It all started at a finance company in Ireland in 2006. Swedish Christofer Gradin Franzen, with a master degree in economics from Stockholm University, worked to raise enough money for his dream: to start a business with eco-tourism – anywhere in the world.
Micro economy + Buddhism, he googled to find the context he wanted to learn from. He received one single hit: the secular Sarvodaya movement in Sri Lanka. Christofer stayed for six months. Then the civil war broke out and he never set off any eco-tourism project. The whole time he participated in the Sarvodaya social projects, which is to first help people in the villages to help themselves, and then one another, to get their basic needs met – food, water and shelter.
This experience of the movement’s Shramadana, gift economy, that Christofer Gradin Franzen brought back home later became the foundation of Hoffice – a concept of working for free at the homes of others, with others. Right now the concept is getting enormous attention in the world. A story in the American Fast Co.Exist have been shared more than 7.600 times since the publishing January 29th. The day after blogposts showed up in China and South Korea. A Polish newspaper and a Dutch talk show want to cover the Hoffice movement in Sweden. A group is already working at each others’ homes in Toronto, one is soon to be set up in Istanbul and in 15 other cities around the world Hoffices are coming up.
A Hoffice is set up over a special Facebook page, where you invite others to share a structured working day at your place. But behind the structure of 45-minute sessions, pause activities and telling each other what you want to achieve during the day, you can find a philosophy based on certain fields: collective intelligence, gift economy and action research, how knowledge is developed by testing how it works in reality.
This Hoffice philosophy, Christofer Gradin Franzen has in turn fished out from two Western university programs – in economics and psychology – and the two cornerstones of Buddhism – compassion and meditation. Compassion he practiced in Sri Lanka. In the summer right after, he studied meditation with Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh in French Plum Village. And then he entered the psychology program at Stockholm University.
Now, at 35, he is doing his internship in Kalmar, south of Sweden, in order to get the formal psychologist licence. Why chose psychology for another five years of studies?
“Because I believe that psychology and Buddhism, especially meditation, is the most important knowledge fields for society-changing processes in our time. For me, I want to create a sustainable, more loving and beautiful community, but without perishing with the system we have created so far.”
The Hoffice idea emerged in autumn 2013, when Christofer Gradin Franzen developed a psychological board game about cooperation – Cohero – and at the same time was writing his final master thesis. At his kitchen table he did not get enough done. He became too lonesome. So Christofer and his friend Johline Lindholm, president of an environmental organization, started working at home together. It worked out so well that they wondered if it was possible to develop the idea further. But not at any price:
“We asked ourselves – how can we create the work situation that we want, without using more of society’s scarce resources and instead start with what we have in an effective way?”
He thought that at other “workplace-less” people’s homes, there are printers, wireless networks and other things you need to get through with jobs and tasks on a distance. He considers our homes “an under-utilized resource”.
“The problem with working at home for most of us, is to be so lonely in the complex soup we call life”, Christofer laughs. “All our addictions of distracting ourselves, all escape mechanisms here and there – they’re difficult to handle when you’re on your own.”
That is how he and Johline started talking about sharing their working days with more people, even ones they did not know. They invited ten people each and never thought it would be bigger than that. Now, their question was: How do we create good working structures and at the same time give ourselves and each other what we need to benefit our well-being? The structure they agreed on is still there: work in concentrated periods of 45 minutes, tell each others what you intend to do during the day and fun break activities.
Now Hoffice has been around for over a year, and the interest is growing exponentially. What has been added to the philosophy since then?
“To emphasize the voluntarity even more. The structure is laid, and it should be supportive and certainly not authoritarian. It must be easy to say ’no’ to what you don’t want. People join a Hoffice on their own terms.”
The voluntarity in giving and receiving Hoffice has been important also for Christofer himself. There, he has been able to experience the special process that occurs when you describe your own unique needs and get them met through the support of others – exactly what he learned about in the Sarvodaya movement.
“It creates in me a desire to give back and to listen to others’ unique needs. That’s how I think we implement social change. Here in the West, it will be just in a different way than in Sri Lanka.”
Agneta Lagercrantz, Swedish journalist and author
If you want to learn more about the theories behind Hoffice, you can read below.
Sarvodaya movement is inspired by Buddhism and Gandhi’s social philosophy. It is Sri Lanka’s largest people’s movement and is spread to 15,000 villages. Its base lies in voluntary work called Shramadana (“to donate effort”), or gift economy, where the volunteers help people to help themselves and then each other to in the first place get food, drink and shelter. Thereafter, they help each other in improving the village’s communications, a beautiful environment, schools and possibilities to provide cultural/intellectual stimulation.
“These are all basic human needs – yet it is important to understand that every person’s needs are unique”, explains Christofer Gradin Franzen. “You learn to listen to what everyone’s needs are and support them to address these needs. To get this yourself from fellow human beings is like starting a process. It makes you become willing to help others.”
The gift economy has no clear financial arrangement between people, no organized bands in giving and receiving. Everyone must feel what something is worth to oneself, and then give back accordingly.
“When we give of our resources in a Western culture, it is not necessarily of our money”, reminds Christofer.
Hoffice means opening your home to others as a gift. But as a participant, it is also about giving of one’s time and personal resources into the group, says Christofer. It could be tips of business contacts or new partnerships. Support for the work practices and the participants’ visions arises automatically.
“When people feel that they receive a gift, they want to give back something. And when we give, we often get much in return – which means we have even more to give. That’s how positive circles of giving get going.”
Our life situations are very complex and difficult to handle on our own, Christofer Gradin Franzen states. But we can increase our intelligence to manage these by getting support from people around. Those able to, and who want to, give their support as a gift to those who need.
“Someone contributes with cognitive resources, someone else engage in the problem with his or her time, a third one can offer empathic listening – and voilà, we have created a bubble of collective intelligence around the person. You get more perspective on the problem and can manage on a higher level of complexity.”
Action research, to learn how to make
Action research is a method highlighting the connection between knowledge and action, typically in social systems. The approach is to examine whether an action will work by testing it in practice, trial and error, trial and error. The feedback given every time creates a learning process through “feedback loops”. On Hoffice, these are about the participant’s own working process. When we tell everybody what we intend to do during a working day, and then before each 45-minute session, and afterwards speak out loud what we actually achieved, we make our own working processes clear to ourselves. It also creates a social accountability – telling others what you intend to do, increases the probability that you actually will do it. This feedback loop also increases the chance that we will learn from our own mistakes.
“If we never get aware of our own working processes, we will only repeat the same mistakes, over and over again”, says Christofer Gradin Franzen.
It has been known for long that we have difficulties in concentrating longer than 40 minutes at a time, and that we need breaks. Hoffice have set work sessions to 45 minutes. The purpose is to give a few minutes for starting up and closing down, and not make them too broken-up. The main theme of the breaks is stillness exercises and physical activities, both known to facilitate concentration. Meditation, playful exercises and stretching movements can be examples of what happens during the breaks.
“Then we practice coordination, balance, strength and agility. Playing make contact with the child in us and meditation is linked to our inside. If we use many different parts of us I think it creates synergies”, says Christofer Gradin Franzen.
To follow our dreams
When Christofer Gradin Franzen talks about Hoffice, he often says that the idea is to support people to follow their dreams. What does that mean?
“That we are okay as we are, and that we come and get support from others just as we are. The sharing atmosphere makes it more easy to follow our heart, and doing what we dream of deep down creates a mening. In Hoffice this might not mean earning a billion … Or yes”, Christofer regrets, “of course you’re welcome also with that dream!”
Spirituality is a part of Christofer Gradin Franzen’s philosophy of life. For him, it means to regard life as sacred. He quotes an American non-growth-activist, Charles Eisenstein, who believe that human life has two dimensions – we are at once unique parts and inevitably linked to one another and everything.
“Then you can see the world as a more beautiful and sustainable place. You understand that every single person is unique. At the same time, you realize that we need each other, for we are all interconnected. That is the way forward for the world that I want to see, and that many of us dream of.”