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Open Access 2023 | OriginalPaper | Buchkapitel

Working (and Living) During Corona Times and Implications for Planning and Mobility—The Case of Norway

verfasst von : Mina Di Marino, Seyed Hossein Chavoshi

Erschienen in: European Narratives on Remote Working and Coworking During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Verlag: Springer Nature Switzerland

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Abstract

The COVID-19 pandemic has relatively affected the Norwegian context and other Nordic countries (except for Sweden), considering the prudential authorities and policies adopted during the various waves of the virus. The capacity for remote working and high flexibility of working (already observed before the pandemic) have contributed to adapt to the changes. In this context, the study aims to explore the ways of working and living during the Corona Times and the implications for planning and mobility in Norway, considering the short-medium and long-term effects of the pandemic. First, the study presents an overview of the main impacts of the pandemic in the Nordic countries (such as mortality, labour market and absence from work, including the closure of workplaces), and second, it focuses on Norway, in light of the national measures. Then, the working related trends (for example, growth of demand of new working spaces and the increased number of workers in the public libraries) are discussed, as well as the major implications for our cities, such as new housing demands, commuting habits and transportation modes. Finally, an overview of the current debate within the Norwegian society shows the high interests of planners, other experts, and media in understanding the future of work, such as hybrid forms, new jobs, working remotely (but from where?).

1 Introduction

The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted our society and economy. Within the current debate, experts and non-experts have discussed about social, economic and cultural effects, both short and long-term, on our metropolitan regions and rural areas. This has been also the case of Norway, in which one can see the high degree of interests among academics, stakeholders, journalists, and other media, including several interactions between them.
At the time of the pandemic, between the first and second wave, several scholars predicted that the lock down could have created permanent changes to the ways in which people live and work (see for example Florida et al. [1]; Becken and Hughey [2]). Various studies have been conducted in the Norwegian context, including cross-comparison analyses, to explore the future of work from different perspectives such as urban planning, mobility and quality of life (see working from home in the cases of USA, UK and Norway studied by Wethal et al. [3], virtual co-working and remote working in Estonia and Norway, explored by Sinitsyina et al. [4]; 15’–10’ city concept and new working spaces examined in Norway and Portugal, in Di Marino et al. [5]; multilocal working in Norway and Finland illustrated by Di Marino et al. [5]. These comparative studies have helped to further frame the implications of COVID-19 at the national and local level in Norway, as well as differences and similarities across some European countries.
In Norway, governments restrictions and recommendations during the pandemic have generated some changes affecting the economy, working life and educational sector, as reported by CEDEFOP [6]. The COVID-19 has caused new housing demands (for example, requests for larger dwellings with private gardens) [7], increase in using (electric bike and electric scooters, as well as private cars, and consequently, a significant decrease in commuting by public transport [8]. Simultaneously, people have visited more frequently those parks and other public green spaces closer to home [9] as well as multifunctional and flexible spaces in their own neighborhoods [1012]. Some of these trends are still visible after two years, and some predictions on how these trends will influence planning and mobility are being discussed among scholars, policy makers and stakeholders [13, 14].
To summarize, Norwegians have been adapted to the national health measures and changes due to various waves, between March 2020 and March 2021, despite the above challenges. However, like other countries, government restrictions and recommendations have affected the ways of living and working of people. For example, after two years and a half of pandemic, the commuting from the municipalities of Viken county (Oslo Region) towards the City of Oslo is drastically reduced causing several effects. Among them, one can see an underutilization of office buildings, financial issues of public transport companies, proposal of new flexible travel tickets, and increase in remote working, as well as social isolation among employees.
To understand these new trends, however, it is necessary first to analyze the main impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic within the different waves. This would provide a basis for understanding the most tangible effects for our cities and transportation. Thus, the chapter discusses: (i) the main impacts of the COVID-19 on the Nordic context, considering the different policies adopted by the national governments; (ii) the principal effects of the COVID-19 and national measures in Norway and related changes to the ways of living and working; (iii) the most relevant implications for planning and mobility, and (iv) the current debate in the Norwegian society about the future of work.

2 Impacts of COVID-19

2.1 The Nordic Context and Trends During the Pandemic

In the Nordic countries, less people have been affected by COVID-19, compared to any other developed countries [15]. The Nordic countries approached the pandemic by adopting similar restrictions and shutdowns, except for Sweden which relied on voluntariness and self-regulation [15].
In the first and second wave, Norway, Denmark and Finland were able to keep the morbidity and mortality at a rather low level [16]. According to the scholars, this was associated to some degree with the immediate and rigorous lockdowns, low density, as well as citizens’ belief in government and economic strengthening of businesses and workers supported by the oil fund (Holm Ingelsrud [16] referring to Ursin et al. [17]; Christensen and Lægreid [18]). Policy measures focused on limiting the spread of the virus focusing on personal safety and job security [16].
Above all, one of the most important contributing factors to the recession in 2020 was the household consumption. In general, all the Nordic economies recovered in the second half of 2020 and most of 2021, some of them surpassed the GDP-levels from before the pandemic [15]. Between summer 2021 and October 2021, the countries removed the restrictions, but after a while, the governments had to adopted new rules because of the spread of the Omicron variant of the Corona virus [15]. In this context, the restrictions affected the labour market of the Nordic countries, which for decades has been characterized by a high employment rate compared to other European countries. Unlike other crises, COVID -19 affected people some segments of the population, with lower level of education and mainly from the sectors of hospitality industry, retail, culture, leisure, logistics and tourism related industries [15]. The unemployment rate in Norway was relatively high compared to the past, but still rather low compared to the other Nordic countries. The employment rates have been even higher in the end of 2021 than they were at the beginning of the pandemic [15]. People from the above sectors were sent on temporary leave, but some of the Nordic countries adopted that system for short-term layoffs even before the pandemic. This helped the employers to retain their staff [15].
In addition, the pandemic has changed the movements of people in most of the Nordic countries. Figure 1 shows the impacts of COVID-19 on the closure of workplaces in the Nordic context as consequence of the national measures. Unlike Sweden, the other Nordic countries have implemented rather stringent policies. In the first wave, white collars, university teachers and other knowledge workers, were required to stay at home (while in Sweden, it was only recommended). Within the other waves, traditional workplaces and new working spaces were opened with some local variations, considering the hygiene measures and social distancing. However, the commuting across the municipalities and towards the biggest cities was not possible, and thus, most of the working activities, meetings and events were arranged virtually. In Norway and Denmark, the omicron variant severely affected the work life in the first months of 2021. In between the waves, people returned to the workplaces, but the average of workers was much lower than before the pandemic.

2.2 Impacts of the Pandemic and National Measures on Living and Working in Norway

At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Norwegian policy measures focused first on limiting the spread of disease, while immediately after on containing economic effects and social costs of the measures (Ingelsrud [16], referring to Ursin et al. [17]). On 12 March 2020, the Norwegian Directorate of Health decided to close all education institutions at all levels [6]. On 21 March 2020, a temporary Coronavirus Act was approved by the Norwegian Parliament to mitigate the consequences of the pandemic [6]. In addition to schools, quarantines were introduced, and restaurants and bars had to close [6]. Schools reopened in April 2020, while people were still recommended to work from home. The measures affected all those industries and businesses (e.g. retail, travels, hotels, restaurants) where social distancing was not possible. At that time, gatherings were kept at a minimum, while sports and cultural arrangements could not be arranged [6]. Social distancing rules and hygiene measures underpinned by law have affected Norwegians within the various waves. The number of visitors of certain locations such as grocery store, parks, train stations, retail and recreation, workplaces and residential units, shows the changes to the ways of working and living during Corona Times.
For example, the time spent in the parks has dramatically increased in several phases of the pandemic, considering the travels limitations among the municipalities and other restrictions (such as gathering in indoor spaces). Very few people have used the public transport during the pandemic (Figs. 2 and 3).
This factor is very much related to the large number of remote workers (from home and/or from other place than office). Some positive trends related to the use of public transport were observed in June 2022, and again, in August 2022 (with the opening of all levels of education) (Fig. 2). Nonetheless, Ruter and Vy (the two agencies of public transport in Olso and Oslo Region, respectively) have promoted several campaigns for attracting more passengers. At the time of writing of this book chapter, the city council of Oslo approved a budget of 200 million kroner to make the costs of public transports 20% cheaper [20]. A flexible ticket is thought to be combined with other modes of transport (cycling and walking) and new travel patterns related to home office. This means that a monthly pass will be cheaper if people choose public transport more than 21 times per month.
Within the waves of the COVID-19, despite the above challenges, knowledge workers in Norway had a capacity to adapt quickly to the changes and work remotely for several reasons. The capacity of remote working (working tasks that are manageable remotely) in Oslo region is rather high [21]. In addition, remote working (so-called hjemmekontor) has been a working practice rather established among Norwegian employees, and already before the COVID-19 (ca. 37%, [22]). To this end, it is important to mention that, over the last two decades, a large flexibility at work has been observed in Norway, and this is relatively higher compared to other European countries. Among the factors which have supported this phenomenon, one can see the flexible organization of work since the 2010s (see Eurofund [23]), the high degree of digitalized working practices, as well as the dominance of tertiary industries which represent today 78% of the working population in Norway [24].
Furthermore, during the pandemic, the moving out of the city of Oslo to the neighboring municipalities and rural areas has been documented by the statistics of Norway [19, 24, 25]. This has determined an increasing cost of the cabins and other second homes [25], as well as growth of remote workers (until 60% for some managers and other knowledge workers) [22]. In this context, new working spaces such as public and private CSs, public libraries, coffee shops, second and third homes (such as rented apartments in the cities and cabins, so-called hytter in Norway), have been increasingly used as alternative places to the office during Corona Times. The growth of CSs and increased use of public libraries were observed as follows.
New proliferation of private CSs, which are managed by large real estate corporates (such as REGUS in partnership with SPACES) [26], and emerging independent CS in urban and rural areas [11] have characterized the Norwegian context. According to Union [26], which consists of specialists which deliver measurable results in asset management, commercial brokerage and analysis, there has been a significant growth in the demand for flexible office spaces in the last six months, especially hot desks (ca 25% more of members of coworking spaces, compared to 2021). However, in the same temporal window, the supply-side growth of flexible offices has been rather low, thus, the occupancy of these workspace is currently at 80% and increased by 13% compared to 2019 [26]. These trends show a positive development that may continue, considering the reopening of all businesses, the higher employment growth and more people choosing flexible offices [26]. Public and private CSs closed only between March and May 2020. After that, some CSs in the City of Oslo turned into digital services and activities, some of them adopted hybrid forms (both on-site and on-line). On the contrary, in small and medium municipalities, those spaces were mainly open, and it was observed a growth of CSs. According to our data, twelve new working spaces opened around the country during the Corona Times. In addition, 22 CSs in Norway were supported by national funds, for a total of 5.000.000 € [27]. This budget supported new investments in technology and/or innovative projects among the CSs.
During the second wave of the pandemic in 2020, through an informal talk with two managers of Deichman Bjørvika (the central public library of Oslo), we found out an evident growth of users in several public libraries of Oslo, seen as places to study and work. People used to book a single study room or a meeting room for several purposes, as well as occupy other places around the public library. Based on the managers’ perceptions and our preliminary evidence about the impact of COVID-19 [10], we can assume that the public libraries were rather crowded considering various factors. For example, people did not have an extra room at home, and/or they could not concentrate on working tasks (due to the presence of children and the spouse). In other cases, students could not go to the universities since they were closed, whereas the commuting to and from Oslo by public transport was not recommended because of the high rate of infections in the capital. Moreover, numerous offices were not enough spacious to keep the hygiene measures and social distancing.

3 Implications for Planning and Mobility

The above trends have partially impacted the housing demands, the modes of transports, and the requests for more hybrid spaces in the cities. 40% out-migrants from Oslo have moved to the neighboring municipalities such as Rælingen, Lillestrøm, Nordre Follo, Lørenskog, Nesodden, Nittedal, Asker and Bærum (in Viken county: the Oslo Region) [7]. The data show that there is an increasing demand for larger dwellings and less close to the city centres [7]. People desire more space, and we can assume additional room for home office and gardens. It is important to mention that, since the 1990s, the compact city model has been practiced in urban planning and developments of Oslo which is rather monocentric, while more recently, the Oslo Region has focused on a polycentric development [28]. The latest densifications have prioritized community spaces rather than private gardens. During the pandemic, those people with less access to private green were more vulnerable considering the restrictions of mobility and gathering. Furthermore, studies conducted under the pandemic have shown that some new working spaces in Oslo have become active centres of the neighborhood, for both workers and residents, by providing services which supplement the amenities of the surroundings (see the cases of Gamlebyen Loft, Mesh Youngstorget, and SoCentral in Di Marino et al. [11]). This calls for a new understanding of hybridization processes within the built environment and multi-functionality of urban spaces, including working functions, from a wider interdisciplinary perspective (e.g. planning, architecture, mobility, sociology, information technology and economy).

4 The Current Debate in the Norwegian Society

There is an ongoing debate within the Norwegian society about the future of work, in which, as scholars (and MC Members of the COST Action CA18214 -The Geography of New Working Spaces and Impact on the Periphery’), we have been involved (see for example national and local seminars, workshops, and interviews for various newspapers). During Corona Times, in the seminar organized by the official practitioners of Oslo and Viken County (The role of retail in sustainable urban development, Oslo municipality with Viken county, March 2021), we were invited to explain the role of new working spaces in revitalizing the peripheral and rural areas, considering the decreased commuting towards Oslo city, the less vitality of big city centres, as well as new people’s habits. In this seminar, we focused on the new opportunities to choose other working spaces, in addition to home working (hjemmekontor), which is rather culturally accepted in Norway. We also discussed about the relevance for vibrant city centres and services in smaller municipalities which are chosen by remote workers. Furthermore, a journalist asked us to comment the raise of digital jobs, as well as hybrid forms of working. Within the COVID-19, some businesses in the cities had to close (such as training centers and hairdressers), and thus, some people moved to more dispersed areas and their cabins to reinvent new jobs. This was the case of some digital trainers. Other journalists were interested in understanding new possibilities for working over prolonged time from the cabins (hytter) or from abroad such as Spain, one of the most popular holiday destinations of Norwegians. Thus, we explained advantages and disadvantage of flexible working, such as more freedom to choose new working spaces and travel, on one hand, and more social isolation from the working environment, on the other. Then, by arranging a national workshop (in Lillehammer, November 2021,) with local stakeholders and other experts, we contributed to the current debate by showing the growth of new working spaces across the country, including emerging working trends. We also reflected on the strategies for rural and regional development of new working spaces in Norway, since circa 45% of them are located in small and rural municipalities. To conclude, further interactions and collaborations among policymakers, experts, media and citizens are relevant to the societal and scientific debate on the ways of working (and living).
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Metadaten
Titel
Working (and Living) During Corona Times and Implications for Planning and Mobility—The Case of Norway
verfasst von
Mina Di Marino
Seyed Hossein Chavoshi
Copyright-Jahr
2023
DOI
https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-031-26018-6_6