Etänä-Savo: Testbed for Telework in Rural Hubs

This project is funded by the Regional Council of Southwest Finland "Regional Innovation and Experiments fund" (Alueelliset innovaatiot ja kokeilut -AIKO).

Rural areas in many countries, including Finland; have experienced a significant population decline as job opportunities increasingly concentrate in the major cities. This population change brings challenges for both rural and urban areas. Rural areas face the problems of falling housing prices and deteriorating local tax bases, which often results in difficulties maintaining public services as well as poor development prospects in general. Conversely, many urban areas are struggling with housing shortages and various congestion problems owing to the rapid population increase. This scenario is indicative of the experiences of South-Savo in recent decades. Issues such as the concentration of jobs in big cities in southern Finland and the Helsinki region, the migration of young professionals in search of these jobs, an aging population and negative migration are challenging the development and vitality of the region. However, this is not to say the province is without its strengths. For example, it offers security, cleanliness and the proximity to nature and services that are attractive to migrants to more rural regions, particularly families. South-Savo is also the second largest holiday home in Finland, and has continued to be the fastest growing region in Finland in recent years.

Advances in technology, particularly ICT; a shift from traditional manufacturing to knowledge-based jobs that presumably offer more flexibility in practices, a gradual increase in the uptake of distance- and tele-working, and the establishment of smart work centres relying on networks and market contacts can help repopulate rural communities. There are growing arguments in favour of a decoupling between place of employment and place of work. In the popular debate, some claimed that this implies a potential for ‘rural renaissance', because the new economy lends the way for stronger integration between rural and urban areas. Workplaces can change with people and work can be done more flexibly outside the growth centres. Against this background, the municipalities of South-Savo have the opportunity to develop into regional telework/smart centres - "Etänä-Savo," - where telework creates both positive migration and new business opportunities for SMEs.

The aim of the project is therefore, to develop a collaborative networking approach to a pilot platform that enables the testing of teleworking methods, processes, business models, software and hardware. The project is divided into three main themes:

  1. Building a model for decentralized and remote work in research, development and implementation in the South-Savo region.
  2. Processes for remote management of various tasks, both in the supplier/customer context and in the employee/organisation context.
  3. Cooperation with actors in the region.

The project aims to develop solutions and models for SMEs and individuals to telework, and new mechanisms for job creation that best serve the situation and needs of South-Savo now and in the future. The Etänä-Savo testbed pilot platform, consisting of methods, processes, software tools and equipment to conduct repeatable pilots and R&D on telework in different contexts, will run in conjunction with this project. The experimental platform will be developed in parallel with the Management Research Lab, established by the LUT School of Business and Management Skinnarila campus in 2018. Use, pilots and research will be carried out in cooperation with companies and R&D organisations, and the activities are organised and funded mainly as TKI projects.

The experimental platform in the project opens up many new opportunities for Mikkeli to utilise research data in the development of the region. The platform can be used in the future for example to facilitate SME growth, develop new business models, digitalisation (remote services such as telecommuting, remote nursing and security services), organisation approaches, processes and structures supporting distance working, physical and information logistics, environmental issues, regional development, local communities and work. The pilot platform strengthens the research activity of the University of Mikkeli by increasing cooperation between different actors.

The project will run from 1 June 2018 to 28 February 2019

For more information:
Professor Mikko Pynnönen, mikko.pynnonen@lut.fi, +358 50 548 7026
Research Coordinator Laura Jouhkimo, laura.jouhkimo@lut.fi, +358 50 307 5942
Project Researcher Luke Treves, luke.treves@lut.fi, +358 50 355 6039