Published 2020-03-25

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Bolund: ‘Mistra’s work hub can solve many problems’

The Mistra SAMS work hub has been running for almost a year. Interest in the initiative, including at governmental level, is growing. That was why Sweden’s Minister for Financial Markets and Housing, Per Bolund, on his own initiative, went there to see and learn.

If Sweden is to achieve its climate targets, emissions from the transport sector must be reduced. The Mistra SAMS (Sustainable Accessibility and Mobility Services) research project is therefore investigating whether new digital solutions can help residents of suburbs and small communities to avoid, at least one day a week, the need to travel to work. Instead, they will be able to perform their work duties in a kind of freelance office — a work hub — in their own neighbourhood.

To test the solution in practice, Mistra SAMS launched a Living Lab in Tullinge, some 20 kilometres south of Stockholm’s city centre. The fact that the hub ended up right there is partly explained by the high proportion — 70 per cent — of residents in Botkyrka Municipality, to which Tullinge belongs, who commute from there to work.

The hub has 14 workstations to which some 60 people in the surrounding area are linked. On average, they work in the premises a little over one day a week. Some choose to stay there for whole days, while others go for a couple of hours in the morning and then travel to their regular workplace when the rush-hour traffic has subsided.

Bolund in talks with Mistra SAMS

Although the trial has not been going on long, it has aroused great interest. Its reputation has also reached the Government, which prompted Minister Bolund, on his own initiative, to contact the Tullinge work hub and propose a visit. He visited the hub at the end of February.

Per Bolund besöker Mistra SAMS hubb i Tullinge

After a tour, the Minister was given a presentation of the whole concept and a chance to test technology that facilitates distance work. He then had an open discussion with representatives of Mistra SAMS and Botkyrka Municipality. Topics discussed included both future opportunities and how the Government might help to promote various types of satellite workplace.

The message from Anna Kramers, Programme Director of Mistra SAMS, is that the hub’s purpose is to investigate whether mobility and accessibility services can be a way for Sweden to achieve its climate goals.

‘The idea of the hub is that those who work here will avoid unnecessary trips. But to find out what works, we have to experiment.’

Before the start of the research programme, there were several questions: who might conceivably want to work there, where a hub should be located and how the location affects travel patterns.

Researchers believe that the work hub’s current location, in the immediate vicinity of a commuter-train station, will primarily reduce public transport. Siting a corresponding hub in an area where most people drive to work, on the other hand, would have a more pronounced impact on car traffic.

Future solutions clash with today’s norms

Who would opt to work in the hub, and also why some who say they want to do so never make the move, are other questions that needs answering.

‘Sometimes our future solutions clash with today’s requirements and norms saying that people aiming for a career must be visible in their workplaces,’ says Martin Sjöman, a PhD student on the project.

Bolund noted that the state cannot just devote resources to facilitating travel, since transport requirements have to decrease now.

Per Bolund besöker Mistra SAMS hubb i Tullinge

‘That’s why I was keen to come here, and I’ve received many inspirational impressions to take away. In particular, this kind of solution has the potential to solve environmental problems, make people’s everyday lives easier and help to strengthen local communities. As I see it, this is a real win-win solution.’

Kramers and her research colleague Peter Arnfalk think the national telework policy, which was drawn up back in 1998, needs updating. This is particularly because it was formulated at a time when we had neither mobiles nor laptops.

‘I didn’t even know there was such a policy,’ Bolund says.

Much of the discussion was about how operations like the Mistra SAMS hub can be commercially viable.

‘A dilemma is that we’re good at charging for services that we use, but worse at finding payment models for things that don’t happen, such as a trip that needn’t be made. That’s why we have to find a system to pay for non-travel, too,’ Kramers says.

State support for distance solutions

Bolund proposes that the researchers associated with the hub should see and learn from other sectors. By way of example, he mentioned the agreements between property owners and companies that ensure energy optimisation in buildings, to share the savings generated by measures to improve efficiency. He also thinks it might be possible for the state to support operations like the hub in Tullinge, both directly and indirectly.

‘We might possibly go in with direct support if this type of operation were included in the service offices we want to establish around the country. But indirectly, we could promote the trend by making counterclaims that municipalities should provide this type of workplace, when we provide grants for infrastructure projects of various kinds,’ he says.

After the visit, Kramers noted with satisfaction that the visit had been a success and they had got their messages across.

‘Per was clearly interested in our operation, and I think he can convey to the Government an understanding of issues related to distance work.’

Text: Per Westergård