In San Francisco, where I live, coffee plays a major role in lifestyles and work styles. People stand in long lines at artisanal coffee businesses for coffee that’s sourced, roasted and prepared with care. It has become de rigueur for leading technology and social media companies to make artisanal coffee available to team members. Google stocks beans from the better San Francisco purveyors in snack areas throughout its “Googleplex” in Mountain View, California. Team members can grind the beans, brew a cup, or pull a shot of espresso on demand.
As the artisanal movement in coffee, often called “Third Wave Coffee,” sweeps the U.S. and infiltrates workplaces, people are becoming particular about what’s in their mug. Commercial brew just won’t do. Yet coffee consumption remains primarily a solitary activity. People fiddle with their smart phones or work on notebook computers as they sip that Yirgacheffe or Antigua drip-by-the-cup in cafes and in workplaces.
In contrast, workplace coffee consumption in Sweden is primarily a social activity. Swedes embrace the ritual consumption of coffee rather than the coffee itself. So Swedes care less about sourcing, roasting and preparation and more about gathering around a table with colleagues to consume the beverage.
I recently returned from Gothenburg, Sweden where I gave a keynote speech on collaboration to a group of government leaders, healthcare professionals and pharmaceutical executives. While in Sweden, I engaged in Fika which is an institution in the Swedish workplace. Fika is scheduled twice a day, typically at 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. Work groups sit around tables in break areas. They drink coffee, eat cake sometimes baked by a team member, and they discuss issues pertinent to their work. Fika helps achieve the consensus that is integral to Swedish business culture (consensus is not integral to collaboration, but that’s a different post). Fika’s limitation is that people share coffee and cake with the same team members every day.
Both U.S. and Swedish workplaces can enhance collaboration by changing how they consume coffee—but the challenges are different for each culture. In the U.S., the challenge is to put down the devices and engage others while enjoying that artisanal cup of joe.
In Sweden, the challenge is to include people from other levels, roles and regions so that fika is less insular. Collaborative tools such as telepresence could bridge the distance gap and offer the opportunity for a video fika. Because fika is so engrained in the Swedish business culture, it is a critical channel Swedes can use to enhance organizational collaboration.