Croudie stories: Living and working in Iceland

In this blog, Gudmundur F. Magnusson shares his experience of being part of the Croudie Network whilst living in Iceland, and explores Icelandic working culture, as well as some interesting facts about his country.

This is written on a cold and windy mid-January morning, where we have already had rescue teams out several times in stormy weather this year. Mostly to save dead things like corrugated iron from roofs, and trampolines, but also people stuck in their cars in snowstorms on mountain roads. Most people here have a love-hate relationship with the weather, because at the other end of the spectrum we have the midnight sun in June, where we can peacefully listen to birds singing, water streaming in creeks and waterfalls and go camping, fishing and golfing.

Working culture

We have a working culture where it is commonly seen as respectable to work a lot and to always be busy, sometimes in order to maintain a lifestyle that one can only afford on the surface, with a big house, big jeep and expensive outdoor equipment. This mindset has been shifting with the younger generations around or below 40 years old, and maybe the old mindset went bankrupt along with the Icelandic banks in 2008.

Now, people seem increasingly focused on the so-called work life balance, they want to work less and to have more time for family, leisure and relaxing. The shortening of the work week has been agreed and implemented in the past 2-3 years for the majority of the working population, through campaigning from labour unions. For the largest union of office workers, this meant 45 minutes less per week or 3 hours and 15 minutes per month. A 40-hour work week has become a 39.25-hour work week.

Freelancing is still not very common in Iceland but has been picking up in the past few years, with a local freelance platform launching two years ago. Personally, I started freelancing in January 2018 in Germany, where I lived in a remote town of 50,000 people after losing my job in a near-bankruptcy of my employer at the time, where most of the staff were laid off. I decided to offer services in marketing, translation and proofreading and was initially contacted by Croud through LinkedIn.

Since then, I have worked on a range of projects for Croud, mostly related with online marketing (SEA and SEO) and localisation or translation, but also review tasks requiring proofreading. I also tried other freelance platforms and agencies, which mostly ranged from average to terrible due to, for example, too low payments, too short deadlines (today!) and too small tasks to justify issuing an invoice for. Croud has been one of two agencies I have freelanced for that stood out in a positive way, offering reasonable payments, interesting projects, clear and polite communication and manageable deadlines. Therefore, I have continued working for Croud and recommended the company to others.

Marketing in Iceland

Marketing in Iceland is unusual due to a small population. In larger markets, segmenting target groups for branding is important for efficient use of budget. In Iceland, many advertisers just do campaigns “aimed at everyone”.

Radio is a strong medium in Iceland and has remained a strong channel for advertising. Newspapers have been in steady decline for the past two decades as people are spending more time online. In terms of online marketing, Google and Facebook are the strongest mediums overall, but for the youngest generations, TikTok and Snapchat. WhatsApp has never taken off in Iceland for some reason, people use Facebook Messenger instead.

The Icelandic population is quick to adopt new technologies and smartphone adoption is among the highest in the world, if not the highest. Buying products and services online has increased a lot since the pandemic started, including groceries.

Business attitude conventions

In Iceland, hierarchies are flat and communication is direct and informal. If you want to speak to the CEO of your company directly, it is usually straight-forward to arrange. It might be more difficult in big companies though, but most companies in Iceland are small and medium sized. People are generally expected to treat each other as equals and if a boss is too overbearing with more junior staff, they may well lose the employee as a consequence as that kind of behaviour is generally not tolerated.

In this small society, it is relatively common that people are hired through contacts or people they know. This has pros and cons, the hiring process will usually take shorter time and require less resources for companies but on the other hand, they may overlook more qualified candidates that would have served them better in the long run.

Working from home has become common since the pandemic started and is leading to a permanent change as in many other countries, where a hybrid office work and work from home is becoming the norm.

Important dates and normal working week hours

As mentioned earlier, the normal working week for office workers in Iceland is now 39.25 hours. Important days in the calendar are e.g. First Day of Summer, which is the first Thursday after the 18th of April each year (21st of April in 2022). This is a holiday in Iceland and marks the official beginning of summer, sometimes with snow unfortunately. The most optimistic people will still wear shorts on this day though. The 17th of June is our independence day, originating in 1944. The first Monday in August is called Merchants Day; the weekend before and including this day is called Merchants Weekend and is the biggest holiday weekend in Iceland, where many people attend large camping festivals with live music and partying.

Interesting facts

  • Iceland has a population of 374 thousand, meaning the country has fewer residents than Liverpool, Manchester and Bristol.
  • In January and early February, Icelanders celebrate an old Pagan tradition called Þorrablót, which involves eating things such as rams’ testicles, fermented shark and singed sheep heads.
  • “Gluggaveður” literally means “window weather” and refers to sunny weather that looks nice from inside looking out of the window, evoking hope, but then turns out to be ice cold when one steps outside.
  • Most people start working as teenagers (13 years old), cutting grass and picking up weeds for their municipality.

If you’re interested in becoming a digital freelancer, learn more about the Croudie Network and start onboarding today.

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