Can we transform our habits for the better post-coronavirus?

It’s often said that human beings are creatures of habit. But in 2020 the rhythms and routines that guide our professional and personal lives have been completely upended.

Can we transform our habits for the better post-coronavirus?
Photo: Erik Fernholm by Therese Winberg Photography

We’ve been forced to find new ways of organising ourselves, staying productive and acting with purpose. In Stockholm, a city that prizes equality, trust and vision, both individuals and businesses are quick to engage with such themes – and to think about their long-term potential. 

What trends in work and home life could help to positively shape the post-coronavirus world by transforming some of our habits for the better? In this article, part of a series on 'Imagining the post-coronavirus world', we look at some of the changes being made by and inspired by Stockholmers. 

Understanding why behaviour goes viral

“Very few people know that behaviours spread just like viruses,” says Erik Fernholm, CEO of Stockholm-based 29k. “We shape each other constantly and we always have.”

The non-profit organisation offers personal growth programmes through a free app used by 40,000 people in more than 150 countries. Users are put in small groups and learn through scientific insights from the likes of the Karolinska Institute and Harvard University, as well as chat and video sessions where people open up about their experiences and challenges. 

Three new programmes focused on anxiety, relationships and meaning were released in the app in response to coronavirus.

Interested in Stockholm's vibrant tech and startup scene? Find out more from Invest Stockholm 

Fernholm, whose background is in neuroscience and happiness research, says we influence our peer group in everything from gaining weight to whether or not to vote. That makes the choices we all make during our current challenges vital.

“The worst thing is that people feel they are passive passengers,” he says. “What usually drives deep transformation is a crisis. For maybe the first time in history we can look at where our trajectory was going and ask ‘Are we proud of that?’ ‘Do we want to change that in any way as individuals and as companies?’”

Hannah Boman, from Stockholm, has completed two 29k courses this year. She says the app has not only helped her but has also led to friends thanking her for opening up more profound conversations.

Photo: Hannah Boman

“None of the superficial stuff mattered,” says Hannah. “We were in a little bubble. Everybody poured their hearts out and you learn about yourself through listening to other people. 

“It helped me understand the phases I’ve been through during this crisis, focus on self-care and have deeper conversations with friends. My group also talked about working from home and the importance of taking a walk, of nature, or of doing yoga or meditation.”

Working from home: why flexibility demands responsibility

Working remotely has been a topic of growing significance for a few years. But now it seems central to the future of work in many knowledge-based industries.

Stockholm is known for its progressive attitude towards work-life balance. But also for an understanding that flexibility in professional relationships requires a correspondingly high sense of personal and collective responsibility. 

Find out more about the new work culture at Stockholm's tech firms

“The fact that Swedes inherently have high levels of trust in others is especially relevant now,” says Meredith Popolo, of Trustly, the Stockholm-based payments innovator. “When there’s widespread trust among colleagues and leaders, we all hold ourselves more accountable to do our best work.”

Coronavirus prompted Trustly to bring in a remote work expert who offered guidance on scheduling, ergonomic workspaces and dealing with distractions. Some teams have seen rising productivity, says Popolo, and Trustly is seeking to understand if that’s due to working from home or new workflows introduced shortly before coronavirus.

Personally, she has benefited from the Pomodoro Technique for time management. “I focus on a task for 25 minutes, break to do three minutes of dishes, then repeat,” she says. “My work is better quality when I’m fixated on a single task for a set period of time, plus my house is a little cleaner by the end of the day!”

Photo: Meredith Popolo of Trustly

Fernholm says many people think they must be hard on themselves to perform – but in reality that can be emotionally draining.

“Users of 29k have changed their relationship to their mistakes and how brave they are,” he says. “People say they are more motivated and do better at work but at the same time feel less pressured because they are not as obsessively judging themselves.” 

Video meetings: valuing the informal

Video meetings are a crucial aspect of new working patterns. But Fernholm warns they could be counterproductive if they are too narrowly focused.

“If we aren’t honest with each other when we feel hurt in a communication, people can lose energy from video calls,” he says. “There’s less chance that you feel seen.”

Popolo, Trustly’s Head of PR and Communications, says good communication is now more important than ever. That means knowledge sharing but also finding informal ways to replace chatting with colleagues as you “stroll around the office”.

“In video calls with fewer than ten people, we encourage employees to keep their microphones on to inspire spontaneous comments and questions – unless there’s a siren or barking in the background, of course,” she says. 

Read also: Imagining the post-coronavirus world: six Stockholm traits that offer rays of hope 

Meaning in ‘post-traumatic growth’

The name 29k refers to how long we live for on average: around 29,000 days. Fernholm says the current crisis has led to spikes in anxiety and loneliness and he believes market economies encourage “selling solutions for symptoms” rather than root causes because “a 'fixed' customer is a bad customer”. 

But he also sees some hopeful signs of people seeking greater meaning, wellbeing and connection.

“I've discovered another dimension of humanity,” says Hannah Boman, reflecting on her experience with 29k. “It's been so important during this time but also something I want to keep as part of the 'new normal'.”

Fernholm says the intention with 29k, which was initiated by Norrsken Foundation and the Ekskäret Foundation, both based in Stockholm, is to provide “scaffolding” to help individuals mature into “wiser decision-making”. That, he believes, is the only true way to address global problems from inequality to climate change.

We are all now familiar with post-traumatic stress disorder. But Fernholm says research suggests “post-traumatic growth” could be equally as common. 

“These people are happier, more values-driven,” he says. “They learned a lot about who they are, what they want to contribute to and they’re now using the trauma to live more purposeful lives. Research shows that safe and non-judging relationships are the catalysts of these effects, which is what we built the platform for.”

As our collective shock subsides and another video call approaches, perhaps we can all find ways to grow through new habits as we begin to create the post-coronavirus world. 

Did you know that Stockholm is recognised as one of the world's most innovative regions? Find out more about this start-up hub and let its official investment promotion agency help you get connected.

This article was produced by The Local Creative Studio in partnership with Invest Stockholm.



Meet Evermood: The Berlin startup promoting mental well-being in the workplace

The office can be a difficult place to talk about mental health issues, but one Berlin-based startup is trying to change that.

Meet Evermood: The Berlin startup promoting mental well-being in the workplace
The team at Evermood. Photo provided courtesy of the company.

In early 2019, Lara von Petersdorff and Marvin Homburg founded Lytt, a digital platform for the safe and anonymous discussion of sensitive issues in the workplace.

READ ALSO: How a new app is fighting workplace discrimination in Germany

In January 2020, they took things a step further with the launch of Evermood, a platform which takes a preventative approach to stress in the workplace, by aiming to catch conflict situations early on and by promoting healthy routines and habits. The next pilot stage of the platform will be starting in March. 

Why the workplace?

Over the last forty years, there has been a significant increase in depression and anxiety in Germany and mental health issues are now the second biggest cause of workplace absenteeism. 

Although many diversity and health management departments in German companies are paying increasing attention to the subject of mental health, “many people feel that mental health is still seen as a taboo subject in the workplace,” said Hakan Housein, Communications Manager at Evermood.

READ ALSO: Do internationals face discrimination in the German workplace?

“Evermood gives its users an anonymous, safe space, where they can communicate their problems to their managers,” said Housein, a German business communication expert who has previously studied in Germany, Australia and the Netherlands.

The Evermood App encourages workers to follow healthy routines. Source: Evermood

Evermood not only provides a communication channel for sensitive issues between employers and employees, but also wants to make mental health awareness part of everyday work life and to “make mental well-being an integral part of corporate culture,” said Housein.

READ ALSO: Herbal tea and sick leave: An American's ode to the German attitude towards health

The platform encourages companies to take part in activities that involve the entire organisation, with initiatives such as a two-week meditation challenge.

Employees will also be able to do weekly, anonymised self-assessments and surveys, which will enable them to track and better understand the state of their mental health and to work on it. 

Employers will then receive anonymous reports on these assessments along with analysis data from Evermood, which they can then use to make the right decisions for their teams' mental well-being.

How will the platform help internationals?

Housein thinks that Evermood will be of particular benefit to internationals working in Germany. 

“When you are working for a company in a country you are not native to, it can be difficult to know how best to approach mental health issues,” he said.

“When you are feeling anxious, it can sometimes be hard to know who to turn to and to know how to deal with a specific crisis, so the individual support area and anonymity of Evermood can really help out there.”

READ ALSO: What are the main reasons internationals in Germany turn to therapy?

The product is also offered in German and English and the team is currently working on making many other languages available.

Evermood Communications Manager Hakan Housein. Source: Evermood

Who wants to use the platform?

“Interest in Evermood has been way beyond what we could have imagined,” explains Housein, “companies in areas where the workforce typically experiences high stress levels, such as law and finance, have been very keen to use the platform.”

However, introducing the platform into the public sector has presented more of a challenge, as “when it comes to integrating new solutions, there are a lot of guidelines and regulations which need to be followed”.

What happens next?

During the pilot stage, the Evermood team will be in constant contact with their customers and the beneficial impact of the platform will be measured by  customer feedback – with HR managers and decision makers giving insight on how the product is being received, so that the team can adjust it according to what works and what doesn’t work.  

Evermood will also track anonymised data, to see exactly how workers are engaging with the app.