distances, there will be a fairly small threshold for taking part in activities, says Peter Hellgren.

He also says that the geographically dispersed operation with a decentralized leadership has made it easier to adapt to the new working life.

– With 40 offices, we have had to work across office boundaries without having a specific place to meet, so it is a working method we have applied for a long time.

There are no rules about the number of days in the office, but even at Consid they emphasize the importance of seeing each other at regular intervals.

– In general, it is easier to build culture when you meet and we try to create attractiveness in the offices so that the employees want to be there.

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