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Finnish innovators adapting to working life during pandemic

Telecommuting has brought with it a range of challenges for employers and employees, met by numerous Finnish solutions.Adobe

The coronavirus pandemic’s impact on working life has been unprecedented. Finnish companies continue to meet the needs of the new normal.

Much has been written about the turmoil caused by the pandemic, as businesses and employees scrambled to find their footing after the abrupt reset of working life. Offices promptly emptied, makeshift offices were set up in kitchens and living rooms, and people were forced to reckon with a working environment that now largely existed in the digital realm.

Here in Finland, this digital pivot was perhaps less jolting than in other parts of the world. With the country recognised as Europe’s most digitally advanced country in 2019, workers here were the fastest on the continent to switch to telecommuting. In fact, close to 60 per cent of employees transitioned to the home office, in contrast to 37 per cent in the EU.

Finland was named the most digitally-advanced country in Europe in 2019. Image: Elina Manninen/Keksi

Digital developments around the world

The long-term impact of this seismic shift is still unknown, yet there are signs that the course has been permanently reset. Over a year later, more than half of Finns would like to continue telecommuting once the pandemic eventually subsides.

The reasons for Finns’ embrace of the home office include the reduced commute and ability to choose one’s own working hours. Yet, this positive response to their forced hand overshadows a growing issue of apathy among workers.

Seeking to reduce this, as well as increase levels of trust among team members, is Tampere-based startup SmoothTeam. The company offers companies a range of online simulations that focus on developing such areas as remote work, team strengths and management efficiency.

“The teleworking boom caused by COVID-19 has significantly accelerated our business,” confirmed Pasi Kovanen, the company’s head of marketing, sales and technology. “In Finland, we have already helped hundreds of teams to improve their psychological safety, and next we will be able to work with Swedish and South Korean companies.”

SmoothTeam recently inked a co-operation agreement with Lovak AB in Sweden, which is tasked with selling its service in Sweden and South Korea.

“Koreans are very interested in learning about the modern practices of Nordic companies, and SmoothTeam’s service is the perfect solution to this need,” Kovanen said.

SmoothTeam is taking steps into the South Korean market. Image: Adobe

Kovanen pointed out that this expansion is just the tip of the work wellness iceberg for the company, with more international markets on the horizon.

“Our simulations have already been played in California, Germany, Japan and Switzerland. In addition, the service has been utilised by many global teams with participants from several continents,” he continued.

Actively online

Social media images of ironing boards doubling as workstations attest to the fact that for all of the ease facilitated by digitalisation, there remains a gulf between the ergonomics of the home office and that of the office itself. Coupled with the fact that the physical isolation of the pandemic is spurring longer working hours among staff, employers are at pains to encourage their staff to get up and about during their shifts.

Cuckoo Workout is inspiring people to get active during their workday. Image: Cuckoo Workout/Facebook

The work-break exercise app Cuckoo Workout sends reminders to employees, offering guidance and gamification to inspire them to take time out from their tasks. The company has seen a significant growth spike during the pandemic, its users increasing by 60 per cent year-on-year.

The app has also expanded its share of the limelight recently, teaming up with Microsoft to provide its exercise regime via Microsoft Teams.

“This integration also boosts a sense of community that has been proven to increase among active users of the Cuckoo app,” Lehmonen said. “In addition to being sociable and doing something together, the app provides the company with data on employee wellbeing. Employers can monitor and measure how their people are doing or the entire staff overall.”

“We are inspired by the opportunities that this integration brings to motivate people to exercise exactly when it benefits them the most,” Lehmonen continued.

Funding boost works for the future

Aside from the headline-grabbing ascent of Teams and Zoom, the pandemic has spurred the growth of numerous technological tools that facilitate an improved working experience.

Howspace’s AI-powered digital facilitation platform supports organisations looking for positive outcomes via collaboration and social learning through digital channels. Image: Howspace

Howspace’s AI-powered learning and organisational development platform is one such example. With customers including the United Nations, Howspace is looking to meet the working needs of today and tomorrow by supporting collaborative and social learning in the digital context.

“We want to be at the forefront of the future of work by enabling people to be truly involved and impactful in the organisations they devote their time to,” said Howspace CEO Ilkka Mäkitalo.

“Most importantly, we all believe that the future of work is social. We are excited to see how we can build new connections and continue to scale the great partner ecosystem we have built across 30 countries,” he continued.

Howspace closed a 1.4 million-euro seed round in 2017 and a 1.6 million-euro bridge round in 2019. Image: Howspace

The company this week announced the closing of a 12 million-euro series-A funding round led by Forestay Capital and Inventure. The fresh capital will be used to scale up and drive growth in North America and Central Europe.

“With the COVID-19 pandemic changing the way we communicate, work and learn together, Howspace’s platform is a clear forerunner in bringing people together in the future, whether through online learning programmes, hybrid events or face-to-face workshops,” said Tuomas Kosonen, a partner at Inventure.

Tech for jobs

Tech innovations are also keeping an eye on the road ahead for workers. Finnish talent acquisition startup Jobilla has seen a 106-per cent uptick in sales over the past 12 months and recently announced a 2.16 million-euro funding round. Jobilla leverages marketing practices and modern recruitment tools to connect companies with top talents currently not in the hunt for new opportunities. The capital boost will fuel the company’s expansion in Germany, Austria and the Netherlands, while also beefing up its US operations.

By: James O’Sullivan