Co-authored by Michael Soto, co-founder of Spark Collaboration.
Job-related stress is causing companies hundreds of billions of dollars each year. According to one study, 78 percent of workers put their stress levels at medium to very high, and some of them have missed a day of work (31 percent) or even quit their jobs (40 percent) because of it.
But not in Sweden. And the reason why may be as simple as a cup of coffee.
Swedish culture has a marvelous tradition known as "fika." While it roughly translates to drinking coffee, it is much more than that. Fika is a scheduled opportunity to slow down to connect and bond with others. As Carl Honoré has said in his TED talk, In Praise of Slowness, "by slowing down at the right moments, people find that they do everything better." To many in the US this may all sound like a waste of time, but a recent BBC article highlights how this workplace tradition may in part, according to OECD data, contribute to Sweden's higher productivity than countries known for their long work hours such as the US, Japan and Korea.
Growing amounts of research shows the importance of face-to-face interactions in promoting both productivity and innovation. And yet, independent workers and organizations alike don't have systems in place to meet the 'right' people.
Following conversations (yes, over coffee) about how we approach this in our own work at Weleet and Spark Collaboration, we decided to share our experiments aimed at tackling this challenge. Our hope is that by discussing our own experiences we can bring more attention to the importance of taking breaks and making time to meet others, not as a sacrifice to productivity but precisely as a way to augment it and to boost creativity at the same time.
Jennifer started Weleet to create a true coworking community. And yet, she often finds that at Weleet coworking sessions--especially those hosted at brick and mortar coworking spaces--people close themselves off with earphones, head down to do their work and leave without making time to build relationships with others. This tendency is slightly curbed when the coworking venue is a café, and greatly curbed when the coworking venue is a home. The latter two naturally lending themselves to more organic coffee breaks throughout the day. While people are coming together to work and cannot spend the entire day chatting with one another, it's those short spurts of interaction with coworkers - coworkers either in the traditional sense or in the remote worker sense - that not only boost productivity but often leave room for sparks of creativity. The challenge is how to find a balance and make time to meet others.
Weleet "CoLabs" sessions do this by encouraging community members to facilitate and host their own collaborative sessions. Weleet CoLabs sessions are different from regular coworking sessions in a few ways:
First, they focus on the exchange of skills, knowledge or collaborative work. Second, they have a clear structure or curriculum with coffee breaks scheduled in. Third, they cover topics that are interesting and specific to Weleet's community of remote workers and entrepreneurs.
Just as Weleet Colabs sessions aim to help freelancers make time in their day to meet others, Spark Collaboration is helping organizations to build relationships internally so that employees can learn about other areas of the company. In 2012, Michael began using coffee breaks to encourage coworkers to mingle with each other and was amazed at the serendipitous stories that emerged through bringing pairs together from across the office. The coffee breaks were fun, but were also helping to do serious work through breaking down silos, facilitating the efficient flow of information and promoting engagement. Furthermore, the use of coffee breaks as scheduled moments to step out and meet someone meant that people's work was not radically disrupted. Through Spark, Michael has worked with ever larger organizations and is increasingly focused on helping to make the best introductions either through organizational network analysis (ONA) which can help identify silos or by developing communities of practice that cross-cut traditional organizational units.
In both cases, a simple coffee can work wonders as it links disparate groups of independent workers and allows employees to share and learn from each other's perspectives.
Our respective experiences highlight the importance of making the time to meet others, as well as ensuring it is a standard fixture in your day to day routine. The Swedish fika is a natural part of the workday, and no matter which approach you take, meeting a new person a day goes a long way.
So. Our best recommendation for the next time work is stressing you out?
You guessed it. Go Fika yourself.