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The COVID-19 pandemic dramatically shifted people’s spatial relationships between home and work. Remote work in the Nordic Region has been normalised, and daily commuting patterns to workplaces, schools, and universities have been affected as people opt—at least to some degree—to work and study from their home or second home. Many businesses have already implemented new work-from-home policies that seek to improve the quality of life for staff and minimise costs associated with large office locations. This is having immediate impacts on the home-work relationship and is expected to increasingly impact the daily commuting and settlement preferences of a growing share of the Nordic population (for example Andersson & Wolf 2022; HBS Economics & Hanne Shapiro Futures, 2023).
While the pandemic negatively affected many lives, it also provided a window of opportunity for resolving technological and administrative barriers to remote work, and remote work practices have accelerated since 2020. This emerging pattern has challenged the idea that the production of knowledge is a social process requiring physical face-to-face proximity. Effective online interactions, collaborations, and activities have challenged the previous stronghold of arguments for the geographical clustering of businesses and educational institutions driving digital innovation and regional development. However, the long-term implications, opportunities, and knock-on effects of remote work on Nordic regions and municipalities remain uncertain.
To address this gap of knowledge, the research project "Remote work and multilocality post-pandemic" aims to support a better understanding of the spatial consequences and emerging trends of remote work and multilocality to better prepare local and regional planners for responding to these consequences. Key issues include the impacts of these trends on 1) different types of people and the changes in their daily life due to remote work practices, 2) the different types of places along the urban-rural continuum, and 3) the efficient planning processes on how to meet these impacts through the identification of challenges and opportunities. 
The first phase of the project included a literature review and statistical analysis. A summary of these findings is found under "Summary of previous project results from Remote work and multilocality post-pandemic". The present phase of the project focuses on how remote work trends play out in urban, rural, and regional contexts. To better understand the impact on various geographies, case studies were carried out in 2023. This report addresses the urban context in a study of five smaller Nordic towns. A parallel study of rural and regional contexts has been published simultaneously.[1]

Research framework and method

This report investigates possibilities and challenges created by remote work opportunities in five Nordic towns: Kalundborg (Denmark), Ekenäs (Finland), Hvolsvöllur (Iceland), Kongsvinger (Norway), and Oxelösund (Sweden). The research focuses on factors that influence attraction and retention of small-town populations based on remote work opportunities and the planning implications these factors might have. The three themes—people, places, and planning—were taken as a point of departure to explore the impact of remote work opportunities. The people aspect refers to concrete changes to daily life caused by remote work, including work practices, lifestyles, and routines. The places aspect investigates the territorial effects of such changes, and the planning aspect refers to the implications of these changes for Nordic planners and policymakers.
Map 1 shows the location of the towns included in the study. The definition of remote work and a note on urban attractiveness is found below.
The first phase of the project showed that the largest changes in population during the COVID-19 pandemic occurred in the capital regions, with people moving out of the cities to the surrounding areas. Further, it was hypothesized that smaller towns in proximity to larger urban centres would be attractive due to the lifestyles they offer in combination with labour market opportunities reflecting the proximity to larger urban centres (OECD, 2021). Therefore, this research investigates the impacts of remote work on smaller towns outside of, but in proximity to, capital cities in the five Nordic countries. To allow for comparison, the selection criteria were chosen to generate a certain degree of similarity between the cases. However, as all the five Nordic countries were included, comparison had its natural limits. The selection criteria included geographical location, population growth, and development prospects. Each of the five towns are within daily commuting distance to capital regions, but they are distant enough not to be the pre-pandemic first choice (more than 100 km from the capital city centre, commuting time by car of around 1.5 hours). Moreover, towns that previously had not experienced a fast population increase, but in most cases experienced population growth in the years of the pandemic, were shortlisted. Additionally, towns that did not see clear advantages or a lot of growth related to their location in the vicinity of the capitals before the pandemic were deemed interesting to study. The aim of the selection criteria was to investigate if and how these smaller towns might retain and attract populations based on remote work opportunities, thus widening the areas that may benefit from the labour markets of capital regions.
After defining the selection criteria, researchers used national and municipal statistics and the Nordic urban-rural typology[2] (developed in an earlier stage of the remote work project), as well as municipal websites, to identify one case study town per Nordic country. Researchers then studied municipal websites and policy documents, as well as media articles, to understand the local context of remote work in each case town. Thereafter, researchers conducted interviews with civil servants working in planning, business counselling and marketing in each of the municipalities. To complement the picture, additional interviews were made with the local business council in Denmark (Erhvervsrådet Kalundborg) and the Association of Municipalities in South Iceland (SASS). A mail correspondence with the human resources department of Statistics Norway added data to the Norwegian case. In the Finnish and Icelandic cases, co-working hub owners were also interviewed. In total, 13 interviews with 17 informants were made, which included mail correspondence on follow-up topics after some of the interviews. Interviews were made and other case study data collected between October 2022 and May 2023. Because the topic of remote work is continually unfolding, researchers reviewed additional policy reports, academic papers, and media articles beyond that which was considered in the project literature review (see summary in coming chapter, Randall et al., 2022a). Some of this material was valuable for a common understanding of remote work post-pandemic, other materials were directly relevant for the limited scope of this report and were therefore referenced in the report. A renewed systematic literature review will be made in connection with the project’s concluding report.
The project is funded by the Nordic Council of Ministers through a joint effort between the three thematic groups established under the Nordic Co-operation Programme for Regional Development and Planning 2021–2024. The research activities conducted for this report were funded by Thematic Group A “Green and Including Urban Development in the Nordics (2021–2024)”.Map with the small towns highlightedMap 1. The study includes one town in each Nordic country.

Report outline

After this introduction, the findings of the five case studies are presented in three sections. The first two chapters address the people aspect and refer to concrete changes to daily life caused by remote work, including work practices, lifestyles, and routines. First, we focus on attraction of new inhabitants and retention of present populations. Here, we discuss the composition of multilocal populations and how civil servants of these towns perceive the potential for remote work opportunities. Second, we contrast remote work with on-site work in these towns and relate these distinctions to remote work policy and distance learning. Third, we investigate the aspects of places and planning in relation to factors that influence attraction and retention of populations based on remote work opportunities. Here, the focus is small town attractiveness, physical and digital infrastructure, housing, and co-working spaces. The report concludes with a discussion on the results of the study, a summary of the main conclusions and suggestions for future research based on the remaining complexities and uncertainties of remote work. Short portraits of the case towns are found in Case 1-5. Their locations are shown in Map 1.

[1] https://pub.nordregio.org/r-2022-4-local-and-regional-experiences-of-remote-work-and-multilocality/
[2] https://nordictypology.ubihub.io/

Key terms and definitions

Remote and hybrid work

In the Nordic countries, a variety of words are used to describe the phenomenon of working wholly or partly from a place other than the main workplace. Words used can be translated into remote work, working from home, and work without specified location (Randall et al., 2022a). In this report, we use the term remote work in the meaning presented by Statistics Finland:
"Remote work refers to gainful employment that, in line with an agreement with the employer, is carried out outside the actual workplace (e.g. at home or at a summer cottage, or on a train), often with the use of information technology equipment. Remote work is work that could also be carried out at the workplace […]. A characteristic feature of remote work is that work arrangements are not tied to a specific time or place. […]" (Statistics Finland, n.d.)
However, as will become evident in the report, the term hybrid work also has a central place. Hybrid work refers to the situation when an employee works part-time at his or her permanent workplace and part-time remotely. As hybrid solutions are the most common, compared to full-time remote positions, and hybrid arrangements have different implications for spatial patterns than full-time remote work, it is deemed important to distinguish between these two different phenomena.

Urban attractiveness

Furthermore, the report uses the terms retention and attraction of populations to describe the various factors that encourage people to either remain in or relocate to these geographical areas. These terms are not straightforward—critically, geographers have challenged the notion of attractiveness in urban planning discourse by highlighting its subjectivity and its tendency to characterize cities predominantly as entities competing for capital in the form of its citizenry (Hidman, 2018). However, the term can also provide planners and policymakers with a better understanding of the macro flows of migration as they seek to identify the many complex push and pull factors that may contribute to individuals’ decisions and/or capacities to move or remain in place. 
The concept of urban attractiveness in smaller Nordic towns is also the theme of a related research project at Nordregio which evaluates characteristics of attraction and retention, specifically public space, housing, and connectivity.[3]

Summary of previous project results from Remote work and multilocality post-pandemic

The results of this report are based on and related to the findings of previous studies in the Remote work project. A short summary of these studies is given below. A comprehensive summary of the project, as well as all published reports and policy briefs, can be found at project website.[4]
In 2022, the project published two reports: Remote work: Effects on Nordic people, places and planning (Randall et al., 2022a) and Local and regional experiences of remote work and multilocality (Randall et al., 2022b). The findings support the clear potential for Nordic cooperation in developing and planning strategies to embrace remote work opportunities for Nordic municipalities and address the challenges associated with temporary and permanent population changes.
The first report, Remote work: Effects on Nordic people, places and planning, gives an overview of remote work patterns in the Nordic counties at the time of publication (May 2022). Prior to the pandemic, the Nordic Region was already unique in terms of its remote work patterns. From 2002 to 2019, more people worked from home in the Nordic countries than in any other part of Europe. As discussed in the report, there are a few possible explanations for this trend. They include the flexible work-life balance in the Nordic countries, the high levels of digitalisation and digital competencies among the general population, and the large share of workers in sectors where distance work is more commonly found, such as knowledge- and IT-intensive sectors. Furthermore, the high levels of trust reported in the Nordic countries play an important role in making remote work possible.
According to studies carried out in the Nordic countries, 50–65% of people who worked remotely during the pandemic expressed a desire to continue remote working after the pandemic, but not all the time. Most expressed a favourable situation of 2–3 days per week, suggesting the importance of hybrid workplaces and geographical flexibility.
The second report Local and regional experiences of remote work and multilocality makes a statistical analysis of migration and multilocality in two case studies conducted in Denmark and Finland. It also presents the results of a survey targeting the regional and municipal actors. The first case study on migration patterns out of Copenhagen, Denmark, found no significant change in migration distance pre- and post-pandemic. Both before and after the pandemic, more than half of the migrants moved less than 25 km from Copenhagen, and only 20% moved to a municipality further than 100 km away. The study found no notable differences between genders. The second case study investigated whether people spent more time in a region with a larger number of second homes during the COVID-19 pandemic. Google Mobility Data was used to investigate weekly and seasonal changes to the essential activity categories “Grocery & Pharmacy” and “Retail & Recreation” in the Etelä-Savo region in Finland. The study indicated that these activities were indeed affected by the pandemic.
Moreover, one-third of the respondents in the aforementioned survey considered increased opportunities for remote work to be an important factor for both permanent and temporary population developments in their region or municipality, and 46% considered it one of many factors.
The policy brief Strengthening Nordic cooperation on remote work and multilocality (Ormstrup Vestergård, 2022) summarises the findings of the first two reports and can be found here.[5]
In addition to the research above, a new Nordic urban-rural typology has been developed. This territorial typology is a tool that can be used to analyze settlement patterns and trends as well as other phenomena in different areas, ranging from the sparsest rural areas to the densest urban areas across the Nordic countries. This territorial typology is free to use and can be accessed here.[6]

[3] https://nordregio.org/research/small-town-attractiveness/
[5] https://nordregio.org/publications/strengthening-nordic-cooperation-on-remote-work-and-multilocality/
[6] https://nordictypology.ubihub.io/