town on the water in Alesund, Norway
Scandinavia understands what makes a digital workplace tick. Can you use any of these tips to improve your workplace? PHOTO: Jarand Løkeland

If you’re a worker in Denmark, Sweden or Norway, you might actually look forward to hearing your alarm go off each morning. 

Why? Well, according to Universum’s 2016 Global Workforce Happiness Index, Danish employees lead the world in job satisfaction, followed closely by Norway in second place and Sweden in fourth. The US, by contrast, ranked 36th.

That same survey also ranked Sweden and Denmark among the world’s top 25 most innovative economies, proving that excelling in today’s digital workplace need not come at the expense of employee satisfaction.

4 Fundamentals of Scandinavian Work Culture

Here are four fundamental ways that US businesses can adopt aspects of the Scandinavian work culture that just might make hitting the snooze button each morning a little less tempting for US employees:

1. Flexible work schedules

Companies in the US still widely subscribe to the belief that employees aren’t working if they aren’t at their desks. But as workplaces become more digitally advanced, the concept of the workplace can — and should — evolve to become less concrete.

By contrast, employees in Scandinavia are often allowed to work from home, leave early to pick up their kids or even run out for a haircut without fear of being judged negatively by their managers. In return, those employers are rewarded with productive employees and quality work.  

Nor do such results seem to be limited to Scandinavia. For example, in a 2014 study of Chinese call center employees, conducted by Stanford economics professor Nicholas Bloom, a group of 125 employees worked from home for nine months, doing the same job during the same hours as in-office workers. The result: the home-based workers completed an average of 13.5 percent more calls per person.

Yet, despite the fact that telecommuting has never been easier, a culture of corporate face time continues to prevail in the US — to such an extent that only one in five employees even routinely takes a lunch break.

Bottom line: employers should embrace new technology to empower employees and make them feel engaged.

2. A sense of mission and purpose

It is essential that companies instill a sense of purpose in their employees that allows them to understand how their function directly contributes to the organization’s overall goals. In its Job Satisfaction Index 2016, the Happiness Research Institute found inspiring that sense of purpose had the greatest impact on workers’ overall job satisfaction. What’s more, that same research indicated that Danish workers valued purpose over factors like salary and work-life balance, which may be key to explaining why Danes report the highest level of job satisfaction in the world.

One takeaway from this finding is that companies looking for ways to strengthen their employees’ sense of purpose in the digital workplace can do so by clearly communicating the organization’s long-term goals and emphasizing the contribution each employee can make to achieving them.

Fortunately, today’s digital workplace provides an unparalleled array of tools to help companies communicate, collaborate and inspire their employees at every level.

3. Flat management structures

To help overcome organizational silos and other digital workplace obstacles, companies should create flat management structures. That’s because by emphasizing the role each individual employee plays in achieving the company’s overall mission, flat hierarchies inherently foster the sense of connection that leads to increases in individual responsibility.

What’s more, flat management structures turn out to be good for both employee morale and the bottom line. For example, according to one study, organizations with flat hierarchies achieved higher ROIs than more traditional hierarchical organizations, 6.4 percent versus 2.45 percent, respectively.

So when there are fewer levels of management between employees and executives, everyone wins: employees feel more recognized and equal, while senior executives feel more tuned in.

To foster these perceptions of teamwork and equality, C-suite executives should make regular efforts to travel from department to department within their organizations, creating more opportunities to meet, listen and understand the nature of their staff’s granular day-to-day activities.

4. An abundance of coffee

Anyone up for a coffee break? As the digital workplace evolves, companies are struggling to find ways to implement the core values that will help their organizations keep up. While serving coffee may not be an obvious priority, the employee communication and relationship building that comes from sharing just one cup should be.

Fika, which is Sweden’s version of a coffee break, occurs at least once a day during office hours. Yet, the Swedish concept of fika goes far beyond whatever is brewing in the break room. As the Swedes see it, fika translates to the idea of employees spending the kind of quality time that allows them not only to share some pleasant break time with a colleague, but to use that time to connect and learn from one another.

To facilitate that same learning process across digital boundaries, companies should seek ways to give remote employees that same experience of standing at the coffee machine and asking, “What are you working on?”

This simple question — whether asked in-person or through an intranet or chat app, is a great way to allow individuals from different departments to share ideas and develop common ground.

Adopting the Scandinavian Workplace Approach

Backed by flat management structures, flexible working schedules and a strong sense of purpose, the Scandinavian way of working is one that companies all over the world should consider adopting.

As the digital workplace becomes ever more data-driven and fragmented, the Scandinavian workplace culture lends itself to communicating effectively across silos and borders to create a shared sense of mission in today’s economy.