Do something together - what Indonesians taught me, part I

· April 28, 2014

One of the things that really surprised me and my wife when we were about to move to Indonesia was the schedule for our office. Every Friday there’s a scheduled 2,5 hour exercise pass from 8. Special exercise clothing is provided by the office. Except once a month when we’re spending that time cleaning or repairing the office. These activities are required and nothing else happens in the office at the time (no meeting for example).

And everyone office (that I have seen and passed by on the streets) are doing this. The bank down the road is exercising or playing soccer in their parking lot. The police office is doing some aerobics in their court yard and even the churches and the people working in them are outside, exercising.

It felt a bit strange, but I can tell you that I have come to appreciate these activities a lot, and maybe not for what you first would think.

This is my second post (find the first post here) on things in the Indonesian culture that I have been happily surprised by and that I think is well worth thinking about in a western culture too.

The thing that really caught my attention and the fact that I liked this from the get-go was that we were doing this together. Here’s how a typical exercise pass would look like:

ability. We usually follow a video and someone in the office that is leading the exercise. I SUCK at this, of course. We have also taken walks or jogs around Bandung city.

  • 9-10 some other sporting activity. Some of us play ping-pong or badminton. The soccer ball has been out and I even tried some Takraw (awesome sport by the way, but super hard to do. Harder than it looks even).
  • 10-1030 snack and coffee together, before we hit the showers or just head for the office in our sweaty clothes. Yeah, it’s a bit smelly but it’s only 1,5 h to lunch.

It’s a couple of hours full of laughter and easy going conversations. Also you get to meet people from other parts of the office that you might not normally interact with. Already after the first Friday exercise pass I thought to myself:

If I was a company owner/leader I would happily invest two hours each week where people get together and have fun. And exercise. And talk to each other to get to know each other better.

The same goes for the cleaning days (every 4 week), but they have an additional twist. On these days we take the exercise time to clean or repair the office or the surrounding areas. These days are also filled with laughter and conversation. The additional part is that we now are cleaning the localities that we ourselves are using. We’re making it better/nicer/cleaner for us.

Part of my team cleaning up the yard.
Yes, that's my empty  chair over there.

This last Friday the entire office spent the pass in the garden and the exterior of the office. It was a joy to see people join forces and make the surroundings beautiful and nice. In the Indonesian culture hierarchy is important and strongly adhered to, but this was gone now. The highest ranking manager (officer in Salvation Army speak) took instructions and directions from the gardener. The gardener got input and ideas from the finance staff etc. It was beautiful!

This makes me appreciate the things we have more, I think. It’s unlikely that I will spill something on the floor without cleaning up, since I knew how hard it was to remove that coffee stain the last time. It also create a much stronger feeling of this being our office I think. I have invested more into it.

In the consensus culture that I come from you would probably have people vote on what to fix next and do that together. Improving your world little by little.

Connecting back to a previous post I think that doing stuff together, especially physical things, bonds people. We, you and I, have planted that tree. We have cleaned this together. I think it’s a great way to know the person behind the keys of all those emails, or that code or what have you.

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