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Talk to Svenja Schroeder – Collaboration



“Money can’t be replaced by meaning”

“Where does the money come from? Does it come from work or somewhere else?” asked Svenja Schroeder, co-founder of the startup KAFFEETSCHI, during the “Talk to THE FUTURE OF WORK”. Schroeder, 30, has gained work experience at Scandinavian companies, which already gave her an impression of the role that work may play in the future. The conversation took place in a meeting room at the co-working space inside a casual factory loft, located in the centre of Vienna’s Hernals district. And of course Kaffeetschi is served, the trendy cold-brew coffee in the brown glass bottle.

Svenja, you addressed the topic of money in the talk. Where does the money come from?
SVENJA SCHROEDER: We can’t forget this question when we ask about the meaning or future of work. I once did an internship in the sustainability field in Copenhagen that wasn’t paid well. I really wanted to do this because the topic was very important to me personally. But still, I think – when you work, you should be paid for it. I have the feeling that if you want to do something meaningful, this is often exploited – especially in the area of sustainability, social themes, artistic work. The moment you want to do something with meaning, it’s often equated with “this is fun for you anyway, so you don’t need to get paid for it.”

A salary to pay for the suffering of doing meaningless work?
SVENJA SCHROEDER: Of course it shouldn’t be like that. However, money has to come from somewhere, everyone must live off something. If you have nothing to eat and can’t afford an apartment, even the greatest meaning is pointless. Money can’t be replaced by meaning. But of course I notice that for the people whom I talk to, it’s increasingly important that their work is meaningful and that many of them are no longer satisfied with just a great salary alone. Especially if you do a lot for your job.

In what sense?
SVENJA SCHROEDER: Some of my friends have very demanding jobs and work at consultancies, for example, where they have to put in a lot of hours, sometimes even on the weekend. On the one hand, the salary is good. But after a few years, many of them say: The salary is nice, but I also need to enjoy the work. The moment when I no longer enjoy it or where my work becomes meaningless, I’m no longer willing to sacrifice all my time just for my work.

In the discussion you also argued that even if companies still have to have hierarchies, these could be fluid: The person with the most experience or the most time at the company isn’t necessarily the one at the “top”. Do you also work in a rather process-oriented way at Kaffeetschi?
SVENJA SCHROEDER: We work in a small team at Kaffeetschi and we’re definitely process-oriented. Of course there is a CEO and of course it’s defined that he is responsible for certain decisions at the company. We discuss a lot in such a small team, but you can’t forget who has the lead in a certain project. Otherwise no one feels responsible in the end.

But you also experienced flat or changing hierarchies in your earlier professional life.
SVENJA SCHROEDER: I worked for a consultancy in Copenhagen where this worked very well. We worked in projects a lot and the same people didn’t always have the same roles there. The person in charge of decisions, leading the project, being the expert or project manager would often change. The roles were redistributed, often in a very nice way. You’d say: okay, this person doesn’t have that much experience in project management yet, so they should do this now to develop further. I think you need to be very open for this and also must be able to accept that decisions are made by people who are younger than you are. Or by someone who is a woman. Even that is still a problem sometimes. But this worked very well in Copenhagen.

Maybe because it was in a Scandinavian country?
SVENJA SCHROEDER: That too. I do think that the job market in Scandinavia is a bit further advanced than in Austria, for example. On a social level, they generally have very flat hierarchies.

Will this change in our country?
SVENJA SCHROEDER: It will change. Also simply because young people are coming up who were no longer raised with these hierarchical structures. I have the feeling that hierarchy is no longer as important in my generation. Respect is very important to us. But that has nothing to do with how old you are, whether you have your own office or which suit you wear. That’s not what it’s about. It’s more about professional expertise.

Is it more strenuous to work like this?
SVENJA SCHROEDER: It’s a little more challenging. There will come a time when you can no longer rest in one position only because you’ve already occupied it for 20 years. You have to prove what you’re capable of and of course that’s strenuous.

Why did you choose the co-working space for your company?
SVENJA SCHROEDER: We didn’t want to be tied to a long-term lease, didn’t want to rebuild our own office and worry about the electricity and Internet. And because we’re a small team, we also think it’s pleasant that you can talk to other startups during lunch, that you can share information.

Getting help with your own work: Isn’t that a rather glorified image of a co-working space?
SVENJA SCHROEDER: We do share information, but that also takes work. Developing a community at a co-working space is associated with a certain investment, for example a community manager. We have many startups here and they’re all very occupied with their actual work…

…and don’t have time for table soccer…
SVENJA SCHROEDER: …nor time to sit down with me for two hours and help me with one of my challenges. I feel the same way! I really like working here, it’s a very pleasant atmosphere and we also help each other. But I have also learned that exchanges with other companies don’t happen to the extent that I wished for when we moved in. To some degree, it’s also a functional community.

 

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