Nordic countries adapt to remote work and multilocality

The pandemic has changed the playing field when it comes to remote and flexible work, but what are the Nordic countries doing to understand better and promote the concept? Finland is currently conducting its most extensive study of multilocality to date, and Iceland aims to ensure that by 2024, at least ten per cent of all advertised government jobs should be location independent. New co-working spaces are emerging in all five countries.

Largest ever study into Finnish multilocality

”Multilocality is undoubtedly the buzzword of the year in Finland,” says Janne Antikainen, Development Director at MDI Public, a consultancy for regional development. “It’s something we want to promote at all geographical levels. Our ministries are considering how national policy should support multilocality, whereas local authorities are thinking how they can attract people to live and work in the respective municipalities.”

Together with the Finnish Environment Institute and the Natural Resources Institute Finland, MDI is currently finalising the most extensive Finnish study of multilocality. The researchers have defined a framework of the main reasons for multilocality and gathered data on the most significant development trends in each of the five categories: Work and study, leisure, family, forced multilocality and ownership of, for instance, land or forests.

As an example of the volumes, 860,000 people in Finland work outside the municipality where they live, 2.4 million regularly spend time in the country’s 512,000 second homes, and around 150,000 children have two homes.

“The concept of multilocality has been studied before. However, we’ve managed to find new takes on the issue, for instance, by using anonymised mobile data to see where people are spending their time and looking into how much they spend on local services.”

Challenges in tracking remote workers

According to Linda Randall, Senior Researcher Advisor at Nordregio, the study is an essential contribution to better understanding the concept of multilocality.

”The challenge is that people who live and work in more than one place are difficult to track statistically. If you register yourself as living in Copenhagen, it doesn’t matter if you spend 95 per cent of your time in your summer house. You’re still counted in the city. This is problematic from a taxation perspective, as rural communities with a high proportion of second homes might not get their fair share of the revenue for the services they provide.”

“Our study indicates that almost 80 per cent of the Finnish population, or four million people, are in some way multilocal,” Antikainen says. During the pandemic, 1.2 million people worked remotely on a weekly basis, compared to 350,000 pre-Covid. “This means that around 40 per cent of the workforce has worked from a distance in these challenging times, which shows that it’s still quite the privilege to be able to do remote work.”

Antikainen says that while urbanisation will most certainly continue, more people are likely to suburbanise and move to fringe municipalities or medium-sized cities. This trend can already be monitored in Finland’s largest urban areas. “We also see that the rural areas that are able to attract people are mainly the ones with a large concentration of second homes, beautiful sceneries, and good services and infrastructure to support multilocal living.”

Ten per cent of all government jobs to become location independent

In Iceland, the government has launched an ambitious effort to increase the number of location-independent jobs. The motivation is to support regional and rural development by creating attractive job opportunities across the country.

“Our aim is that by 2024, at least 10 per cent of all government jobs should be advertised as being location-independent,” says Hólmfríður Sveinsdóttir, Senior Advisor in the Ministry of Transport and Local Government. The Icelandic government introduced the initiative in 2017 as part of its government agreement, and later, it was adopted by the Parliament, Alþingi, and integrated into the Regional Development Plan for 2018-2024.

To prepare for the effort, all ministries and public institutions were asked to report back on how many of their positions could be filled independent of location. While these reports indicated that reaching the ten per cent would be viable, a later survey among the management in these public agencies gave a different picture.

“More than 70 per cent of the managers found it unlikely that their institution could reach the goal by 2024,” she says. “We’re still convinced that we can reach the goal, but this shows us that creating regional job opportunities through remote work is very much a structural and cultural task.”

A growing culture of co-working

Sveinsdóttir makes the point that while the jobs will be done remotely, there is nothing that says they must be done from home. Like elsewhere in the Nordic Region, there are well-functioning co-working communities all around the country.

“Iceland is in the perfect position to promote jobs without location, as 98 per cent of all households have good internet access. Moreover, plenty of offices and co-working spaces are available, many of which are listed in a database managed by the Icelandic Regional Development Institute.“

Also in Sweden, co-working spaces and communities play an increasingly essential role for regional development, says Maria Svensson Wiklander, co-founder of the Remote Lab and the Gomorron Östersund co-working community. Wiklander and her partners run three popular co-working hubs in Jämtland, a region the size of Denmark with a population of only around 130,000 inhabitants. Remote Lab also represents Sweden in the COST project The geography of new working spaces and the impact on the periphery, a major European research collaboration into co-working and remote work environments.

”We have a lot of people moving to Jämtland because of the lifestyle, and in many cases, they bring their jobs with them”, Wiklander explains. ”For these people, the co-working spaces play an essential role in getting introduced to the local society and building personal networks. This is not only beneficial for the individual worker or entrepreneur, but also the growth and development of the local community.”

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