Police work also affected by changes triggered by Covid-19 

Minna Gråsten Published Date 1.9.2021 12.19 Blog

We have been leading a Covid-19 life for almost 18 months now. We have learned to act in a new way, both in work and in leisure, and have had to adapt, some of us more easily than others. 

According to recent reports in the Media, the working environment experience of women under fifty has deteriorated. The State employer has, in turn, discovered in their own follow-up that during this period, the worktime flex hour balances have grown. 

However, there are also indications showing that the extensive remote work in expert tasks has improved the way in which people are able to combine work and their private lives. People have managed despite the fact that at times, the remote work from home has been hectic, with both parents working and children doing remote school at the same time. Many remote workers have shown to master the multiple talents of developer, teacher, IT helpline and expert in their own field. 

Currently, various sectors and organisations are reflecting on the future and ground rules of remote or telework (also WFA, working from anywhere) when the pandemic starts to abate.

Police successful in protecting staff 

The Police personnel has coped well in the midst of the pandemic. We have been committed in following the instructions of both the healthcare authorities and the employer. We should commend the entire Police staff for their commitment and resilience. 

Earlier, the Police has followed the staff wastage caused by Covid-19 on a weekly level, recently on a month by month basis. The Police headcount was little under 10 500 in early July (2021) statistics. During the entire Covid-19 period, the number of those contracting Covid-19 has been about 300, with a little less than 1 200 person in quarantine imposed by a doctor and 770 persons in autonomous quarantine.  The numbers may be somewhat overlapping but give a fair image of the situation.

In the Police, less than 3% of the staff has fallen ill while the same percentage is 2% for the entire Finnish population. Considering the nature of the Police work, for example, in control and alarm functions where contacts with other people are not always avoidable, it is fair to say that the Police has pulled well through the pandemic. The quarantines, either doctor-imposed or autonomous, have involved about 17% of the staff. 

The means for the Police to protect the staff have been varied. Sufficient protective equipment have been acquired, after the initial problems in availability and the lacking information about the benefits of the facemasks.  The staff has been encouraged to wear the facemask at the office and in the field. Hand hygiene has been emphasised and handshakes are not practiced at all. There is practically no work-related travelling unless for operative reasons. The meetings as well as staff and cooperative events are mainly organised online to avoid travelling and face-to-face encounters. Today, technology and connections are mainly well-functioning and the staff has learned to operate online. Since the beginning of the pandemic, the Police staff has been instructed to work remotely from home any time it is possible considering the tasks at hand. It is possible to have the vaccination during office hours.

The Police measures to prevent the spread of Covid-19 have also had an impact on other short absences due to sickness. Comparing the 2019 and 2020 numbers of short-term absences, the numbers for the entire Police administration have gone down from 9.8 days to 9.1 days per person year.  

Remote work has significantly increased in expert units, in particular (National Bureau of Investigation, Police University College and National Police Board). In these Police units, the decline of short absences due to sickness have been more marked: the numbers for the Police University College are 6.6/5.9, National Police Board 9.0/4.4 and NBI 7.8/7.1.  At the same time, remote work at the National Police Board went up from 4 500 to 39 000 days while the same number for the Police University College was 3 000/12 000 and NBI 1 700/22 000. Looking at the entire Police administration, the remote work in 2019 amounted to 10 000 days while in 2020 it was almost 110 000 days. 

Benefits and challenges of remote work

The remote mode is not suitable for every task, not at the Police, either. Clearly over half (61%) of the remote work at the Police is done by experts. In fact, the remote mode is best suited for independent expert work. As concerns the remote work numbers, clerical staff accounted for 29% and the remaining 10% was done by superiors, management and other personnel groups. 

During the pandemic, the Police has also noticed that at least some staff members demonstrate growing worktime flex hour balances. This may be explained by the fact that earlier, the remote working day has always been 7 hours and 15 minutes but during the pandemic, the remote working hours have been recorded in terms of factual hour inputs. It is a positive if the change has made grey working hours visible. Instead, it is a negative consequence if remote work has, for a reason or another, lead to a situation where work has accumulated to certain persons, more than to others. 

Based on the feedback obtained, remote work has some negative sides to it: people have experienced isolation, lack of support from the superior and colleagues, problems with work ergonomics and tiredness with the overall remote working at home. It seems that the practices and remote management of multivenue work still need developing.

From office to work independent of place

Recently, the Ministry of Finance has published strategy on the topic (in Finnish). The strategy contains two outlines which will certainly also direct the development of Police work. First, if the tasks at hand make it possible, teleworking or WFA is of similar value as the work at the office. Secondly, full-time telework is not an objective for the government jobs. I think these outlines are good premises for future development of work. 

Independence of location of work provides a competitive edge for the employer when they are looking for the best competence available for a certain job. WFA can impact the access to the best possible competence even if the sphere of life of the most competent person were far from the office. WFA can support work-related coping of the staff and the combination and alignment of work and private life. Naturally, diminished commuting between the home and office also has environmental importance. It is also positive to have the staff working at least partly at the office. Induction of new staff and committing them to the work community is easier. Mutual contacts among the staff have a positive impact on the functionality of the work community and its formation, commitment to shared values and smooth cooperation. 

We must remember, also in the future, that WFA is not equally suitable for all tasks. The discussion must be open and transparent in the work communities to ensure the staff experience of fairness and equality. At the same time, it is good to think of means to promote the potential of WFA in tasks where it is not possible now, for example, because of technological or equipment-related reasons. The discussion on the hybrid model with Police WFA and office work will continue after the summer holidays.

The practices of office work should be on the agenda now that we have seen the impacts of the modes of operation during the pandemic on reduced absences due to sickness, among other factors. Certainly, the significance of hand hygiene continues to be underlined in the future, and the hand disinfectant bottles will be visible at the offices. Will we now do away with handshaking for good? This will remain to be seen. It is probable that official travelling will be increasingly replaced by video conferencing, especially as we have become quite versed in it. 

At the very moment, however, we should remember to stick to the pandemic instructions: use the facemasks, keep distances, avoid contacts and remember the hand hygiene. Even if the Police is well trained to operate in sudden situations, this has been quite a unique test for us, too. The Police has shown to have good capacity to adapt but we can still learn and improve in our operations. 

Faced with the pandemic, we have done very well so far. Let’s try to resist still for a while.

Minna Gråsten
Chief of Negotiation Processes
National Police Board

Minna Gråsten National Police Board Police operations and development en