Welcome to the hybrid workplace

In the four months from November 2020 to March 2021, Karolinska Institutet surveyed its operations to draw on experiences and gather up the latest research on how our working methods, leadership and working environment have been affected by the pandemic and to determine what we can utilise and learn for the future.

Both our society and our workplaces are characterised by rapid development, uncertainty and complexity. The Corona pandemic in itself has precipitated adaptive transition and new working methods. Digital developments have also been given a boost. The new “normal” in a post-Corona time will involve new habits for distance work, video meetings, digital processes and so forth. The need to think anew has profoundly affected the assumptions on which we base our operations and led to a radical change of working methods and processes. These experiences we can now take on board and learn from.

The review was done in project form on the initiative of the HR director and its results presented on 31 March in a report to University Director Katarina Bjelke. The report contains a description of what practical form the future workplace can take on the basis of such considerations as organisation, working methods, regulations, health and safety, equipment, premises planning and productivity/efficiency. The report has now been approved as a source document for further work on this matter.

At the same time, the review shows that a more flexible approach to work has strong internal support and we can see that all levels of staff have high expectations on the “hybrid workplace” concept. The hope is that a more flexible way of working will make a positive contribution to KI’s working environment, productivity and efficiency.

What a flexible approach requires for it to work is a wholistic, person-centred perspective in which physical premises and technological solutions have a supporting role. Also essential are adequate technical equipment and knowledge of its potential and limitations as well as respect for individual needs and circumstances. A more flexible way of working will put considerable pressure on our ability to cooperate and our shared responsibilities. It demands that we find ways to cooperate that are not primarily governed by physical location. By linking collaboration to the tasks to be performed and finding new, creative ways to meet and cooperate, we develop value-building and meaningful teamwork from the perspective of both the employer and employee. We also need to reflect together on what function the physical workplace and personal meetings will have in the post-Corona age.

The work for a more flexible workplace is now being implemented down the organisation. The initial focus is on operational support/professional services (University Administration and departments). Needs-based support related to the implementation will be offered by the University Administration’s different support functions. The realisation of a more flexible workplace is planned to commence in Q3 2021 or when the pandemic situation allows.

Instructions for a flexible approach to work

  • Working from home or other location outside KI may be done on a temporary or regular basis on condition that the employer decides that the nature of the work permits it.
  • The head of department (or the equivalent) has the ultimate say on how his/her department (or the equivalent) is to approach the concept of the hybrid workplace within the bounds of central rules and instructions. The employee’s immediate manager decides in consultation with the employee where the work is to be carried out. 
  • The employee must have a personal life, work space and work environment conducive to working from home.
  • When an employee is to work from home on a more regular basis, the employer is required to make sure that the employee, if required, has the proper ergonomic equipment. Should working from home give the employee trouble, he/she is to be recalled to the KI premises to resume his/her work.
  • Working from home is to be seen as an opportunity rather than a right, duty or perk.
  • At least half of an employee’s work is to be done on KI premises unless the employee and his/her manager have agreed otherwise.
  • Distance work may not be done outside Sweden.
  • KI is required to apply trust-based management and leadership principles as per the government’s intentions.

The hybrid workplace is directly associated with Strategy 2030 and is intended to integrate KI’s values into the workaday life at the university, in part by creating the necessary conditions for our values of passion, creativity and responsibility. The path to that end goes via facilitation, relational leadership and well-developed collegial cooperation, where we develop location-independent ways of meeting and collaborating linked to the assignments to be carried out in a way that is perceived as purposeful and value-building for employer and employee alike.

Some critical questions

  • How do we retain and bolster the interactions taking place among the organisation’s individuals, units and divisions in times of digitalisation and distance work? How can we exploit the potential of technology while making people aware of and dealing with its limitations and risks?
  • How do we create an experience of community and common purpose when we are not always in the same physical space, and what role will the physical office have in the future?
  • How can the physical workspace be designed given these new conditions and needs? How can rooms and buildings be designed from an optimal cost/utility perspective? How can we make sure that the physical workplace promotes a sound physical and psychosocial working environment in an evidence-based way?

The work will be monitored and evaluated in terms of effect and process under the supervision of Professor Irene Jensen.