“I never imagined that we could be so effective from home”

SVP of Employee Experience, Birgit Bjørnsen, says that she doesn’t believe we’ll return to ‘normal’. COVID-19 has ushered a new era of flexibility for Telenor employees, an era where your effectiveness doesn’t’ depend on where you do your work.

Written: Jun 2020

Reading Time: 4 minutes

The Telenor Headquarters at Fornebu is an empty place these days, with COVID-19 restricting office presence for many employees in Norway and across much of the world. Birgit says she never would have believed it if someone had told her this would happen.

“We didn’t have a choice back in March; we had to keep the business up and running, and for most of us, we had to do that from home. It’s something we would never have dared to do before, as it was an impossible scenario to imagine. But it’s worked. It’s worked very well, in fact,” says Birgit.

It’s worked so well, that CEO, Sigve Brekke, wants to keep it going. He announced a new direction in early June, encouraging more flexibility in ‘where we work’ across Telenor’s global business units from Norway to Myanmar.

Each Telenor company is charged with the task of introducing the best flexible solution for their employees, considering local needs and cultural differences, but the overall theme is here to stay: Flexibility is the new Telenor way.

More effective than ever

“For many of us who’ve been managers for a few decades, the idea of home office has been a journey. It used to be unheard of, as we simply didn’t have the collaboration tools to make it work. Then as we advanced, it became a ‘gift’ for employees, considered to be a less effective day, such as a Friday afternoon. Now this has changed. We see people working diligently from home and they are more effective than ever.”

That said, working from home doesn’t suit everyone. After Sigve’s recent announcement, some Telenor employees expressed mixed emotions about the new flexibility. Birgit explains that this is very normal, as the ‘fear of missing out’ can occur when in a more isolated work setting. She cites how employees may miss the informal chat and information flow. There are no whiteboards for impromptu brainstorms, either, and lunchtime no longer becomes the setting for new ideas and input from those outside your own team.

“There are of course positives and negatives with any situation. Sometimes you need the buzz around you, the inspiration and the 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 Sigve’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.”

Tools and tech

With most of Telenor’s business units already using Office 365, and those remaining due to be up and running before year-end, we now have the tools and technology to collaborate and interact virtually. Those tools have been put to the test over the past few months, and while we’re still figuring out the ins and outs of video conference etiquette, the vast majority of employees have reported (via a Pulse survey) that they are feeling more motivated and productive than ever in the home office setting.

The Pulse survey results, in addition to DNA Finland’s eight years of experience in offering employees full work flexibility, have encouraged Telenor’s management to take this opportunity seriously.

“I liked the boldness of Sigve’s statement to employees regarding our flexible approach to work. We jumped right in to the situation when COVID-19 hit, it has worked pretty well, we’ve learned a lot and now we are taking those learnings with us into the future. The only thing we can’t do is go back to the way things were before,” says Birgit.

While ‘new normal’ is a well-worn phrase in news and social media today, Birgit sees it a bit differently. We haven’t found our normal yet, and it’ll be a while until we figure it out. At the moment, Telenor’s Norway campus is inviting up to 50 percent of its workforce back to the office. So far, we haven’t hit those numbers. In addition, the company expects the amount of travel to significantly drop, and there will be little support for trips with only one meeting on the other end. There is of course a climate aspect to the change, too, as we grow more aware of our impact and take measures to reduce it. Travel will no longer be the go-to option, as we have discovered video conferences to be the carbon-friendly and functional alternative to commercial flights.

Trust is a must

“There will also be a change in the office environment related to attending when ill or feeling unwell. I believe people will stay home now when they have colds or feel something coming on. I think hygiene will also become increasingly important and there will be an increased focus on it in the office setting.”

Trust will be an important factor as we navigate our new, flexible ways of work. Managers and employees will need to openly discuss and decide on how this flexibility works best for their team.

“There’s no a one-size-fits-all here. Sigve has announced a direction, and it’s up to us to find the right fit. That will be different from BU to BU, and from person to person. We all have different needs, and this approach acknowledges that. Flexibility is the future of work!”