Finland has had the biggest shift to telecommuting of any European Union country during the coronavirus pandemic, according to a survey by an EU agency.
Since April 9, the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions (Eurofound) has been studying the impact of the pandemic on work and other aspects of European life. By the end of the month, more than 85,000 people from around the continent had responded to the questionnaire.
The first results, published on Wednesday, show Finland as having the highest share of the workforce moving toward telecommuting since the crisis began, with nearly 60 percent of employees doing so. The only other countries above 50 percent were Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Belgium and Denmark.
Overall 37 percent of those currently working in the EU began to telework as a result of the pandemic, the study says.
More teleworking, less reduction in working time
Significantly, in countries where more people began telecommuting, fewer workers reported that their working time decreased.
About half of respondents across the EU said they have experienced a reduction in their working time. Hardest hit have been employees in Greece, France, Italy and Cyprus. Meanwhile the largest proportion of workers whose working time has not changed was reported in Sweden and Finland (52 percent and 49 percent respectively).
Poll: Many happy to telecommute, but miss workmates
Based on another survey closer to home, most people in Finland said they were satisfied with teleworking, their own productivity and work-life balance.
The online survey answered by 5,450 public and private sector workers was a joint project between universities and research institutes in Finland that looked at the experiences of teleworkers.
"Around 66 percent said they experienced fewer interruptions while teleworking. People said they could focus on tasks remotely as well or better than at a workplace," said Kirsimarja Blomqvist, a professor at the Lappeenranta-Lahti University of Technology LUT.
However, a majority of respondents said they missed social interactions.
"About 74 percent said they considered being away from co-workers a negative. More than half of the respondents felt isolated and longed for their co-workers.," Blomqvist said.
Workers want best of both worlds
The survey saw a mixed bag of responses — some complaining about having to attend too many online meetings, some happy with improved communication between team members, some grateful for not having to commute for hours.
The new normal is that people want a bit of both working styles, according to Blomqvist.
"I'm sure people miss their coworkers and are waiting to go back to work. But not every day — the option of teleworking offers the possibility of a better work-life balance," the LUT professor said.
Meetings and conferences in the future too will hopefully follow a hybrid model with some employees present on-site and others allowed to participate remotely, according to Mika Tuuliainen, an expert from The Confederation of Finnish Industries.
"We had been travelling extensively across Finland and to other countries for meetings. Now that it has been seen that telecommuting works well, the threshold for organising purely physical meetings has increased a lot," Tuuliainen said.
The research was jointly conducted by LUT, Aalto University, the Universities of Jyväskylä, Tampere and Eastern Finland, and the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health.
The average age of the respondents was 45 years. About 68 percent were women and 14 percent were in a supervisory position.