Independence and freedom energize mobile working
Mobile workers are usually ones who enjoy the independence of the work. They may still feel that they belong to a group, explain three employees of Kone Corporation, which manufactures lifts.
Dogs Arttu and Maia leap eagerly into their own space in the back of the car, and Annika Kontinaho’s commute to Tampere begins.
Kontinaho is responsible for occupational safety matters in the business sector which handles the installation, servicing, and repair of the lifts of Kone Corp. in Finland and the Baltic countries. She drives about 40,000 kilometres during the year. Kontinaho tries to visit each of Finland’s about thirty regional offices at least once a year. Her furry friends don’t always accompany her, but when they do, they are good companions in the hotel and on evening walks.
Variability motivates, independence energizes
Kontinaho enjoys travelling as a part of the work.
– My personality is such that being cooped up every day from eight to four in the same room just isn’t for me. In my present job I get to experience new things, the work is variable and I am free to plan the daily schedule.
She believes that people who prefer mobile work enjoy the nature of the work, even though being constantly on the move is sometimes strenuous.
Mikko Ilo installs lifts. His work also involves a lot of travelling.
– The best part of my work is meeting people. I see my workmates at the different sites and we have a lot to talk about. The heaviest part is sitting in the car for long stretches. That takes up one third of the work time.
Ilo is based in Oulu, from where he travels around Oulu and Lappland helping and instructing lift installers in their work, negotiating with sub-contractors, and taking care of paper work, such as final inspections.
He has been in his present job for half a year, and before that he worked as an installer for 30 years. Earlier, he drove about 20,000–25,000 kilometres a year, but now much more. Mikko takes one day at a time. When he leaves, he always takes his running shoes along, so that at the end of the day he can go jogging. Sauna is also a good way of helping him to relax on his work trips.
Mobile work is one part of Elina Jokinen’s job when she visits the different branch offices. She is personnel manager of the business sector of KONE Lifts in Finland and the Baltic countries. According to Jokinen, travelling is a prerequisite of working in an enterprise like Kone. She believes that people who work in the clientele interface are motivated by customer service work.
– Mobile work is also a question of career choice. People who choose this kind of work enjoy variable and independent work.
Annika Kontinaho has noticed that employees value autonomy; it boosts their motivation. She feels that lift installers have the right attitude already when they start working, as most of them come straight from Kone’s own industrial vocational institute, where the mobile nature of the work is apparent already during the training years.
Mobile work is supported by the dissemination of information
In the case of Elina Jokinen, mobile work is an exception from normal. She doesn’t always sleep well in a strange place, and also the timing of meals can be a problem. Mikko Ilo, on the other hand, sleeps very well, especially now when he gets his own room in the hotel. The timing of meals isn’t a problem, he always has a proper lunch on his travel days. Early mornings are part of the picture because the distances are long and he meets many clients during the course of the day.
Jokinen says that employees are given support in tackling challenges by disseminating information.
– Every two years, we conduct a round of the regional offices with the aim of “putting the unit in order”. The day includes information about well-being at work and safety matters. For instance, our previous theme was ergonomics, and together we focussed on stretching exercises to prevent physical problems. The day also includes some kind of physical activity for everybody.
In the regional meetings we go over matters connected to the work, and in addition, we hold so-called safety sessions. In many of the places the employees have been working together for a long time, and the work communities are tight-knit. In the course of time they have created their own good work practices.
– One should then remember that a person coming from the central office should be careful in giving advice. Our operating area is so large, that it wouldn’t be wise to give too detailed guidelines to the regional offices, says Jokinen.
Community spirit, trust, and active listening
– When an employee is present at the base only now and then, community spirit is maintained by organizing so-called regional meetings a few times a year, says Jokinen. Shorter meetings can be held more often.
The regional offices organize their own recreational happenings, such as sauna evenings, Christmas parties or other kinds of free-time activities.
– The sauna evenings and bowling evenings for everybody are very nice. The younger people with families can’t always attend, but it’s a good thing that joint activities are arranged, says Ilo.
– The regional offices have also formed WhatsApp groups, where you can post work matters as well as more informal messages. Also these practices have been created spontaneously, says Jokinen.
Annika Kontinaho has noted that different regions in Finland have their own cultures. The people in eastern Finland are different than those for instance in the north, and the Baltic countries have their own cultures. Each regional office has its way of doing things together, a kind of “Kone spirit”, which provides energy and motivation for the work.
Good meeting practices and a well-functioning communication environment are vital.
Mikko Ilo explains that he hasn’t noticed big differences between the regions, because the training, production, and contracts are the same.
– The ways of doings things are the same, the attitude can be seen in the desire to put a finishing touch on the quality of the work. There are nice people in southern Finland too. I get to speak with them a lot on the phone.
Supervision and support activities have to be planned to suit the mobile work of the employees. According to Elina Jokinen, matters aren’t taken care of by observing on the side. Communication and the tools have to be planned to comply with the working methods. Flexible cooperation demands trust from both sides, and efficient tools help to keep up with the progress of the work.
Jokinen says she has just come from Central-Finland where she had been coaching supervisors.
– Together we reviewed interaction skills and practices of people-centred supervision. We spoke about active listening. When the supervisor doesn’t see the subordinate many times a day, we advised the supervisors to emphasize the quality of the interaction.
Well-functioning communication and mobile systems are an asset
The reporting systems needed in mobile work have been designed to operate via smart phones. Jokinen has participated in developing a new mobile-based HR tool, which can be used for instance to up-date your own personal data.
Mikko Ilo is very pleased with the well-functioning systems.
– The programs are really good and effective. On work trips I take along my laptop and iPad. With my smart phone I can access the systems of the enterprise that contain a lot of useful information. I can also use my phone to send in my applications for my leaves.
Although the installer is alone on work trips, he can get help with his phone whenever needed.
– The supervisor and subordinate are required to go over their tasks every day, and also the worker’s capability to handle them, says Kontinaho.
– You can also get in touch with technical specialists with your phone, and if two people are needed for the job, you just ask for a workmate to come, adds Jokinen.
Mikko Ilo agrees: – You can always give a call when you need help. Most of the phone calls are contacts with the supervisor. Also sales people need to be contacted. We are all members of the same team.
Annika Kontinaho knows that balancing leisure time with mobile work requires planning. When her dogs Arttu and Maia can’t come along on the work trip, she has to make arrangements for their care. She follows weather forecasts carefully. Kontinaho can usually postpone her trip if bad weather comes up, but an installer may have to hit the road even in poor weather.
Ilo explains that sometimes changes in the timetable just can’t be avoided, because the distances are long, and the time needed for the task at hand can’t always be estimated exactly. However, he is so used to his mobile work that variable work times don’t complicate his leisure time activities.
Safety is ensured in many ways
The risks in installation as well as servicing jobs have been recognized at Kone, and the work instructions have been drawn up accordingly.
– Regardless of where in Finland a lift shaft is located, the work task is always nearly the same, says Kontinaho.
– If, for instance, you are searching for a fault, and you have to carry out a task for which there are no instructions available, the installer can use his mobile device to assess the risk involved in the work. There is also an application available for recording observations related to safety risks.
At new construction sites, the foreman first evaluates the situation at the site, so that the installer can start his work safely. The condition of the lift shaft is checked to make sure that the shaft is clean and dry, the doorways are safe-guarded against falling, and the materials needed for the installation can be transported safely to the work site.
Because the timetables and conditions sometimes vary at work sites, the situation may have changed when the lift installer arrives. Then we stick to whatever has been agreed with the client. The work is started only when it is safe to do so.
Safety issues are an important part of the work instructions, emphasizes Kontinaho.
– The guiding star of our safety culture is to get everyone to assume responsibility also for their own safety. We of course take care of the working conditions, we provide training and work guidance, but it’s important to remember that in the end every employee is responsible for doing their work safely.
Special attention has to be paid to work trips abroad. In her earlier jobs, Kontinaho has travelled a great deal and has attended a travel safety course. Hotels with a high security rating are always chosen on trips abroad.
– When I go to a new hotel, I always read the fire safety instructions. I take good care of my own luggage, and I keep my portable computer and other valuables close at hand. From time to time, I up-date the list of dependable taxi enterprises in the target country.
My dogs Arttu and Maia can still be carefree and happy, even though they can’t always come along on my work trips. Their “mommy” will come home safely. •
A mobile worker needs the supervisor’s support
Päivi Rauramo from the Centre of Occupational Safety is a specialist in occupational health, safety and well-being. She organizes courses on the elements of well-being at work for specialists and office workers; central themes are mobile work and telework. She herself has experience in mobile work, because travelling to different course sites is part of her work. She finds many positive aspects in mobile work.
– The work is varied, many-sided and independent. You meet different kinds of people and you learn new things continuously. Interacting in different cultures, and meeting different specialists widens your own know-how and outlook on life.
She reminds that each day is different in mobile work, and she sees that the work offers a good opportunity to develop oneself.
– At its best, independent work allows a person to balance work and leisure time optimally. New clients and tasks challenge you to develop yourself, to learn new things and improve your know-how.
The many challenges of mobile work
Too many travel days may cause problems. You may be at risk of dropping out of your work community, and it may be difficult to improve your know-how together with the group, Rauramo says, but here the employer and the supervisor can be of help.
– Good meeting practices and a well-functioning communication environment that supports interaction and mastering of know-how are of vital importance. Comprehensive workplace orientation and work instruction are also central. Communication practices must be explicit, and ways of operating must be reviewed. The supervisor must know his or her subordinates well enough to know who possibly needs more support and oversight. Remember to ask your subordinates regularly: How is everything going, and how are you doing, how are you feeling?
Rauramo sees another challenge in mobile work – the employee’s human relationships and way of life may suffer. Especially long distances, early departures and late returns home are very stressing.
– The person’s night sleep may be too short or be of poor quality. Their physical exercise may be minimal, and fast foods may replace healthy meals. Participating in regular hobbies is impossible, and training courses or family gatherings will often be missed.
A number of difficulties can come up on the work trip too.
– Sometimes communication connections don’t work, and this may even prevent the employees from doing their work. Good mobile devices, software, applications and ergonomic devices are prerequisites for doing the work successfully.
There may also be distractions in the work environment (e.g. train, airport, café) and the ergonomics may be deficient. The human relations loading may be overwhelming when you constantly meet new people whose trust has to be gained. Operating in different cultures and engaging in virtual communication can cause misunderstandings or aggravate conflicts, which are easier to avoid or solve when people meet face-to-face.
Keeping in touch is useful for the supervisor and the employee
Rauramo reminds that it is the employer’s responsibility to take care of mobile workers, even though the occupational safety legislation is less detailed in the case of mobile workers than in that of employees who are at the workplace regularly. The hazards and risks of the work must nevertheless be recognized. It is possible to carry out a targeted workplace assessment and health examinations for persons who travel much.
– Supervisors should be instructed to recognize and understand the special requirements and characteristics of mobile work. These are: travelling, multiplicity of work places, working times, operating in different cultures, virtual communication and project-like work. It is important for the supervisor to follow up the employee’s work output, loading and working times. The employee should have enough time to carry out administrative tasks and planning of work. Some useful practices are flexible working time, work time bank, and the possibility to use working time to work for example while in the train.
– The supervisor needs to prepare carefully for the work assessment discussion with his or her subordinate. For instance the special features of mobile work and their loading effect should be discussed. Clear operating guidelines lessen misunderstandings. In addition, the employee needs to follow instructions, such as keeping up-to-date calendar notes of days when he must be at the workplace. If there are deficiencies, the supervisor should intervene early.
The expertise of the occupational safety and health personnel should be utilized, says Rauramo, and suggests that mobile work should be given special emphasis in the occupational safety programme. •