The pandemic has shaken up our ways of working, with many professionals now used to working remotely. Who better to ask about those changes than Peter Laurin, Head of Managed Services at telecom equipment maker Ericsson, which is playing a key role in developing tools for digital and remote work.
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Swedish telecom giant Ericsson is currently rolling out the next generation of mobile networks, 5G, which will signiﬁcantly improve network connectivity and enable groundbreaking new solutions. The company is also exploring post-pandemic work practices for its own 100,000 employees.
In the new Nordea On Your Mind, Ericsson’s Head of Managed Services, Peter Laurin (PL), tells Nordea’s Johan Trocmé (JT) about the company’s new flexible hybrid work model with up to 50% remote working, where offices will continue to play an important role but will have different designs for different employees’ needs.
JT: How would you quickly describe the business area you run at Ericsson, Managed Services?
PL: Managed Services is one of Ericsson’s four business areas, which together create game-changing technology and services to provide a fully connected world.
At Ericsson Managed Services we operate and optimise networks and IT infrastructure for our customers – Communication Service Providers – enabling CSPs to differentiate themselves from competition through best-performing networks; enhanced end-user experience, run on efficient and resilient networks.
We are a leader in Managed Services, operating mobile networks with more than a billion subscriptions in more than 100 countries (including ten 5G live networks). This gives us a unique position to understand the needs and challenges of our customers.
We have been investing in AI and automation to develop a fully data-driven approach to run and optimise networks, what we call the Ericsson Operations Engine, transforming network operations from reactive to proactive, enabling issues to be identiﬁed and resolved before end users are impacted.
We believe that data-driven, AI-powered managed services and software are key to breaking the network complexity curve – a real challenge for CSPs today – as 5G, IoT and enterprise services take off.
JT: How did you respond to COVID-19 at Ericsson in your ways of working? How did remote working affect your productivity and output? How has it affected employee motivation and wellbeing?
PL: Since the outbreak of the coronavirus in China at the end of 2019, we have closely monitored the development of the virus through close dialogue with our Chinese colleagues. This information was invaluable for us in the early stages when we had to make difficult decisions quickly. On 13 March 2020, we introduced a global work-from-home guideline, which meant that all of our 100,000 employees who could work from home should do so. Since then, 85% of our employees globally have been working from home. We also introduced event restrictions and travel restrictions for non-critical business travel. This was a major change in our lives, even though we, on average, worked one day a week from home before the pandemic.
Many miss social interaction in the office, but a majority would like the opportunity to work remotely two to three days per week also going forward.
PL: The global pandemic has meant that life as we knew it changed radically and we experienced challenges which would have been hard to imagine even two years ago. However, it has been a journey for all of us, as we adapt and learn to navigate a new world. Through employee surveys, we asked our employees to provide feedback on how they experienced working from home during the pandemic, so we can continue to learn and adapt together. The results showed us that employees feel both supported by Ericsson and the majority feel productive, and results have improved over time. We also saw that most employees would like the opportunity to work remotely two to three days per week long term, while at the same time, many miss meeting at our offices to socialise and collaborate face-to-face with colleagues. At the same time, there are employees who feel isolated and stressed and who struggle with a work-life balance.
We have introduced different initiatives during the pandemic to support our employees’ mental and physical wellbeing while working from home. For example, employees could avail themselves of an ergonomic chair, desk and lamp, delivered to their home. Almost overnight, our IT teams ensured access to collaboration tools and platforms for 100,000 employees with minimal disruption. We have trained leaders in new skills, including how to lead their teams virtually – maintaining engagement and efficiency but also looking out for signs of stress. We have hosted wellbeing seminars, provided easy access to online information and experts and rolled out a mental health application. We have also launched a FIKA application, which connects ﬁve random colleagues in a Teams room for a virtual coffee, with the aim of recreating impromptu coffee chats and networking, and we have promoted Microsoft My Analytics, a voluntary tool where employees can use data insights to better manage tasks and a work-life balance.
JT: Do you think changes to our work habits will be permanent? What do you expect for Ericsson going forward?
PL: The pandemic has accelerated the pace of digital transformation and conﬁrmed that wireless connectivity is a critical infrastructure that underpins society. It has also changed people’s behaviour. You could say that the pandemic has forced people to become more technologically advanced. We ﬁrmly believe that 5G and digitalisation will play a crucial role in the recovery of economies and the future of workplaces.
We understood early on that we would never go back to how we used to work before the pandemic. In April 2020, we created an internal project to look at how the future workplace for Ericsson could look. In addition to the employee surveys I mentioned earlier, we have held a number of workshops with employees, as well as interviews with managers at different levels across the company. Ericsson also hosted a number of roundtable discussions, where representatives from other global companies in various industries came together to discuss their experiences and future strategies.
Flexible hybrid work model introduced this spring, allowing up to 50% remote working.
Our internal project identiﬁed approximately 20 initiatives to support the future way of working at Ericsson; physically, virtually and culturally. With people ﬁrmly at the heart of our approach, we launched a flexible hybrid work model this spring. This model will be implemented locally when the situation in the countries where we have offices allows. The main principles for our new flexible hybrid model are a 50/50 split, which means that employees have the opportunity to work about half of their working hours in the office and half remotely. Managers will work in consultation with their teams to adapt based on the speciﬁc needs of their team and the tasks they perform. As an employee, you are always welcome in the office – the opportunity to work outside the office is voluntary.
JT: Have new, more digital ways of working required new tools for employees? What needs do you see ahead regarding skills, equipment and infrastructure for digital and remote working?
PL: A flexible hybrid work model only works if the office environment and the home environment interact. By optimising virtual tools, such as Virtual Reality and the Internet of Senses, the goal is to optimise the experience no matter where you sit and work. By introducing an office-based technology that supports virtual meetings and collaborates with the tools we all have in our laptops, the hope is that the interaction that takes place between colleagues in the office and in the home environment will be as smooth and equal as possible. In other words, it should be just as effective to collaborate virtually no matter where you choose to sit.
When in the offices, employees will have easy access, through applications, to book a desk or a meeting room, arrange a place to meet colleagues for lunch, coffee, or a workshop, and review the office’s available services. This will further boost collaboration and support the types of tasks employees will want to visit the offices for. So it is not just about bridging the physical and the virtual, but also seeing how the virtual can support the physical.
JT: Will new ways of working going forward affect your need for premises, how much space you need, or how the office space should be conﬁgured?
PL: We are still designing our future offices and conducting pilots to gather feedback on potential designs. We will continue experimenting with our office designs and it will take some time before we know if redesigning our offices will lead to a reduction of the total office space. The internal project is not driven by a desire to cut costs, but if we do see savings, we will reinvest these in the design and technology of our new workplaces.
There will be different future office designs adapted for different staff 'personas' with different needs.
In our internal project, we ﬁnd that a one-size office design does not ﬁt all. Our research phase showed us that our employees have different needs and preferences. Based on the combined characteristics of individuals and key differentiators, we created “Personas” which describe the different needs and preferences of different employee communities. Each persona type has been taken into account when designing our office spaces, and it will vary from office to office depending on the “personas” working in the different offices.
To give two examples, the persona “The Adapter” can work effectively at home but will come to the office for a clear purpose or a speciﬁc activity, such as a workshop or a problem-solving session with the team. We also have “The Culturalist” who comes to the office to thrive culturally, feel connected to people and the brand, and learn from others. However, they will mainly choose to work remotely when reading, thinking, and performing more focused work, etc. Based on this, we will re-imagine the office space and plan to increase space designed for collaboration and interaction while dedicating less space for desks.
JT: How do you see the role of the office changing from different future work habits?
PL: We see offices continuing to play a signiﬁcant role in the future. They will be more social and innovative and will be an important place to feel a sense of belonging, social presence, and the corporate culture. Wellbeing will also play a greater role for the offices of the future.
We believe that the future workplace will not be linked to a speciﬁc place. It is what we do that is in focus, not where we do it.
Why will we go to the office? To perform, interact, energise and belong.
When designing the offices of the future, we have asked ourselves: “Why will we go to the office?” Answering this question helped us identify four different areas that the future offices will meet. They are: to perform, interact, energise and belong. We believe most employees will come to the office to socialise, co-create, innovate, and participate in workshops, etc. Meanwhile, individual tasks such as reading, writing, problem-solving, etc. will largely be done remotely.
We have embarked on an exciting journey where our leaders have the autonomy to experiment and co-create the new, future ways of working together with their teams.
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