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The Culture of You – Jonathan Garner & Freedom Matters

Freedom Matters Jonathan Garner

Jonathan Garner discusses the evolution of work and why companies should invest in their teams in new ways


In a hybrid workplace, how do we recreate water-cooler moments? Our guest this week is clear – Zoom quizzes are not the answer. Instead, how about investing in a Culture of You.

In this episode, we welcome Jonathan Garner, founder of Mind Over Tech.

Through live sessions and scalable online programs, Mind Over Tech helps people embrace technology with intention. Their clients include Vodafone, Google, KPMG, The Cabinet Office, Natwest Group, Just Eat, and they are increasingly starting to bring their offerings to individuals as well.  

In this episode we discuss:

  • the reality of burnout in a pandemic
  • the challenges of a new hybrid working environment
  • why companies need to invest in the culture of individuals.

For more, you can sign up for the Mind Over Tech newsletter and visit the Digital Habit Lab

You can also follow Mind Over Tech on Twitter and Instagram.

Host and Producer: Georgie Powell Sentient Digital

Music and audio production: Toccare Philip Amalong


Jonathan: What we’re left with then is something which I ended up kind of calling the “culture of you.” So we don’t really work in the culture of our company anymore. We work day-to-day as remote workers at home. Like for me, I’m by myself in the room every day and my culture, it begins and ends with me. 

Of course, I can speak to people. But the immediate environment which I exist in is me. And I guess the reason why I’m saying this is because I think that going forward, it’s going to be really important for companies to invest in supporting individuals to enrich and actually invest in their own culture.

Georgie: Welcome to Freedom Matters, where we explore the intersection of technology, productivity, and digital well-being. I’m your host, Georgie Powell. And each week, I’ll be talking to experts in productivity and digital wellness. I’ll be asking them three questions to get to the heart of what productivity means to them. 

This week, I’m in conversation with Jonathan Garner. His company, Mind Over Tech, helps others to embrace technology with intention. We’ll be discussing burnout, hybrid workplaces, and how to invest in the culture of you. 

I see Jonathan as a thought leader in this space, but also a friend and confidant. As did everyone, we’ve both had our ups and downs through the past year, and Jonathan was open with me about how burnt out he’d felt by the end of 2020, working seven days a week and struggling himself to take a break from technology. I was interested, as an expert and a teacher in work life balance, why’d he failed to implement his own advice?

Jonathan: I mean, I’d be very honest, even without a pandemic, I’m really like, not a model of a perfect saint, when it comes to having a healthy relationship with technology. 

One of the reasons why I started the company was because I kind of feared what would happen if I wasn’t thinking about this all the time. And, you know, I think it’s a common assumption which people that come on our courses or engage with us, just imagine that anyone kind of on our team has got all this stuff, really in order around all of this.

But, actually, you know, I mean, I talk about it a lot as being like a practice in the same way that you don’t, unfortunately, get fit once and then leave it at that. It’s something which you have to keep doing. And you go through periods where you’re more on top of it or less on top of it. 

So, I think it’s just important to be really honest about that. And also, sometimes there’s this real sense of a quest for the perfect solution. And, you know, when you have phases like inbox zero, it’s all geared around this, yeah, this like point of completion, or getting it all all sorted. 

But actually, I think, from my point of view, like, we’re never going to be right fully on top of all of this stuff. That shouldn’t put us off, we shouldn’t be feeling put down because we’re never getting there. It’s actually the act of trying itself, which is what kind of gives it all meaning, I think.

Georgie: Our conversation reminded me of how we learn, and how we need to remember that everyone is human.

Jonathan: Yeah, exactly. And also, life would be really boring. And a lot of this space is always in the name of humanity in the face of tech, and making sure that we don’t lose our human values. 

And part of human values is that things are a bit messy sometimes, and we don’t always know exactly what we’re doing. And actually, we have periods of creativity, which kind of go all over the place. So like, I think not getting completely zeroed in and completely obsessed with having to get every bit of it perfect is important to remember.

Georgie: Yeah, because that is, as you say, that’s human. We took some time to reflect on the future of work. Jonathan had some interesting views to share, specifically, on how the cultural work can shift in a hybrid environment.

Jonathan: So, I guess no one really knows what’s going to happen exactly in terms of continuation of remote working or hybrid working adoption. But in any scenario, there’s always going to be more of that than there was before. 

And I think that, as that continues to grow, something which I think about a lot is just how that impacts the way in which culture is thought about and supported when you’re in a non remote working situation. 

So if you think about culture as being like the sum of all of the interactions of everyone within a certain space, that culture just gets built automatically, just by people being around each other. 

And there’s actually a huge number of subtle levels of a working culture like that, which offer quite a lot of support to people, and they weren’t so apparent until this last year where they’ve been taken away. 

Even just the energy of the buzz of people around you or the fact that if you may be struggling with a piece of work that you’re working on. It’s different just like walking over to someone and just having a chat about it than it is calling them up. So I think all of these subtle things have kind of been lost a little bit. 

But what we’re left with then is something which I ended up kind of calling the culture of you. So like, we don’t really work in the culture of our company anymore. We work day-to-day as remote workers at home. Like for me, I’m by myself in the room every day and my culture, it begins and ends with me. 

Of course, I can speak to people. But the immediate environment which I exist in is me. And I guess the reason why I’m saying this is because I think that going forward, it’s going to be really, really important for companies to invest in supporting individuals to enrich and actually invest in their own culture. 

And just to explain what I mean by that. Basically, just to understand yourself a bit more in terms of what are your needs. Also, when things aren’t going all perfectly, and maybe you’re feeling down a certain day, or you’re just lacking energy, or like I said, you come up against a real challenge; how do you support yourself and how do you cope in that situation, if you don’t have a room of colleagues, you can just turn to?

Because actually, if there’s so much stuff, which we can do individually to help grow those skills. And if we do, not only is it going to help our immediate working situation, but it’s also an incredible opportunity for personal growth. 

One final point to that is that, for companies who are concerned about their culture, I think, rather than putting a lot of money into trying to find new ways to define that themselves in this new space, I think by investing in individuals, and supporting them in developing a healthy culture for themselves, you will, by definition, build a great culture for your company, which will be the sum of the part of all of those individuals.

Georgie: We went on to discuss further just how investing in the culture of you, as he called it, could actually create a wealth of diversity in companies, of opinions, energy, problem solving approaches, creating culture that supersedes a more homogenous in-office environment.

Jonathan: I think lots of things don’t necessarily translate well at all from an on-site physical experience to a remote or a virtual. It’s almost cliche to talk about this point. But you know, so much has been spoken about over the last six months about how do I recreate that water cooler moment in a virtual space? Like, how do I create serendipity for people to make these kinds of innovative connections or kind of be open to new ideas?

And lots of people try to do that by doing like online pub quizzes and different things, which kind of create these spaces. But I think they just fundamentally don’t work because you can’t force something like that. 

But another way of thinking about it is, okay, what if you really break it down, what’s actually happening in that water cooler moment is you’re just rubbing shoulders with another environment, with another person. And actually, individually at home, like, I can do that by popping out to the shop or going to the park and chatting to the neighbors. 

And in some ways, that actually may be an even better way at bringing in diversity and new patterns of thought into the company culture. You can kind of, by osmosis, take in all sorts of influences from the respective environments of all of your kind of remote stuff, if that makes sense. 

So yeah, I think, basically not being afraid to just let go of things which we might have had before, but which just don’t translate well, and not trying to force every single thing we did before into a virtual version, but finding new ways of looking at it.

Georgie: By creating a culture of you, requires investment in people. It takes years to train people in the skills they need to focus on output rather than hours at a desk, to work independently, to set up the optimal working environment. Jonathan went on to explain more.

Jonathan: From a lot of the conversations I’ve been having with different clients, generally, between 40 to 60% of their workforce have never worked remotely before the pandemic. And before the pandemic, if you were working remotely, it was generally because you had a certain characteristic which made you seek that out. By that, I mean a life where you could design it in a way which fit your way of working well and gave you autonomy. 

I studied sculpture at university and we were given a studio space for three years and told to get on with it. And that was it. And we just had to kind of design, literally decide what we’re doing day to day. And the reason why I mentioned that is because I worked remotely and independently for over 10 years, because that came naturally to me. 

But I think it’s really easy to forget that that’s like a lifelong process, building up the skills to be able to have the confidence and the autonomy, like, to know how to do that as someone who maybe hasn’t worked in a remote environment before or in this kind of situation before. Definitely boundary setting on it on so many different levels is just such a huge challenge. 

You mentioned handling emails and stuff. And even that, in itself, is that there’s so much to break down within there around maybe your own expectations which you said to yourself about having to reply to people within a certain amount of time. But also, kind of unspoken expectations coming from others as well. 

And I think, to a certain extent, particularly at the beginning of last year, lots of clients were having to support their people with all of these real, like fundamental 101 things, like how to say no to some stuff, or how to set a bit of a hard stop and a boundary for yourself at the end of the day. 

There’s a natural timeframe, which makes itself evident to you when you’re in an office. Like, it could be a colleague’s coming up to your desk and saying do you want to come to lunch at the same time each day. Or it could be certain things happening, which kind of give a bit of a sense of time of day passing, which help break the day up into smaller chunks for things. 

But without that stuff, it’s very easy to just kind of have one task bleed into another throughout the whole day. So even being able to identify where’s the boundary, which is the end of this task and the beginning of the next one. 

All of these things, in some ways, seem very obvious because it’s literally all of the challenges that we’ve been grappling with individually for the last year. But, these are the things which when multiplied by the workforce of each company are the major issues basically. It’s like it’s impossible actually.

In some ways, they’re all the most basic fundamental skills. But I almost feel it’s like, we’re having to relearn how, not just how to do them all again, but how to, like fully take responsibility for ourselves to be doing them. 

I think an important part in this is a bit of a mindset shift about what you constitute to be your work process. Because before, particularly if you were turning up to an office, there’s an environment around you to support you to help make that work. 

But if you’re working remotely in a room by yourself, then even things like making sure that the room is tidy enough so that you can actually do what you do well, and that you are taking enough breaks, and that you are setting the right boundaries consistently over time. It’s like those things don’t just happen. You need to carve out a chunk of your week each week to dedicate to making sure those things happen. 

And if you’re not doing that, and wondering why it’s all going wrong, then the reason why it’s going wrong is because actually you haven’t clocked that, that is now part of your work process. On top of what you’re doing before, now you actually have to think about this as well and look after yourself in that way.

Georgie: And what about software? Can tracking individuals help companies to grow their culture?

Jonathan: Yeah, it’s definitely not something that I see across the board. But it’s definitely out there. And whether it’s a conscious decision by a board or an internal department, or whether it’s just something which just is kind of a feature built into some software, which you already use, it makes sense as to why that’s the people’s first reaction is to try and deal with this stuff by throwing some kind of digital solution at it with metrics just to fix that. I can understand why that happens, but I think it’s fundamentally flawed. 

In the same way that I was saying before that there are some things in the kind of physical office which just don’t get translated well to an online or a virtual space. I think there’s like a fundamentally different way of looking at these things. 

A lot’s been said about presenteeism and shifting from focusing on hours spent to the end output. I think acknowledging that everyone’s situations are different, and everyone’s kind of needs of these tools are different, and that to be successful in this kind of distributed workforce, people need to be given the permission and the trust, to actually carry themselves out autonomously in a way which actually suits them. 

Anything which falls short of fully embracing that is actually at the same level of holding people back. Both in terms of creating the situation for them to perform their best, but also to feel trusted enough so that they can live up to that as well.

Georgie: So, it sounds to me like there’s actually quite a lot of work for companies to do to, one, give their employees all the trust that they need in order to do great work in their own capacity, but at the same time making sure that they feel skilled enough to be able to make the most of that trust and that opportunity.

Jonathan: Yeah. And I think one way, effective way of doing that is by making part of your culture being a culture which collaboratively and often reflects on how they’re doing and shares ideas and shares process with that. It’s this attitude of continuous improvement, and I guess these things are already appearing in businesses elsewhere, like the idea of lifelong learning has been there for a while, and it is coming in. 

But I think it really is, in a bigger way, adopting that mindset that this is something which is very important for us all to be focusing on together. And that we can actually, just the very process of giving it some airtime can be like a huge step towards actually supporting people and empowering them to perform better like that. Yeah.

Georgie: Amazing. Jonathan, thank you so much for joining us today. It’s been a pleasure as always to talk to you. I really love our chats. And all I can say is I’m really looking forward to getting back to the Southbank Centre and having meetings face-to-face.

Jonathan: Yeah, we should put something in the diary, just in case.

Georgie: Hopefully, maybe June 21st. 

Jonathan: Yeah, exactly. Yeah, I’m sure I won’t be busy at all.

Georgie: Okay. Thank you so much, and we’ll talk to you again soon. 

Jonathan: Thank you. 

Georgie: Thank you for joining us on Freedom Matters. If you like what you hear, then subscribe on your favorite platform. And until next time, we wish you happy, healthy, and productive days.