Cultural Exchange at the Office

One thing that I love with the American Red Cross is that people go to meetings without their laptops. Most colleagues also refrain from checking their email on mobile phones while in a meeting. The only tools used are a notepad and a pen. This increases tremendously the likelihood that people in fact actively listen to each other and contribute to the discussion.

At my previous workplace, Nokia, it was very common that even if people were physically in the meeting room, mentally they were not. The official explanation was that they had to multitask, and I must admit having been guilty to this one, too. The year here will be an excellent training camp for being more focused and present.


Then again, what I miss most from Nokia is the lunch culture. At the Red Cross (and apparently in most other DC offices), most people only eat a very quick lunch at their desk, either something that they have brought with them from home or that they quickly grab nearby. Even when going out for lunch, at least coffee is drunk “efficiently” while walking back to the office. 

During my 21 quarters at Nokia, the occasions when I did not make it to a proper lunch at the beloved cafeteria can be counted on the fingers of one hand. The meals were tasty, healthy and reasonably priced, in other words perfect for refilling the energy reserves to stay calm, balanced and productive also during the afternoon hours, and to be able to exercise right after work.

Even more importantly, the lunch breaks were a nearly sacred ritual in the middle of hectic days: time to take some distance to the glowing laptop screen, sit back, relax, reset the brain, and chat with friends and colleagues. These discussions were a great way to learn what is really is going on in the lives of bosses, peers and subordinates, and what matters to them most. Even if the work topics were often not discussed at all, magically many problems seemed much smaller when returning to the desk.


The Fulbright program was established to “increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries”. As much as it is an educational exchange program, also cultural exchange is in the heart of it. I hope my contribution can be bringing laptop-free meetings back to Finland, and taking the lunch culture here to a next level.

One response to “Cultural Exchange at the Office

  1. Mira

    Those are useful goals! Coming to meetings without lap-tops could really help people to focus in our workplace too…

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