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Finnish experts say telecommuting has its downsides

Telecommuting - or working remotely, away from fellow co-workers - is becoming increasingly popular in Finland. But some say it's not always the best solution.

Mies puhuu videopuhelua.
File photo. Image: AOP

About one-third of employees in Finland have worked remotely - at least occasionally - from their normal workplaces, according to data from the ministry of economic affairs and employment.

The practice of working away from traditional workplaces has given employees more flexibility and some say it also helps people balance their work and private lives.

Pia Kuha, who has telecommuted for a Finnish firm all the way from North America, said working away from the office helps her concentrate.

"I didn't feel left out from others [at the office] because we constantly sent instant messages and e-mails to each other," said the financial specialist at accounting services firm Colleqium.

But everything can't be done remotely, and many people who are able to do so prefer coming into work anyway.

Face-to-face factor

The biggest reason people still want to gather at a common workplace is camaraderie, according to psychologist Jonna Ammunet.

"Motivation is often increased by the experience of belonging to a working community. Communal coffee breaks are not irrelevant at all," Ammunet said.

Some research into the topic of working remotely has found that face-to-face communication is the best way to build trust and strong relationships. But Ammunet said that people can't convey nuances of emotion inherent through written text, unlike direct, verbal interaction.

Story continues after photo.

Opettajat kahvitauolla
File photo of colleagues spending a coffee break together. Image: Niko Mannonen / Yle

"For example it's important for employees to feel that the boss cares about them. Those kinds of feelings are difficult to convey in ways other than face-to-face," she said.

Emojis vs IRL communication

Ammunet said that using smiley faces and emojis can help convey feelings and emotions between colleagues communicating via text messages, but nothing beats meeting in person.

"People have a built-in need for physical exchanges with other people. Eye contact creates reactions in us and gives us energy," she said, adding that even informal - but communal - gatherings like coffee breaks can even increase productivity.

Tuija Lämsä, who's a researcher at Oulu University, said that people are better able to express their experiences and expertise when they're speaking to people in the same room.

Story continues after photo.

Emoji, iloinen itkevä naama.
File photo of emojis. Image: Yle

People are increasingly communicating electronically, even when they are in the same building, a development Ammunet called upsetting.

"Often, when there's a lot of high-pressure work to get done, it's common that people turn to communicate via the internet," she said, saying the practice deteriorates the sense of a working community.

Clear communication

Ammunet also said it's always best to resolve conflicts face-to-face, particularly when the difficulties that need to be addressed are interpersonal ones.

"Problems in a work environment - and social groups in general - often come about due to misunderstandings. When communication is conducted digitally the risk of someone being misunderstood increases," she said.

Telecommuting often works best when it gives workers a sense that they can influence their jobs. Proponents of offsite-work say they are better understood by colleagues when they communicate in writing.

The practice of telecommuting can also be beneficial in keeping people employed, according to career consultant Susanna Saranlinna. As an example, she said the practice can help people with mobility issues stay active in the workforce.

"The important thing is that co-workers know that they can get hold of their [remotely-working] colleague, and that the telecommuting worker is part of the group," Saranlinna said.

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