It was October 2011. Verena Rentrop and Elsie Parumog, two Nokia staff stationed on opposite sides of the world, were having a routine work chat about the company’s IT processes when something more pressing came up.
With another wave of restructuring underway, which would see Nokia lay off tens of thousands of employees over the next few years, conversations like these and the close but remote relationship that the two had established might soon come to an end.
What they and their fellow Nokians needed was a way to stay in touch. And so, with little fuss or fanfare, Rentrop and Parumog set up the ‘Beyond Nokia’ Facebook group.
Fast forward a little over five years, and by November 10th 2016 the closed group, to which Rentrop had continued to vet new applications, had reached a respectable but unremarkable 952 members.
“In the afternoon I posted a message encouraging everyone to invite their former Nokia colleagues to the group, hoping that we would reach 1,000 members by the end of year,” she recalls.
The halls of any Nokia house resonated, for some years, with energy and belief that we could achieve anything
The following day the group had doubled in size, which Rentrop says was a “huge surprise and totally unexpected”. And then another seven days later it passed 19,000 members, and is currently adding over 1,000 new members each day.
“[That’s] a mind-blowing number if you compare it to employee figures of Nokia. Soon it will be close to the amount of people fired during the last two years,” says Rentrop.
But more remarkable than how fast the ‘Beyond Nokia’ Facebook group has grown in recent weeks (and despite laying relatively dormant for five years) is the affinity that ex-Nokians still have for the company. And, of course, for each other.
“It’s a love story,” says Sotiris Makrygiannis, who was previously director of applications and site manager of Nokia’s Helsinki R&D center. “I’ve never seen such a large group of people adoring a company. It’s remarkable. All these tens of thousands of people lost their jobs and instead of hating the company, actually admiring the company”.
To understand why, Rentrop points me to Nokia’s old company slogan: Connecting People. ”It was not just a marketing phrase,” she says, “for many members Nokia became a family”. That sentiment is echoed in the hundreds of messages and photos currently being posted to the group every hour.
“It was a 120,000 person company, yet felt a lot smaller and I can’t put my finger on why that was,” says one of the group’s members.
“The halls of any Nokia house resonated, for some years, with energy and belief that we could achieve anything. You would walk to a different floor and someone was planning something meaningful, and you could see it in their faces. I loved that,” adds another.
Unsurprisingly, given that Nokia was once a prolific hardware maker, device nostalgia is also a recurring theme. Pictures of discontinued and cherished Nokia phones are being posted along with photos of dozens of models and prototypes that never made it to market.
This is only dwarfed by the other types of Nokia memorabilia being shared. From pens used by various ex-employees to sign their original Nokia contracts, company swag adorned with sometimes undecipherable marketing jargon, to neon signs salvaged from Nokia factories since retired.
Chocolate is another topic of discussion. European countries like Switzerland and Belgium may be best-known for their chocolate-making capabilities but Nokia’s home country can also hold its own.
Explains Rentrop: “Travelling around the world was for some their primary job, for others cherished on seldom occasions. It seems one thing most trips had in common was Fazer chocolate from Finland. It was the most wanted travel gift among colleagues and has since turned into the most wanted taste for people who are beyond Nokia”.
The best Nokia product is now 12 years old, our loving daughter
The group’s content is also littered with sometimes arcane references to various inside jokes over the years. Reflecting Nokia’s once global presence, with its multiple offices spread throughout the world, conference calls come in for particular ridicule and affection.
“It looks like a huge number of working hours were spent in phone conferences,” says Rentrop. “Sweet memories of ‘mute vs un-mute’, dogs barking, toilet visits, private chats on an open line, parallel chats with meeting participants, and who can forget the many times ‘James Bond’ joined routine calls”.
But a love story wouldn’t be complete without at least one marriage. And at Nokia there were many.
Multiple stories are being shared of Nokia employees who crossed borders and found love. From Denmark to Brazil, the U.S. to Hungary, Finland to China, and many other parts of the world, to connect with that one special Nokian for the rest of their lives.
Those relationships have also given birth to a new generation of the Nokia family — quite literally. “The best Nokia ‘product’ is now 12 years old, our loving daughter,” writes a member of the group.
Meanwhile, the Beyond Nokia Facebook group (and a spin-off site called ‘Nokia People’) continues on its mission to connect ex-Nokians and the broader Nokia family. At last check, the group now stands at 21,000 members. And counting.