Workspace Creates a Frame for the Community

Traditionally, academic work has involved the idea of freedom to do one’s job in the way in which one has wanted to organize it, while considering the general framework. During the times of the coronavirus, the situation has changed significantly: at times, going into the office has been prevented or at least strongly limited. This has foregrounded a discussion about the importance of workspaces and community. A workspace is not just a space for doing one’s own work. It is also a place for engaging with one’s own work community.

As the permanent virtualization of teaching is simultaneously moving forward, the question about organizing alternative workspaces becomes more important than before. Have teachers or researchers acquired their housing with an eye for a situation where their employers expect them to work at home more and more? In the future, this is worth thinking about, because the trend is almost certainly going to pick up.

Moving work from the office to home is an income transfer from the employee to the employer, because the home office deduction that the tax authorities allow for is a small price for a corner of the kitchen table. At the same time, the employer saves a significant amount of money on the costs of office premises.

When work has no time or place, how is it measured and monitored? Surprisingly, some universities still have rules saying that a teacher needs to be physically present for a set amount of days in a week during teaching periods.

This, if anything, is contradictory communication. It is also against the collective agreement. The management of the workplace communicates that people can work at home, in a hub, or in some corner of an activitybased office, but at the same time the personnel management wants to keep employees at the workplace so that it can monitor that they are working.

Working time is only preliminarily connected to chronological time. Therefore, the working plan becomes more important than before in planning work and working time. Teachers and researchers could mend their ways on this: often the working plan is not done, and its entries are so imprecise that the plan is not helpful in interest representation.

Unions can also mend their ways in their communication: the importance of the working plan needs to be highlighted more clearly than before, and active members and shop stewards need to be educated to emphasize this.

The number of different tasks grows all the time. Nevertheless, unlike the universe, the 1612 yearly working hours do not expand on their own. When the number of hours is exceeded, there should be a discussion of extra work that is compensated for separately, or some tasks should be left undone. This is a challenge for management work in particular.

The Ministry of Education and Culture has promised to conduct a survey on how personnel use their time. Apparently, it only needs to be started.

For interest representatives, the half-coerced digital leap brings some grey hair: what is work according to both employers and employees?

The framework of the collective agreement has a limit on the maximum number of contact teaching hours. Teaching that takes place on Zoom can still be measured, if there are as many Zoom hours as contact teaching, but various course components that are independent of time and place are still waiting for a solution.

The collective agreement that was decided in winter 2020 outlined a working group that would examine this definition. We should also not forget that the vision work for the digitalization of higher education learning environments by 2030 puts significant pressure on the university sector to develop the collective agreement rules.

Employers cannot be given an open mandate to randomly decide how much of a particular task teachers and researchers need to do.

Translation: Elina Siltanen

Santeri Palviainen
Chair, The Union for University Teachers and Researc hers in Finland, YLL

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