Haptic Architects teach the benefits of the Scandinavian “work life balance”

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Studio director Lucy Painter, who specialises in recruitment within the design sector, speaks to Haptic Architects about how to integrate Scandinavian working practises into a creative business in the UK.

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At a recent Restaurant and Bar Talk I was introduced to Haptic Architects’ associate director Emelie Tornberg who has worked at the practice for the last four years. The conversation turned to work life balance within the design and architectural industry and to my surprise Tornberg disclosed that Haptic has introduced Scandinavian working culture into its London studio.

I was intrigued… a few weeks later Studio met up with director Tomas Stokke and Tornberg to see how a work life balance can be achieved within a busy practice.

Studio learned that design and architectural consultancies can embrace the following methods to create a similar environment.

Standard Working Hours

For starters, the Scandinavian work life balance consists of shorter working days.  In 2006 Norway brought in the Working Enviroment Act which states that equal emphasis should be placed on ‘work life’ and ‘family life.’ Stiokke says that Haptic apply the principles of flexible working to balance work and home life equally.

The working day at Haptic’s Oslo practice starts at 8.30am but everyone finishes at 4.30pm whereas Haptic London runs 9.30am to 6pm. The Oslo office has recently relocated their team to a building which provides an enhanced working environment, where they lunch together and have embedded Scandi tradition through shorter working days and important family time.

This is all well and good but how do professional practices at the top of the game provide ta good service to their clients while balancing the work life scales?

“Trust – to deliver, Trust – to focus.”

Stokke believes delivery is simply down to efficient time management. Within the team there is “Trust – to deliver, Trust – to focus,” and the practice looks to their clients for this trust. He further explains that where in standard UK practice there is generally a fixed fee for a project; Haptic adopts Norway’s approach where they have a time charged agreement with the client. In essence they invoice on a day or hourly basis and any over-time filters down to the employees. Time off in lieu is agreed with employees in the London office and overtime is paid to staff in the Oslo office.

With this method every minute spent on the project therefore has to be justified ensuring that neither the client, employee or employer are short changed. Of course Stokke acknowledges that some project delivery demands can create a flurry of extended hours.

Benefits offering flexibility

Emelie was partly attracted to Haptic’s London practice as they offer similar Norwegian social benefits. They also offer their employees a 25 day holiday package plus bank holidays and Christmas closure.

Norway also has an impressive model around paternity and maternity pay and leave. Business insider found that “Norwegian mothers can take 35 weeks at full pay or 45 weeks at 80% pay, and fathers can take between 0- 10 weeks depending on their wives’ income.”

It’s no wonder that Norway is in the Top 10 countries with the best parental leave policies in the world along with their Scandi neighbours Denmark, Sweden and Finland.

In Norway if someone’s child is sick, they are entitled to up to 10 days sickness benefits – single parents are allocated 20 days – to attend to a sick child and also cover a childminder if they fall ill. Workers with more than two children are entitled to 15 day, single parents 30 days.

Personal development

Offering the standard working hours and benefits which offer flexibility for parents, regardless of seniority, are key factors in attracting and retaining employees, and securing that retention even after maternity or paternity leave. Stokke embraces these to be equally important in developing social and family life.

Stokke says: “Haptic currently has two staff teaching within universities,” which also benefits the practice by helping it to recruit “fresh ideas” people who evolve the practice while the main ethos of the business remains close to its vision.

A collaborative approach

Scandinavia is notable for a flat management structure within organisations. Haptic does have a management structure within the business, but Stokke says it is “consensus driven”, for example when developing a concept or a phase of a project, every-one from the intern, junior designer up to director can contribute their thoughts and ideas. This allows a working environment where open dialogue, a feeling of collaborative working and trust are intrinsic to the success of the practice.

Tornberg greeted the New Year with her promotion to associate director, which partly came about because Haptic offers equality, based on skills; not judging on age, experience or gender.

Advice to those starting out

Tornberg main piece of advice is acknowledging that you need to be true to yourself, take time to develop your skills and to find a company which offers your key interest at heart so you enjoy your career.

Stokke meanwhile advocates patience. There is a “wanting of the millennials to achieve instantly”, yet the reward of architecture is as a long profession. “There is no rush. Accept absorption throughout the vocation.” Again the significance in applying ones-self in the here and now.

Lucy Painter is the Director and Founder of Studio, a specialist recruitment agency for the design sector. You can follow her on Twitter @Studio_Lucy, or learn more at studio.eu.com.

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