Swedish strategist Tommie Cau and designer Jaan Orvet are the authors of State of Mind at Work, a book about a new mindset that frees ourselves from constraints to intuitively do our best at work.
I found it immensely interesting to learn about this new approach, with a focus on why we work, where we choose to work, who we choose to work with, how we choose to work, and how we prepare ourselves. I asked Tommie and Jaan for an interview so that we could zoom in on what happens when we become intentional and minimalist in our choices regarding tools, work environments, colleagues, and tasks.
Also, since our mission is to explore the connection between food culture, leadership, and work, I was curious as to why in their perspective coffee shops have gained so much popularity and coffee remains the favorite drink at work to the point that “a break” always includes a coffee. And in the age of measuring everything, how to measure the impact of this new mindset?
In this Workplace Wisdom interview, I chat with Tommie and Jaan about what ‘state of mind’ means, the connection between coffee culture and productivity, and how to overcome outdated ways of working with cleverness.
How did this book come about?
Tommie (T): Jaan and I had already been working together on a number of projects when we started to ask ourselves what we need to do at work every day. We need to be productive, creative, come up with solutions, solve problems, collaborate with others –oftentimes under time pressure. That’s a lot.
We began to discuss what state of mind we need to juggle all of that, and how to maximize it. We recognized that each of us has the responsibility for their own state of mind. It’s one of our most important tools at work today. Obviously, the moment when you question your role at work, you start analyzing every aspect of your work-life from the job to the office, the tools, the people, etc.
As soon as we shared this idea people seemed to support our belief that “there must be better ways of working” so we started to put words on this. After a well-received talk at an architecture studio, we decided to write this book.
“Our own state of mind is one of our most important tools at work today.”
What is your definition of ‘state of mind’ at work?
Jaan (J): State of mind at work is when you get on in an intuitive way. When you’re able to ignore some of the learned behaviors and do your job almost without thinking, effortlessly and naturally. It’s simply our own innate ability to get from A to B.
T: People have started to use the expression ‘state of mind’ when they have the flow that allows them to get rid of all the unnecessary limitations and constraints. It feels like that people have been waiting for this terminology. It detects the urgent need for a mindset shift due to rapid work changes. It’s something everyone can relate to.
“State of mind at work is when you get on in an intuitive way. When you’re able to ignore some of the learned behaviors and do your job almost without thinking, effortlessly and naturally. It’s simply our own innate ability to get from A to B.”
How do we shift mindset?
J: When someone recognizes that there could be a better way to do things you’re already looking for something different. Some people might not ever feel the need to do that, and that’s ok. In the book, we’ve provided a soft approach to start building step-by-step on the willingness to try this different way of working. For instance, we suggest to work from different places and then ask yourself “is this improving how I work?”
T: Find new ways of working. As freelancers and creative leaders, it’s easier for us to explore new ways of working because we have fewer constraints. But as you move into large organizations, things become more complex. The need for change is not less urgent.
In chapter II “Where I choose to work,” you suggest that people should be able to choose where they want to work. How do you convince your boss?
J: It can be incredibly difficult. The reluctance to have people work from somewhere else than where they normally are is linked to a very specific reason. The answer “we’ve always done it that way” is obviously a reason, but it might be something else. Finding that out what it is is not only a brilliant idea but also a good place where to start.
If a manager says “no, you can’t,” there might be good reasons that go beyond your individual need. Having this discussion with the whole team or one manager is the way of finding out the true challenges that might exist. Have a structured approach; try two places and share the experience with your team. Even if change doesn’t happen at the end it’s all about having the discussion.
T: There are two major components; technology and leadership. From a technology point of view, when someone says “no, you can’t” or “this can’t be done,” that’s often not the case. Many digital tools can facilitate online collaboration, and some tasks don’t require any at all. Leadership is the main problem. We wrote this book having in mind that managers are also people. But alas, they’re the ones who are the least prepared. Perhaps the reluctance of letting people try new work settings is because that person has never tried it herself or himself. So, first why not try themselves different settings and then have an open discussion?
Why do you think coffee shops are popular places where to work?
J: Coffee shops are welcoming, open environments that are built for social interaction and where you feel allowed to be, exist, partake in something. Of course, this is something that a lot of offices are trying to replicate but they might not always be succeeding.
T: If we had this discussion 5-10 years ago, the coffee shop would be the only alternative place where to work. Thanks to its low barriers to entry and popularity the same concept has been taken into such places as hotel lobbies, coworking spaces, airports, and workspaces. Nowadays, coffee corners are booming in offices. However, the coffee shop remains more attractive because it’s a coffee shop and not a coffee shop in the office–where we’re supposed to work hard! Research shows that we are the most creative when we are elsewhere than in the workplace. Coffee shops have a layer of relaxation that even if you go there to work you can feel instantly creative and inspired.
What do you think is the role of coffee as a product, an experience, and culture to facilitate change in the workplace?
J: The experience of drinking coffee is different for everyone. If you are a coffee drinker, you know that there are so many positive things around it. It gives you a boost of energy. Historically it has been having that role of bringing people together equally. For instance, when I want to share a special moment, I invite friends and loved ones for a coffee. However, if you say to your boss “I’m going to work in a coffee shop” and for your boss coffee is a negative experience, you have some work to do. A few years ago we moderated a panel on the future of workspace. There was a coffee roaster who spoke of himself not as someone who roasts coffee but as someone who enables those connections that make people better at what they choose to do. That is what coffee is, that is what coffee does.
Both of you come from the culture of fika (Swedish term for “coffee break”). How do you bring this ritual into organizations?
T: The Swedes take care of it [he laughs]. Foreign employees usually get socialized into that at 11 am and/or at 3 pm. It doesn’t take place everywhere. Many companies where I’ve worked don’t have it.
“Coffee breaks are ‘bridges’ that lead to an important part of work that is talking, and even more importantly listening and understanding each other.”
J: There are many opening to do the coffee aspect in the work setting. Although fika in Sweden is usually mid-morning or mid-afternoon, I’m currently working with two designers and everything happens around the morning espresso. When I worked in San Francisco we had coffee at lunchtime. Coffee breaks can happen in many different ways and they mean slightly different things. But the message is clear: people coming together rather than people staying apart. Coffee breaks are “bridges” that lead to an important part of work that is talking, and even more importantly listening and understanding each other.
“Constant change is the mantra in work, in life, in politics, in business. If we accept this, the demands for your creativity, brain power, and speed of work is reaching unprecedented levels.” How do we approach this while we try to stay healthy and motivated?
J: Focus on the right things. If we don’t longer have to put up with outdated ways of doing work, we’ll have more capacity to face them. By removing things that are stale, we free a lot of mental power.
T: It’s one of the big questions of today. In Sweden, we have health numbers skyrocketing in the wrong direction. It’s about removing those frictions that prevent people to do what they need to do. People are going to places where the friction is the lowest–without unnecessary problems with technology, workplace, leadership or dysfunctional teams. We co-own the responsibility of the things that impact our state of mind. However, when we have energy, access to tools, and inspiration to start exploring new ways of working, we have the key to be happy because we’re able to influence the rest.
“We co-own the responsibility of the things that impact our state of mind. When we have energy, access to tools, and inspiration to start exploring new ways of working, we have the key to be happy because we’re able to influence the rest.”
How do you measure the impact of ‘State of mind?‘
J: We don’t want to create yet another process or a methodology. The team or the organization decides how we measure it or how we talk about it. And since ‘State of mind’ hasn’t been around for a long time, we can’t measure it. We know it’s “working” when we understand and get satisfaction from how we live work as part of our life.
T: We live in a time where organizations measure everything from employee engagement to health. Instead, I will turn this question to the leaders who typically ask them, and ask: “How do you measure engagement, for example?” If you measure engagement on a monthly basis, let’s see how it impacts your business. This is a new way of working. If anything, when we start to discuss the targets, timelines, or conditions – you start to detect that in the old way of working is not even clear why things are done that way.
Explore State of Mind at Work.
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