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Working with Norwegians

How to Work with Your Norwegian Colleagues During the Coronavirus Outbreak

The COVID-19 or Coronavirus has gripped the world and made its way to Norway, potentially impacting millions of working Norwegians.

How can you stay safe and virus free even up in the cold north? Here are a few recommended tips to help you out in the workplace.

  1. Avoid small talk with coworkers.
  2. Avoid all personal interaction with colleagues, especially in the morning. Just take your seat and no need to say a word.
  3. Go to the doctor even if you don’t feel symptoms. It’s better to wait in line at the hospital then risk infecting others at work. And hey, it’s mostly free thanks to socialized medicine.
  4. Take another unnecessary vacation. Not so much to travel and further risk exposure but because you likely have the vacation time available.
  5. Avoid individual praise of coworkers. Not only is it discouraged but it might require you to get within speaking distance of a colleague.
  6. Cancel that meeting that was meant to plan a future meeting. There will be plenty of time for meetings when this all blows over.
  7. Wrap yourself in no less than 3 layers of wool. As most Norwegians will tell you wool is always the answer.
  8. Wear a face mask. Made of wool.
  9. Gargle with Akevitt every morning.
  10. When making your boring cold sandwich lunch use gloves (made of wool) to avoid touching the food directly.

We hope these tips are helpful and keep you both virus and social interaction-free. We’re all in this together. Except of course for those of you who have already retreated to your vacation home in Spain.


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Corporate Ethics in Norway

When asked about conflicts of interest John Doerr, a famous American venture capitalist, once reportedly replied:

“Well, no conflict, no interest”.

If his firm did not have a conflict or an unfair competitive advantage, they really had no interest in the deal. This simple and short statement well encapsulates the American ‘win at all costs’ attitude you find in some industries.

Businessmen and women in America like myself hear these war stories throughout their careers, along with grand tales of fortunes made by bending a few both ethical and legal rules.

This is not the case in Norway.

Breaking the rules, especially in business, is not common in Norway. Those that do, regardless of the outcome is positive for their business, quickly lose respect in the public eye. The press seems also to take great pleasure in hanging those who do so out to dry.

Unlike in America, you’re not likely to get a second chance when your bad behavior becomes known.

The Norwegian’s memory of such bad actors lasts for as long as the fjords are deep…


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Typical Norwegians You Meet in the Workplace

Working in Norway as a foreigner you’re going to meet a wide range of different people and personalities. So it’s not fair to generalize, even in such a homogenous culture that is Norway!

Still, with that being said, I have found a few repeating archetypes within the Norwegian workplace. So here are some sweeping generalizations about a few Norwegians you might meet in the workplace.

Perhaps you recognize someone or maybe even yourself?

Typical Norwegian Businessman

The typical Norwegian or den typiske nordmann, is the proudest Norwegian you’ll meet. He’s proud of his country and proud of his cross-country skiing. He’s also incredibly proud of that one time he was successful in business 20 years ago and hasn’t stopped talking about it since. He’s a global traveler but somewhat skeptical of foreigners who come to Norway for business. He feels that business in Norway is best done by and with other Norwegians.

Miss Follow Through

They are your modern empowered Norwegian businesswoman. She enjoys one of the smallest gender pay gaps in the world thanks to Norway’s emphasis on fairness and equal pay. She’s known in the office for always following through on her work, which earns her great respect. That’s due to her approach of under-promising and overdelivering to her colleagues. She won’t take that many risks in business as a result.

Mr. Gotta Go

A slippery one, they are the most difficult Norwegian to get to know either personally or on a business level. A master of slipping away to avoid small talk or business dealings, they are a tricky one to connect with in the office. Look for opportunities to connect over a hobby like skiing or doing dugnad (community work) away from the office.

The Love Refugee

Not a native Norwegian but an ex-pat who settled in Norway many years ago. Like most foreigners who settle here, they came here for love. The rather attractive Norwegians have managed to keep a steady flow coming to Norway.

They will be much easier to get to know, both on a personal and business level. They understand how challenging it can be to form relationships here in Norway. They might even invite to drinks after work! Your other Norwegian colleagues run off to home and the barnehage (kids school) so quickly after work they don’t even bother to say goodbye!

That One Loud Ass Norwegian

One of the few loud voices you’ll find in Norway, they don’t respect the quiet sanctuary of the Norwegian office. They are known for squawking at meetings and around the office, much to the dismay of coworkers who prefer more peaceful surroundings. When Norwegian drinking culture comes into play, that loudness only intensifies with each shot of aquavit they consume. They are also usually from the west coast from areas like Bergen.

Super Sporty Scandie

They never stop moving and live a very healthy lifestyle. They will almost always be planning a hike, going skiing, swimming in a fjord, or just doing any other physical activity. They are super sporty and as a result, have exceptionally low BMI (and typically a very cute butt). They also don’t let work get in the way when the weather is nice, or physical activity can take them out of the office. Your best chance to catch them and build a relationship will be to join her or him in one of these physical activities. If they see a foreigner embrace Norwegian nature and exercise, this can help you earn their great respect.

The Gretas

This friendly and eager millennial is now established in the Norwegian workforce. Raised in a highly functional and fair socially democratic society, their optimism can only be matched by their drive to do good in the world. You’ll find them drinking from metal straws, posting Instagrams from Africa, and talking about reducing their carbon footprint all while they jet off to Spain for yet another holiday.

They are however thankfully less held back by the restrictive Law of Jante and as a result, represent great potential for Norway’s future. Now, if we could only get them to stop constantly staring at their phones.

The Old Timer

The old-timer has seen it all before and isn’t interested in doing business differently. Especially when that new approach is proposed by a foreigner. They will be most skeptical and address the outsider with an uninterested response, followed by the exhibition of a general lack of willingness to work together. Things are working well enough, why try to go and change anything?

No Plan to Small

They create a plan for the plan and backup plans for both plans. They book meetings to plan a future meeting. They can whip up a plan with great speed because Norwegians take great pride in being able to do such an exercise. The output is generally considered less important than planning for the output itself in Norway.


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Corporate Hierarchy in Norway

In Norway even large organizations are considered flat, non-hierarchical and equal.

This type of flat work environment allows for open and transparent sharing of information so everyone is included.

Due to this flat structure it is not recommend to try a “top-down” approach to doing business with Norwegian companies.

Norwegian companies have bosses like anywhere else.

However, their role is often much different than in other business cultures.

They lead by coaching and maintaining an inclusive team environment.

They don’t often “crack the whip,” as we like to say in America. Instead, they work together as equal to their colleagues.

Along with this equality you’ll find the need for lots of consensus.

This means that almost all company decisions will additional take time.

This can be frustrating to a foreigners used to faster decision making and iteration cycles.

 

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Norwegian Office Dress Code

By European standards especially, but even by American standards, Norwegian business dress code would be considered informal and casual.

In Norway it’s less important to display one’s wealth through fashion as you might see elsewhere. 

In fact, wearing exotic or ostentatious outfits is usually discouraged in a business setting. Heaven forbid one stands out and attempts to bend the Law of Jante with a fabulous neckline.

Men typically wear conservative business suits in most industries: A blazer and trousers with no tie.

Norwegian business men tend to opt for a simple backpack (locally called a rucksack) instead of a traditional briefcase or more fashionable bag.

For women in most industries, a well-tailored dress, trousers or pantsuit works just fine.

For jewelry, it’s usually minimal and understated.

All of this is not to say that Norwegians don’t appreciate fashion! In fact, they dress very well and purchase a lot of clothing from their slightly more fashion-savvy neighbor Sweden.

So that’s pretty straightforward right? Norwegian women own plenty of amazing, high-end clothes, they simply rarely wear them. Men wear ties but no shoes to parties and don’t wear ties to work.

Welcome to Norway!

 

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Norwegian Drinking Culture

To say Norwegians don’t party hard would be like saying the tax is only a little high in Norway.

It would be quite the understatement.

No, in fact Norwegians enjoy a drink (or 15) and those drunken adventures often cross over into business life as well.

With the cost of alcohol in Norway so high, there’s a local expression that covers their approach to drinking quite well “Being half drunk is a waste of money.”

In Norway they don’t go halfway when it comes to drinking, more like all the way and then some.

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Norwegian Risk Appetite in Business

The typical Norwegian will take great risks in nature.

They will go on long extended hikes in the middle of nowhere.

They cross country skiing in the very cold snow. 

They perch high above the daunting mountains that line the beautiful fjords, dangling their feet precariously. 

They jump in freezing lakes without much concern.

And after all those adventures they’ll often consume alcohol at an alarming rate.

This type of risk is encouraged in Norwegian society, even admired. However, things are a little different when it comes to risk in business.  

Norwegians manage risk in business one very simple way: by avoiding it all costs.

Ok, perhaps that’s not entirely true, but it does sometimes feel this way as you start working with Norwegians.

Getting them to try a new product, make a large business deal, or try a new business strategy will no doubt be one of your greatest challenges.

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Meeting Room Culture in Norway

In many other business cultures the meeting room is often more like a battlefield.

It’s where ideas are pushed forward, allies are formed, and confrontation is inevitable.

That’s not how meeting room culture works in Norway.

The Norwegian meeting room is a peaceful place, a calm room where grandstanding and chest-pounding is greatly discouraged. 

Even aggressive hand motions are not recommended here!

It’s important you understand Norwegian meeting room culture as you do business here. That’s because in Norway you’re going to have a lot of meetings.

Sometimes you have a meeting to plan the next meeting. 

And all those meetings start exactly on time.

That’s because in Norway those who deliver work on time and show up for meetings on time earn extra prestige in the workplace.

Meetings also end exactly on time and typically not a second later.

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Romance in the Norwegian Workplace

While working in Norway you’re going to want to sleep with Norwegians, and that’s perfectly alright! After all, Norway’s greatest importer of foreigners is not through immigration or job placements, but through love itself. And there is no shortage of ridiculously good-looking people to fall in love with here, even if that’s just for one night.

If you are however lucky enough to sleep with a Norwegian, or two, or twelve during your business adventures, there’s a few social norms to understand. The first is that casual sex is fairly prevalent both in Norway and throughout the Nordics. So slow down there, tiger, and try to avoid falling too head over heels in love after just a single hot night under the sheets. There’s a high likelihood that the experience, as passionate as it might have been, is taken less seriously by your Norwegian partner. In the case of sleeping with coworkers and then sitting across from them at the meeting room table the next day at work don’t be too surprised if their demeanor has switched right back to work mode. That may have been a one-time performance. Unless of course, you get lucky again at next year’s Julebord when you’re both enjoying yourself a little too much. Still, when the moment has passed don’t be too surprised if it’s never mentioned again.

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Typical Norwegian Workday

After spending enough time in Norway you might start to feel like time moves just a little slower here.

Everyone and everything from planes to trains is on time, almost exactly on time in fact.

Work is always delivered on time or as agreed upon.

To not follow through on your word can cause you to lose trust in Norway.

However, everything else just seems to take a little bit longer. The pace is noticeably subdued, and that’s exactly how Norwegians like it.

To rush something or haphazardly finish work is not the norm. To take an unnecessary shortcut to speed things up doesn’t really happen here. Things get done when they get done. This doesn’t help much when trying to do business deals with Norwegians. I soon learned how to operate on a whole new time scale:

Norwegian time.

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