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Magnus Legal19. June 2023 6 min read

Norwegian business culture

Doing business in a foreign country can be challenging. Whether you are planning a business trip to Norway, relocating or setting up a new business here, some knowledge about the culture and business “know-how” can be key to quickly build a sustainable business and to settle in.

Fundamental principles

Norwegian business culture is generally based on Norwegian working values. Flat structure, equality and trust are core values in working life in Norway. Norwegians regards these principles as a tool to achieve an efficient and successful business.

Flat structure

Norwegians believe that equality and trust are the basis of competent, responsible, and productive workplaces. As a result, most firms aim for a flat and non-hierarchical structure.

A flat structure implies that important decisions for the firm are often made in groups, and staff will be consulted and involved in the process. Furthermore, managers at the workplace are expected to act more as coaches and facilitators rather than authoritarian figures.

Equality

A precondition for a flat structure is equality. Gender equality is practiced and valued in all aspects of society including business life. Both women and men are working as senior managers or staff. Women are equal partners.

Since equality in general is valued, it is important to be keep in mind that titles and symbols of power are less important in Norway, compared to many other countries. Use of titles can in some situations be considered old fashioned.

Trust

Norwegians have exceptionally high trust in one another and in various institutions. Trust between workers and employers are fundamental. Therefore, you can as a general rule have confidence that an employee, a worker, or a business partner will do what is agreed.

How to do business in Norway

Business meetings and negotiations

Appointments could be made by phone or by e-mails as far in advance as possible, prior to the first meeting. Appointments made over the phone are often confirmed in writing. The basic business style is relatively informal. However, meetings should be well prepared, as this demonstrates commitment and professionality. Agendas should be sent in advance to allow the business partners in Norway to prepare for the meeting.

While in a business meeting, you may experience that negotiations are moving ahead quickly, as many Norwegians do not need long-standing personal relationships to conduct business. The reason for this being the general trust and confidence in others, as emphasized initially. Therefore, it is key to be and appear trustworthy and reliable in all aspects when approaching Norwegian businesses.

Meetings should be set up beforehand and confirmed by e-mail or telephone. Punctuality is valued since it indicates trustworthiness, and it is considered impolite to be late to meetings. If you are running late to a meeting, even just a few minutes, it is expected that you call to inform. Arriving late without giving notice, could set a meeting off on the wrong foot and potentially damage the relationship.

Find out how Magnus Legal can help you succeed when doing business in Norway.

Agreements

Oral agreements and written contracts are mutually binding according to Norwegian law. Agreements can be entered into quickly, sometimes with a short email or even just a handshake, since the trust aspect is so distinct. If the necessary trust is present, a Norwegian businessman or woman will shake hands with you, trusting that the parties will draft the paperwork afterwards. Keep in mind however that larger firms may have a more formal approach, and that many are moving in the direction of more “American styled” contracts, with quite extensive paperwork.

Also read: Business in Norway - contract drafting and negotiation

Bargaining

Norwegians in general do not expect a lot of bargaining, neither in their private affairs or in business life. When negotiating, it is expected that you present a firm, realistic and competitive initial price. Aggressive bargaining will probably get you nowhere and may generate resistance among your Norwegians counterparts.

Also read: Do the right things when doing business in Norway 

Language and communication

Norwegians can be perceived as cold and direct. Do not be surprised if people don't speak to each other in the elevator, in a shop or on the bus. Small talk with strangers is uncommon in Norway.

Over 99 % of the population speak Norwegian as their first language. However, most Norwegians are very well trained in English, so you can expect to maneuver through society and business without major difficulties.

German, French and Spanish are also often taught in school, but most Norwegians are not fluent in these languages. Norwegians can understand Swedes and Danes without much difficulties.

Dress code and office environment

The office environment is normally rather informal with a casual or business casual dress code. This will however vary from where you are in the country, keeping in mind that firms in the largest cities normally practice a more conservative dress code, with dresses and dark colored suits with shirt and tie.

Greetings in the office are done with a first name basis, and business partners will also normally speak to each other by using the first name.

If you address someone you do not know in an email it is common to use the full name, but very often you will quickly move on to address each other on a first name basis.

Expensive gifts to a business partner should be avoided as it might be perceived as a bribe. Giving gifts is not part of Norwegian business culture, except a small Christmas gift or an item with a logo.

Practical advice and “know-how”

Meetings should be set up beforehand and confirmed by e-mail or telephone. Punctuality is valued since it indicates trustworthiness, and it is considered impolite to be late to meetings. If you are running late to a meeting, even just a few minutes, it is expected that you call to inform. Arriving late without giving notice, could set a meeting off on the wrong foot and potentially damage the relationship.

Expensive gifts to a business partner should be avoided as it might be perceived as a bribe. Giving gifts is not part of Norwegian business culture, except a small Christmas gift or an item with a logo.

Over 99 % of the population speak Norwegian as their first language. However, most Norwegians are very well trained in English, so you can expect to maneuver through society and business without major difficulties.

Norwegians can be perceived as cold and direct. Do not be surprised if people don't speak to each other in the elevator, in a shop or on the bus. Small talk with strangers is not common in Norway.

Norway is not a member of the EU. However, the EEA-agreement ensures that Norway takes part in the EU internal market on the same basis as EU-members.

German, French and Spanish are also often taught in school, but most Norwegians are not fluent in these languages. Norwegians can understand Swedes and Danes without much difficulties.

Also read: 5 tips for successful tendering in Norway 

Live and work in Norway

Living in Norway can be expensive, but the salaries are competitive, retirement is good, and quality of life is extraordinary. Norwegians value a good work-life balance. Normal business hours start at 8.00 am and end at 4.00 pm, from Monday to Friday, and opening hours of public offices normally are from around 9.00 am to 2.00 or 3.00 pm. The public summer holiday is three weeks in July. In these weeks, as well as the days off during Christmas and Easter, one is not expected to work, including answering e-mails etc.

Most of the dialogue between businesses/private individuals and public agencies are digitalized on platforms such as Altinn.

Norway is not a member of the EU. However, the EEA-agreement ensures that Norway takes part in the EU internal market on the same basis as EU-members.

Read more: Employee rights in Norway 

A summary of Norwegian business culture

To summarize Norwegian business culture, remember that the following points are highly valued. Keeping these in mind will significantly increase your chances of success:

  1. Equality and flat structures
  2. Focus on cooperation
  3. Informal and quick communication
  4. Trust among people
  5. Balance of work and private life
  6. Punctuality and honesty

Also read: Opportunities in Norway 

How to do business in Norway

 

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Magnus Legal

Magnus Legal is a Norwegian business law firm. We specialize in helping foreign and Norwegian companies succeed when doing business in Norway.

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