Flexibility means different things to different people

We asked six individuals what flexible way of work means to them, and the answers were, frankly, a bit mixed.

Written: Jun 2020

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Vilhelmiina Wahlbeck, Head of Communications, DNA (Finland)

Ten years ago, DNA set a clear strategic goal to be an excellent workplace, as they figured out that they couldn’t fulfil their vision to have the most satisfied customers without motivated and talented employees. Flexible work was the answer.

“The main benefit is, of course, the freedom to build your workdays so that your ‘other’ life is in balance – like for example if you have small children that you have to take to school or it is difficult for you to travel to the office. The main challenge is the other side of the coin – when you have targets and then the freedom to accomplish those in your own terms it is a huge responsibility for employees. It is important to understand that not all are so self-guided and some want more support and guidelines than others.”

Sophie Matlary, Senior Investigation Expert, Telenor Group

Sophie joined the workforce in 2015, after completing her Master’s thesis. For her, flexibility is a huge bonus that might ultimately make her choose one employer over the other. But it’s also a big responsibility.

“My tip is to remind oneself that the extra freedom and trust we get means that we have to deliver and show that we are aware and mature enough to know the consequences of not delivering. For some, this pandemic can mean that it’s their time to shine – for example, by taking on responsibilities that one would not have if one was in the office, showing creativity, and innovation.”

Birgit Bjørnsen, SVP Employee Experience, Telenor Group

When COVID-19 hit, Birgit was part of the task force that had to act quickly. Together, they moved an organization of nearly 20,000 out of their offices and into their homes in a matter of days. It’s an experience, she says, that has taught them a great deal about how flexibility can work in practice.

“There are of course positives and negatives with any situation. Sometimes you need the buzz around you, the inspiration and creative sessions, or maybe you’re an extrovert and simply need to be with others. Other times, you need to concentrate in peace and quiet – which is especially important to those of us who consider ourselves introverts. The point with (Telenor’s) recent announcement is that now you have the choice. You can go into the office. Or you can do your work where your concentration is best.”

Pablo Ortiz, Senior Research Scientist – Analytics and AI, Telenor Group

Flexibility means different things to different people, and not everyone is as enthusiastic about the idea of working from home. While the office is always an option for those who want it, there is still much to be learned about how ‘working from home’ can work well in practice. Some employees have also identified frustrations related to technology, voicing their wishes for continual advancement in order to support all employees’ needs going forward.  

“The long-term effects are not yet observed, so this should not be underestimated. Communication, cross-teams collaboration and interchange of ideas are suffering. I don’t believe that technology is ready yet: we’ve all experienced problems with sound and image, in addition to the lack of body language and eye contact. This is generally accepted while under a pandemic, but new circumstances will change this perspective. On the other hand, executives who were constantly traveling for face-to-face meetings can now have more frequent virtual meetings, saving both money and CO2 emissions.”

Boonwadee Intraprasart, Supervisor Business Support System, dtac

Dtac in Thailand has long prided itself on its innovative and open office spaces, but the flexibility to work from wherever is a relatively new thing. COVID-19 changed all that. Dtac employees were told to stay home to stay safe, and in a recent survey, they were asked how they felt about it. The overwhelming response (98%) was that they were more motivated and productive than ever.

“Knowing I travel to work by MRT every day, my mom worries a lot and has been telling me how to protect myself (during COVID-19). She keeps saying, ‘Avoid crowded space, eat only cooked foods and bring alcohol gel with me all the times.’ I reached a point where I was thinking of commuting by car to reduce the risk of getting my mom sick. But then dtac launched a work from home policy. Now, I have a different problem. I really miss seeing and talking with my co-workers. I miss that warm-hearted feeling I get from being at dtac.”

Nicklas Malmstedt, Agile Team Lead, Telenor Sweden

A combination of home and office is key, for many employees. The option to go back and forth between the two, when it makes sense, is quite an interesting proposition. Some say that overall efficiency and productivity will suffer if we all simply stay at home, all the time. The office will still need to be a place where collaboration and creativity come alive.

“We have not yet seen the implications on progress. What we have done is to execute on already-planned activities. Only working remotely would be devastating on progress and efficiency. All the things you would normally solve over the table or even by the coffee machine, you would have to have a meeting about… A combination of having the flexibility to work from home and have an office to go to is the way to go!”