Language immersion and family events – communal facilities engage and integrate international talent

As competition for skilled employees intensifies, companies are increasingly investing in the integration of their personnel into Finnish society. Communal facilities that also promote language-learning play a key role in helping people become engaged in their new working environment. Read further to find out how an office that promotes integration is built!

According to Eveliina Korpela, a researcher at the University of Helsinki who studies multicultural work communities, Finland is attracting more and more international workers. Employers are also approaching the integration of these people more comprehensively than before.

“Companies operating in Finland play a significant role in the integration of immigrant workers, as state-supported language and integration programmes are mainly aimed at unemployed jobseekers,” Korpela says.

Integration increasingly emphasises the importance of learning the local language, Korpela says.

“Employees don’t want to be enclosed in an English-language company bubble – they want to be comprehensively integrated into the new workplace and country. Research shows that language learning has a significant impact on wellbeing and cultural inclusion, and language skills also affect career progression.”

In Korpela’s view, employees no longer want to be locked inside the English-language corporate bubble. “Modern work communities are considering how to enable the comprehensive integration of newcomers, as well as the use of parallel languages in the premises and company culture.”

A good location makes life easier

Korpela says that knowledge workers moving to a new country are often dedicated experts who spend a lot of time at the office. This places the premises in a central role when it comes to integration.

“Social networks develop only when people meet and interact. The better the transport connections and local services where the office is located, the more effectively it brings people together,” Korpela says.

Good local services can mean, among other things, multicultural lunch options for foreign employees, ancillary services that make everyday life easier, leisure activities that promote one’s own culture, and accommodation services close to the office. People in international companies work at different times of the day, so transport connections must work around the clock.

Unity, a gaming technology company, has 270 employees in Finland from more than 40 countries. The company, which invests heavily in making life pleasant for its employees and helping them integrate, chose Citycenter for its premises, in the heart of Helsinki. The location has the best transport connections and local services in Finland.

“In many cases, an easily accessible and central location is also important for international companies due to brand visibility and visits by foreign customers,” Korpela points out.

Family get-togethers and recycling points

In addition to optimal working conditions in the premises themselves, Korpela emphasises the importance of participation and communality. Premises contribute best to the social framework when they serve as an extension of the home and enable interactions not only between the employees themselves but also between their families.

At Unity, the induction and integration of employees is the responsibility of each new employee’s own team, which brainstorms different activities and events for the staff. Some of the events also get employees’ families involved.

A multicultural company may also have premises that maintain cultural customs or promote language learning. As one example of this Korpela mentions “Suomi-huone”, a room where immersive Finnish language classes are held that are welcoming to all. Objects in the room are labelled in Finnish.

“It’s a good thing to have a space in the workplace where even an expert can ask silly questions and ask for help in matters related to everyday life and the local language, without their professional identity being threatened,” Korpela says.

“Taking employees’ needs into account comprehensively makes it clear to them that the company hires individuals, not resources.”

Communal spaces also provide an opportunity for interactions outside of working hours. An office located in the heart of the city or in a shopping centre can also serve as a base for a shopping trip, and a well-equipped game or movie room also attracts families to stop by the office.

Learning the local language is most effective when it takes place during working hours and at the workplace. Unity supports its staff’s language training and promotes the use of Finnish in the premises. There are also social media groups for employees, which help colleagues get together for lunch or hobbies.

According to Korpela, making employees’ roots visible also helps the integration of newcomers. Different background cultures can be highlighted in artworks and in the interior design of the premises.

“Integration is easier if employees’ backgrounds can be seen by all.”

“In the company’s reception area, for instance, there could be a line of flags indicating the staff’s rich linguistic and cultural background, or a multilingual poster on the wall of the coffee room wishing everyone a good morning in all the languages of the company. Even little things can create a feeling that everyone’s background is valued.”

Unity’s well-stocked snack and coffee bar brings people together during work. Among the things on the wish list is a recycling point where incoming and outgoing employees could recycle goods, which would help the newcomers settle into their new life.

Changing premises? Make the most of it!

As Korpela sees it, developing an office and company culture that promotes integration into the company and Finnish society requires commitment from management and the organisation alike. The premises serve as a strategic means of guiding the company’s practices in the desired direction.

Change is needed on three levels, Korpela says.

“First you need a change of attitude and a desire to do things differently. It’s important to define where and how different backgrounds and language identities are made visible, and whose use the office is intended for and when.”

According to Unity’s Workplace Experience Territory Lead Justina Rautio, the company’s premises is designed to promote a sense of community. In addition to the office, there is a spacious lounge, a well-equipped wellness area and a sleep room for rest, meditation and prayer.

The second level Korpela identifies is created when the goals are put into practice, and practices are changed to promote integration and language learning.

The third level arises from structural changes that allow practices to take root as part of the corporate culture. Such structural changes can include incorporating language incentives into performance appraisals, for instance, or the creation of new job descriptions that promote integration.

Korpela encourages the scheduling of the change process to coincide with a change of premises or a renovation, if these are on the cards.

“It can be easier to create new practices if the premises can be designed from scratch to promote multiculturalism.”

Here’s how to create facilities that support integration:

  • Remember that the premises itself is a means of implementing the company’s strategy. Creating an office that helps newcomers to integrate requires changes at the organisational level.
  • Choose a work environment consultant who is familiar with the work environment development process and with the needs of a multicultural company.
  • Find out what needs your multicultural staff and their families have in terms of office location and local services.
  • Also find out what needs employees have in terms of different cultural spaces – for example, creating separate social spaces after a move or renovation can be expensive.
  • Make sure the office lighting, ventilation, remote connections and rest areas facilitate working at different times of the day.
  • Make sure the event space is also big enough for employees’ families.
  • Create spaces and offer activities that gather staff together outside of work as well.
  • Create job descriptions that promote integration, such as a team that introduces employees to the company and organises joint activities.
  • Make different cultures visible in art, decor, events and catering.
  • If the premises is large and spread across multiple floors in the building, themed break points are a good way of encouraging employees to move around and meet each other.
  • Separate the food heating point from the common area and make sure it is well ventilated. Also, a glass wall helps to create a sense of community.
  • Save on costs by investing in adaptability; for example, the game area can also function as a yoga room or prayer room.

Expert: Architect and workplace designer Anna Kyyhkynen of the Flock concept and design agency

Looking for attractive spaces for your multicultural company?
Check out Sponda’s vacant premises in Citycenter Offices »

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