In March 2020, the Rovaniemi campus of Lapland University of Applied Sciences was emptied due to the coronavirus epidemic, and we at FrostBit Lab also switched to remote-work at a fast pace. Some of the staff grabbed both their work PCs and monitors with them, while others just left with a memory stick in their pocket. However, the lab’s close communication online began from day one of remote-work, and communication across the lab and between teams has seemed to work through Teams quite smoothly.
Since March, Lapland University of Applied Sciences has organized “Mitä kuuluu?” -remote work survey, through which the University has collected the staff’s experiences of remote working. As the summer vacations rolled out, we contacted a few lab employees and asked about their feelings and thoughts on working remotely, specifically with their own work tasks. Above you can listen to a short podcast-style conversation session in which the author of the publication, Tuuli Nivala (Project Designer) and two employees responsible for summer game studies, Petri Hannula (Project Manager and Full-time Teacher) and Jarkko Piippo (Project Designer) speak about the issue. (English subtitles are coming soon).
For some, the sudden transfer to remote working and relocating the work from office to home felt challenging at first. Onni Li, a Project Designer working as a 3D modeler, commented that synchronizing licenses, programs and files, and generally setting up the home-workstation, took a lot of time during the first week, but the home turned out to be a good work environment once things started rolling smoothly. Aslak Jomppanen, a project designer working as a 3D modeler, also felt comfortable working after adopting a new way of working. For Project Manager Sanni Mustonen, moving to her own quiet home-office was a positive change, and she also found it easy to move work from the office to home.
The lab also seem to agree that the tools and working prerequisites are easily accessible from the office, which has certainly contributed to our ability to work remotely at FrostBit. For people working with and through ICT, the transition to fully digital work and communication in general is not as much of a leap as for many others whose work requires practical concrete action and face-to-face communication. Sanni commented: “With the results of the work being digital, the sharing of all material, such as graphic elements and concept images for games, had already taken place almost 100% online. In addition, when people were already decentralized to different spaces in the office, the transition to direct online messages in daily communication seemed to be in full swing when we began working remotely.”
Moving from office working to working remotely from home has also highlighted differences in work ergonomics. Aslak noticed drastic shortcomings in the ergonomics of his home-workstation, while Onni’s own perfected adjustments in the home workplace have been felt one of his best aspects of remote working. For some, the home also may not function as a work environment in the same way as the workplace office: Petri and Aslak agree that there can easily be a variety of hustle and bustle present at home to interfere with concentration. Aslak commented: “As a part-time entrepreneur, being away from home (at the workplace office) made it easier to focus on work matters and, any other disturbance was currently present at home.”
Communication and collaboration through online communication also divides opinions in our lab; as heard from the video, for some, chat-style communication can make it more effective to focus on their own work tasks first and respond to colleagues at a time that suits them. Jarkko commented that it is often difficult in the office to complete work tasks first if a coworker asks for help at the workplace. Sanni sees it the same way: “Actually, questions and requests that come during the day are easier to structure and prioritize when they come in the form of direct messages rather than a colleague or student asking something next to the work-desk. The same works the other way around, an instant message can be put forward as soon as the matter is in its mind and there is no need to wait for the other person to be physically reachable.”
On the other hand, some feel that communication as a whole has decreased with teleworking. Onni commented: “Communication has been pretty minimal compared to the office. My use of Teams has remained mostly limited to meetings and work matters. ” However, despite some enjoying the remote-work, it does seem that many of the lab’s employees miss having face-to-face coffee with co-workers.
The different opinions and feelings about remote working also highlight reflection on future ways of working. We talked in the video about a hybrid model of working days (where part of the week’s working days would be possible to do remotely and some in the office), and the possibility of a model like this seems to be a viable option for many. Regardless of whether someone always prefers to work in the office, the opportunity for regular remote days could contribute to the work-efficiency of many employees if home conditions provide a more favorable concentration environment for their own tasks than the office.
Because our lab staff specialize in a variety of fields and work tasks, it is understandable that for some, collective office work contributes in proceeding with their work tasks, while for some, the peace of their own home can make work much more efficient. For Sanni, the home work environment has proven to be better for her own tasks than the lab workstation: “I would also like to work remotely in the future, if possible. For myself, I don’t really see any benefits in returning to the office other than making it easier to maintain community.” Aslak states that even if he himself would rather return to the office, he thinks it is possible to learn about remote work-culture over time and a hybrid model of working could be a good solution.
However, we also discussed some possible problem areas of the hybrid model in the video. Petri highlights the potential challenge of the hybrid model: if all employees remote working days don’t always meet, it can complicate and delay communication and completion of work tasks if a co-worker cannot be reached from the office at certain times. If the remote days are fragmented, cooperation and communication can become difficult at times. Jarkko states that common remote working days could help this situation, being it so that only on certain days of the week it would be possible to work remotely. Being it so that some workers would mainly always want to work remotely, they could always be reached primarily through Teams, for example. There are many opportunities, and the topic is constantly discussed among the entire professional staff of Lapland.
With autumn closing in, we will be on stand-by observing how the situation proceeds with schools opening. For our lab teams, remote work continues for now, and most people are spending their summer holidays before coming back to work.
Written by Tuuli Nivala | 17/07/2020