Does Your Company Need More “Fika”?

When employees get to know each other in a more informal setting, they grow more comfortable with each other, which should lead to more information sharing and better communication.

I bet you don’t know what fika is. I didn’t either. I learned last week when I saw a headline on Google News that Spotify had been named America’s Most Loved Workplace by Newsweek.

Fika translates loosely in Swedish to “coffee break.” It seems to mean laidback time in which colleagues relax together during the workday. According to the Newsweek article by Peter Carbonara, fika is a daily reminder in Sweden about the importance of work-life balance. American Spotify’s senior director for content strategy, analytics and insights, Adam Winer, told Carbonara that fika can even be a motivation for people to join the company: “Winer says he now uses fika as a hiring tool, having a promising candidate hang informally with four or five Spotifiers over coffee as part of the interview process.”

I loathe meetings, and often wondered why there wasn’t more fika with colleagues. While the content of many, if not most, meetings, can be conveyed in one or two e-mailed paragraphs or an exchange over Slack or a similar system, fika provides something that is much harder to attain electronically—a chance for colleagues to unwind together. I would rather that the information typically delivered and shared in meetings instead be done so electronically, and that nearly all in-person gatherings were for fika purposes. For example, each week, month, or however often a departmental meeting would occur, the manager could send employees an e-mail with the high points they would like to share, along with related assignments (if any) for each employee. They then could follow up with employees individually to make sure they understand the work they need to do related to the information the manager shared. The manager also could ask employees individually to send them their top ideas for addressing an ongoing challenge. Then a week or two later, the manager could send their top picks for the ideas employees sent, asking each employee to individually send their top choice among the ones the manager said they liked best. This is a more efficient and effective way of getting and acting on ideas to meet challenges than throwing open questions to a table full of people in a meeting room with everyone talking over each other and taking cues from those sitting next to them on how to respond whenever a question is asked.

Then, in lieu of the irritating, unproductive meeting that was dispensed with, the department could meet for a gathering whose purpose is nothing but communal relaxation. That could be done in a break room or employee lounge area, or could be some place outside of the office, such as a park, coffee shop, or restaurant. In these informal gatherings, employees get more comfortable with each other. When people are more comfortable with each other, information sharing and communication should become easier. You are less likely to share information with people who make you uncomfortable than you are with people you just spent an hour chatting and laughing with.

I had experience with a colleague over the course of my career who I dreaded communication with. I would always sigh to myself whenever I realized I would have to e-mail or call her. Every communication felt like opening a can of worms. One seemingly innocent question or comment from me would open a barrage of self-defensive argumentation from her. I wonder now whether that response from her was a result of her not knowing me and not being comfortable with me. Maybe she interpreted my questions and comments as criticism or an onslaught, rather than what they actually were—an innocent search for answers needed to do my work. If we met in-person every month or so over coffee or lunch, would she have had the same reaction when I communicated with her?

Sometimes I have been the one on the receiving end of discomfort when being communicated with. I’ve found some colleagues so brusque and unfriendly that every communication from them felt like receiving orders from an unfriendly airport official or police officer. I didn’t feel like the information or request was coming from a warm and congenial colleague. Maybe all we needed to work better together was some fika!

Does your company have its own version of fika? How, if at all, do you encourage employees and managers to share relaxation time together in which they can get more comfortable with each other and relieve stress?