Published 2019-05-21

This post is also available in Swedish

Mistra project ‘test-drives’ the future

In the Mistra SAMS Living Lab, residents of Tullinge south of Stockholm can work close to home yet still away from it. In this way, they make their working day more efficient while reducing their carbon footprint.
‘There are many advantages; I go to a workplace that’s close and where the equipment is ergonomically good,’ says Åsa Jansson, a regular user of the work hub.

In the crackdown on carbon emissions, travel has become a focus. The use of fossil fuels must be cut here; otherwise, Sweden will be unable to fulfil its commitment to the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate. The Mistra SAMS (Sustainable Accessibility and Mobility Services) research project is investigating how new digital solutions can contribute.

In Tullinge, 20 kilometres south-west of Stockholm, a ‘Living Lab’ was therefore recently inaugurated. Here, residents of Tullinge are offered the opportunity to work remotely at a quality-assured workplace: a ‘work hub’. The prerequisite is that they usually commute 30 to 60 minutes to work in each direction. They must also live no more than five kilometres away so that they can walk or cycle to the hub.

Currently, the project has 20 participants. The aim is to raise the number to 50.

‘This work hub caters for people who have permanent employment at a big company or organisation and who live in the immediate vicinity. It’s also out of town, in a suburban centre,’ says Anna Kramers, Researcher at KTH Royal Institute of Technology and Programme Director of Mistra SAMS.

Anna Kramers

The work hubs that exist today are intended for freelancers and located in city centres. In the Tullinge hub, instead, users work near home without being at home. There are small soundproofed rooms for telephone calls and digital meetings, a bookable conference room, a kitchen and a broadband connection. The 14 workplaces have height-adjustable desks, large screens and ergonomic office chairs. Places are booked in advance via the digital platform that participants can access. There, they will soon be offered more services. Carpooling, electric-bicycle pooling and more are under discussion.

Jansson is sitting at one of the workplaces. A consultant in business systems, she lives in Tullinge, while most of her clients are in Solna, north-west of the city. She goes to the hub up to three times a week.

‘There are so many advantages. I go to a workplace that’s close and where the equipment’s ergonomically good. I can also have client meetings in the conference room,’ Jansson says.

Being able to socialise with others instead of working alone is also stimulating: ‘You meet so many different types of people here.’

Her experience is shared by others. This emerged from the researchers’ first round of interviews with the participants, which made it clear that the hub is used in more ways than previously thought.

‘Some come and work at the hub for a few hours until the worst congestion period on the commuter train is over. Then they don’t have to stand all the way into Stockholm,’ says Teo Enlund, researcher at KTH Royal Institute of Technology, who leads the Tullinge project jointly with Kramers.

Teo Enlund

Others go home a little earlier to collect their children. Then they come back and work while the children are at leisure activities. If more people had that opportunity, the rush-hour peaks would be cut and capacity in public transport would be better utilised, the researchers argue.

Meeting electronically instead of physically can also reduce the need for travel. Peter Arnfalk of Lund University is therefore included in the research group. Since 2011, as an expert on digital platforms, he has helped over 80 Swedish government agencies to apply electronic conference technology. The purpose of all this is to reduce the impact on the environment and climate. So far, carbon emissions have been reduced by an average of 25 per cent per employee.

‘For the technology to be used, it needs to create the feeling of being present. For that, you need access to undisturbed rooms, good sound and a camera at face level. It’s also important for the face to be properly illuminated,’ Arnfalk says. The small rooms in the work hub are therefore now equipped with subdued light panels.

Today, there are seven commercial partners in the project that can benefit from future work hubs in various ways. The telecom giant Ericsson is one of them.

‘Ericsson has office space for around 60 per cent of its staff. The company also has 50-odd employees living in Tullinge. Their safety representative has been here and approved the premises,’ Kramers says.

The municipality also reaps benefits. If more people stay in the municipality, there will be more life and movement during the day. Then there will be more people who have lunch at the restaurants, go shopping and so on.

‘All this should generate interest in paying part of the rent in the future,’ Enlund says.

The researchers are now discussing what might happen if various incentives were added to support environmentally friendly behaviour. For example, this could be that participants see the difference in climate impact between choosing their usual workplace or the hub, or between cycling, walking or driving.

‘We’re constantly learning and depicting a possible future. Then we test-drive it before it exists,’ Enlund says.

The Mistra SAMS project is led by KTH Royal Institute of Technology in collaboration with the Swedish National Road and Transport Research Institute (VTI). The Living Lab study runs until the end of 2019.