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How People Work in Sweden: A Calmer Pace – And Fika Forever!

Article April 15, 2019  |  Text by Lucie Dlouhá Text by Lucie Dlouhá

How do the Czech and Swedish working environments and working worlds differ? We’ve called in Petra Machartová for answers. She’s been working on office innovations at the Skanska headquarters in Stockholm since January of this year.

How do people work in Sweden? What was the biggest change for you when you compare the Swedish and Czech work styles?

It was quite the challenge for me at first. I’m used to the quick, and sometimes perhaps even stress-laden, tempo with which we work here in Czechia. The work tempo in Sweden is much calmer, and most problems are handled with a cool head. Despite this, they’re not less productive in Scandinavia. Perhaps we should stop and think about laying off the pace in Central Europe as well.

On the other hand, I see our faster pace as an advantage too, in that we leap headlong into various innovations and can deliver results very quickly and effectively.

Petra Machartová, Digital Specialist, Skanska

According to OECD statistics, Czechs work 1,770 hours a year, while Swedes “only” work 1,621. Is that reflected in offices’ everyday operations?

Yes; Swedes have a completely different work-life balance. They go to work earlier than Czechs do, and so they also leave earlier. Around 4:30 the office begins to empty out, and you’ll hardly find anybody after 5; everyone’s with their families. That helps them clear their heads, so that the next day they can switch them back on when they switch on their PCs, and do their work 100%. I feel that this is one reason why they can be just as productive as us without having to spend their evenings at the office. I admire that in them. Naturally there are also exceptions, and periods when Swedes work overtime.

THE SACRED FIKA

Besides the slower tempo, was there anything else that you had to get used to when you arrived in January?

One thing that’s a little frustrating for me to this day is fika. A Swede isn’t a Swede if they don’t stop and relax over fika at least twice a day. It’s their “sacred moment” with coffee, tea, and cinnamon rolls. It usually comes in mid-morning and after lunch. For me it’s sometimes demanding to get up at those moments and interrupt my work to go chat for half an hour. On the other hand, I do have to admit that I feel more productive afterwards.

It’s similar with lunch as well. While in the Czech Republic I’m used to getting up and heading back to the office after I finish eating, in Sweden you spend at least another 15 minutes talking.

Sweden is in some aspects an unusually country...

And do you like the food in Sweden?

Yes, and food is also one area where the Swedes’ thinking is very close to mine. I don’t eat meat, and back home in Czechia, that sometimes makes me “the weird one.” In Sweden, they have a much stronger awareness of the influence that the meat and dairy industries have on our planet. Every other person is a vegetarian or at least is cutting back on meat. The plentiful vegan and vegetarian bistros are a reflection of this. And you can easily find a vegan burger or bacon on the supermarket shelves. And you won’t pay a premium price for them.

WHERE TO FOR COFFEE?

Let’s come back to the office for a bit. Do Czech and Swedish office designs differ somehow?

I’m afraid my job has twisted me a bit when it comes to evaluating offices… Nevertheless, I don’t see any major differences. Sometimes I even have the feeling that Czech companies have their offices a bit more fine-tuned. Maybe it’s due to the low unemployment, where modern offices are a way to help companies to attract talented people despite this.

Oh, there is one difference I’d mention! It goes back to fika. Swedish offices have far more spaces for sitting with your coffee.

Swedish capital Stockholm. Photo by Raphael Andres/Unsplash.com

Scandinavia is also renowned for its friendly approach towards the environment. How is this reflected at work? Does Sweden have fully digitalized firms, for example, where you’re not allowed to print to paper?

We’re on similar levels when it comes to reducing paper consumption and waste. The difference is more in the materials that the waste is made of. Food packaging, shopping bags, food boxes, fruit bags – it’s all usually made of biodegradable materials.

Actually, I was unpleasantly surprised to see paper cups set right next to the coffee machine at our Stockholm office. Even though they’re next to normal mugs, at least half the people reach for them, and the wastebasket is full of them. So I’m striving to get rid of these cups, or at least cut back on them.

You mentioned coffee; the Swedes are known for their high consumption of it. Has your daily caffeine consumption risen as well?

Surprisingly, it’s been the opposite. The local lifestyle is a bit of an inspiration towards healthier eating, and so I’ve cut my consumption down to two cups a day. But in general you’re right, the Swedes truly are big coffee drinkers. But they can’t beat the Finns…

DIFFERENT WEATHER

Since you don’t speak Swedish, how is it living and working without knowing the local language? Can you make do with English?

I definitely can; that’s one of the basic differences between Central European and Scandinavian countries. I haven’t yet been unable to reach an agreement with anyone in English, and on the contrary you can speak in English at a very high level with 99% of the people here, including supermarket cashiers and taxi drivers. On the other hand, it’s demotivating for studying the new language, which actually is a bit of a shame.

You’ll be working in Sweden until July, and then returning to Skanska in the Czech Republic. What will you miss, and what will you definitely not miss?

I’ll definitely miss the workmates that I have in Sweden. I’ll be glad to return to Stockholm for the atmosphere there. It’s interwoven with a variety of canals and water surfaces.

But there's also one thing I definitely won’t miss, and that’s the unpredictability of the weather. They say it’s nothing unusual for there to be snow in mid-April and five-degree temperatures in June. On the other hand, though, when it’s five degrees out and it’s not raining or snowing, the Swedes call that nice weather, and so they spend these days sitting outdoors in gardens and parks.

PHOTOGALLERY: Sweden through the lenses of Petra Machartová's phone