10. Community building and work. How do they influence each other?




Healthy competition is good and challenges and motivates us. Tina identified the need to create a place where people can come together to exchange ideas and perspectives. She encourages the power of pause as a way to enhance productivity at work; to think outside of the noise of your daily bustle.


Woman with black hair, circle earrings, red pattern top smiling

Tina Howard is the founder of Leaves, a book and tea shop in Fort Worth, Texas. Her story is one of strong Community values and building, centered around the starting and development of the 2 year old business.



Doug Foulkes: Hello and welcome to this, The Future of Work community building podcast produced by WNDYR for their blog, Chaos and Rocket Fuel. I’m Doug Foulkes and today, Claire Haidar and myself are joined by Fort Worth entrepreneur Tina Howard. Hi, ladies.

Claire Haidar: Hi, Doug. Good to be back. Hi, Tina.

Tina Howard: Hi, guys. Glad to be here.

Doug Foulkes: Tina, about 18 months ago, you opened Leaves book and teashop in Fort Worth, Texas.

It’s a book and a tea shop that mirrors your family values of community building. You obviously saw the need for a bookshop in Fort Worth. You’ve linked it to tea. What was your overall goal in the beginning?

Tina Howard: We think pausing from the face of life is important. We feel like tea and books allow you to do that. And we wanted to provide a space where people could pause and then also be present and connected.

Claire Haidar: You’ve created a space centered around community, but what you’ve created directly impacts work. Can you maybe share with us what your thoughts are on community out of work, and how that factored into your thinking as you planned and built towards this tea shop?

Tina Howard: Community and work go together on multiple levels for us and both in my in my brain and philosophy and through the shop. One aspect of that is I truly believe in a we’re stronger together philosophy. I say it often the high tide raising all boats. I think healthy competition is is good and challenges us and motivates us. Having a place where our community can come together and exchange ideas and share their mind and bring different perspectives is important for making everyone stronger in our whole neighbourhood better.

Claire Haidar: I want to expand the conversation a little bit more into the actual specific elements of work. So both the work that you’ve created, but also the type of work that gets done inside the tea shop. I can still remember those very early conversations that we had with this is actually something that you grappled with. You were like, you know, all people going to work in the shop or are they not are we going to actively encourage it or are we not going to encourage it. Can a quiet space, be a place where work happens as well?

Tina Howard: So our philosophy of work in the shop has always been one as we think pausing is important to your work. We think that productivity that constantly churns and never takes a break becomes less productive and that giving yourself space to actually ruminate on a topic or think through something more deeply or to just give your brain a rest allows for creativity and increased productivity. And we believe that that is backed by science as well as anecdotes. As such, what we implemented from the very beginning was a wifi free space.

We certainly said if you want to bring your own hotspot, you can connect. We felt like most people could connect to the Internet no matter where they were on their own. And we were going to provide a space that did not offer Wi-Fi to give people a place where you could feasibly work disconnected if you wanted to. We additionally offered these bags that are called yonder that you can slide your cell phone into and it locks with a magnetic lock, that you keep your phone with you, but you can’t access it unless you make the intentional choice to get up and unlock it.

Those things were important to us to help communicate the sacredness of a space to help you be more productive by disconnecting. Over our first year of being open, what we realised is people got really fixated on the Wi-Fi free part and missed the take a pause to be more productive in your work. Take a pause to from the distractions that come in that are difficult to ignore and instead just said, oh, there are Wi-Fi free shop. They don’t like technology, they don’t like working.

And so at the beginning of this year, we actually made some changes to our policy about that so that we could better emphasize why we felt like pausing was good for work. So we allowed Wi-Fi access during the weekdays and also took it away on weekends and Wednesdays. It was our Wi-Fi free Wednesday. And additionally, we we wanted to make sure our message was clear about how we valued work and the way that we work over just being technology free.

Claire Haidar: I love what you guys are doing in the shop. There’s something very interesting happened recently and I actually saw it play out of your guys Instagram page, where you made this announcement about the Wi-Fi and it really triggered a nerve in one of your people who regularly come to the shop.

Tina Howard: We made the announcement about adding Wi-Fi to our shop. I had a customer reach out and share with me that she was frustrated by our post and disappointed. As I dug into asking more questions of her to understand her perspective, some things clarified for me. One is, as I understood her perspective, it was really around this feeling of like who who are we as a tea shop to be dictating for others when they could be on our Wi-Fi and not. That it felt like we were trying to manage someone else’s work environment and not trusting them to choose when they could be on and when they couldn’t.

I think what we were being asked was to not be so overt and so creating this environment based upon our values when I think that that’s what every business does, whether you are intentional about it or not. But you are implementing in a tangible way of your vision. It was good to think through that and go, I don’t apologize for this because this is our vision and we want to help people to recognize this rhythm of working and pausing and being present and without distractions and productivity.

And we have to live that out in the way that our business plays out, which is which looks like for us being Wi-Fi free on certain days.

Claire Haidar: I think we sometimes underestimate how powerful the influence is simply by being open about certain values that we function according to. And we’ve seen something very similar play out in the company recently where we’ve generally just outgrown a lot of the systems that we’ve been using because of our own growth as a company. And so we’ve made a decision over this quiet period now to actually start transitioning ourselves into a new stack of tools.

And with that it has actually come this organic conversation around work and how do we work and should we change some of the things and this whole thing of, there are certain values, but how individuals choose to embrace those and implement them in their lives and in their working day may actually look and feel very different for everybody.

For me, it’s very synchronous that you coming back to that.

Doug Foulkes: Tina, I don’t know if you know but I am originally from the UK and I know all about a good cup of tea. Certainly in the mid-morning. I mean, the whole British Empire was built on a tea break.

Claire Haidar: I have to tell the audience that for anybody listening, if you’re ever in South Africa, please have a cup of tea with Doug, he makes a good one.

Doug Foulkes:
So Tina my question to you is, why did you choose tea as a focal point when you started your vision and not coffee, which I thought would have been the perfect choice in America?

Tina Howard: Well, to be honest, we originally chose tea because I didn’t want to do coffee. I do like coffee. And in the very beginning, I felt like I saw a lot of coffee shops. I saw a lot of experts in coffee, and I didn’t think that I had the bandwidth or the attention span to become an expert in coffee. I think I naively felt like is much more straightforward when it absolutely is not.

However, the more that we began to talk about tea and explore that idea, a couple of things came forward. One is for being the second most consumed beverage in the world, Americans don’t seem to intentionally and knowingly involve it in their everyday rituals as much as other places in the world. I wasn’t seeing spaces where tea was a focal point. Because we began to fine tune our focus and our vision on being a place where you can pause and disconnect, tea fits with that really well.

And tea and books together, we would find that people have a visceral reaction just by saying those words. There was an automatic exhale that happened and we were like, that’s the effect that we want to have on people. It felt like this physical embodiment of what we were trying to create and cultivate environmentally in our shop. And so it just played really well together. Plus, it’s delicious.

Doug Foulkes: Tina, I think we have come to the end of this conversation. It has really been very interesting on many, many levels. If you could change one thing about work, looking into the future with your crystal ball, what would it be?

Tina Howard: I think if I could change anything, I would, I want to influence how we define productivity, especially here in the U.S. I feel like there’s such this unhealthy relationship with productivity and what it looks like and that it’s defined as this constant flurry of activity and churning that in some ways is not productive at all. When we look at what we’re producing and the quality of what we’re producing and the longevity of what we’re producing, and sometimes it’s even just a flurry of activity with no actual production tied to it.

I think productivity at times looks like sitting quietly and giving yourself space. I think productivity also looks like, even as you were saying, Claire of taking a vacation or taking a break and doing other things that fulfill you or that allow you to expend some creative energy or that recharge you in some way. When you look at sleep studies and you see people who think that there’s a value in not getting enough sleep, that because you’re getting it, you’re wasting time because you’re not getting things done.

And then you look at their output and their ability to work and concentrate and and there’s there’s scientific data that says you actually can’t get as much done when you’re sleep deprived. It’s just this fallacy of what productivity is. And if I could change people’s perception of that.

Doug Foulkes: Tina I have got one last question and obviously, with the success of Leaves, what other areas of society would you like to impact next?

Tina Howard: We’ve really focused on our neighborhood where we live and where we work. I’m interested in exploring Claire. what does it look like to go to another city? What does it look like to be in another state? All of those things require understanding of a community and its culture and how it works. The other thing for us is we’re very involved in the local artisan scene of the arts, of our culture that’s right around us. We’ve worked hard to create a space that you can enter into and be seen and heard.

And I know that there are communities of people, whether it’s from race or immigration or marginalized people in society that don’t have those spaces. And that is also something that is like within our vision and on my heart to say, OK, we’ve created this space for our our exact neighborhood. What does it mean to open up that space and invite others in who don’t feel like they have that space to be exactly who they are, to share what they’re thinking and feeling and to build a broader and tighter community that works together.

And so that’s also on our horizon of how do we engage people in our space in that way.

Claire Haidar: Tina, honestly you you really do inspire me. Thank you. Thank you for carving out this hour to spend this time with Doug and myself and the thoughts you share rich and definitely ones that more people in the world need to hear.

Tina Howard: Well, thanks for having me and talking about it. I realize as I was getting ready for this and like I loved this part of what we do and what we’re trying to do. And so it’s exciting to get to talk about it with somebody.

As I said earlier, I’m an Englishman and I’m very jealous of your tea and bookshop. Firstly, Claire, thanks very much for your time. And Tina, thank you and good luck with Leaves and your future ventures . For me. Doug Foulkes, keep well, keep safe and be sure to pop back soon.


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