This Is How Employers Can Encourage Workplace Productivity
Right now, it's not possible to enter a good workflow state with the snap of your fingers, but there are ways employers can help employees become so absorbed in their work that the hours melt away.
If you love what you do, you've likely had this experience: You sit down to complete a task, and to your surprise when you finally finish, hours have passed, you've missed multiple calls and you feel something close to bliss. In those hours, you entered the "flow" state and, as employers, we should do everything we can to encourage it in our employees.
As defined by the psychologist who coined the term, flow is "a state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter; the experience is so enjoyable that people will continue to do it even at great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it."
While the state of flow sounds nice in theory, how do we actually create an environment that allows us to get there? We cannot expect 100% of our employees to find their flow without intention, just as we cannot sail on a day without wind or in a storm that might capsize us. As employers, we have to work to create the conditions that enable flow and arm employees with the proper equipment they need to find it.
Whether you work from home or in the office, if you're in an environment where you are constantly distracted (whether it be by your children, your coworkers or even your phone), you're not going to enter flow. That being said, we cannot magically snap our fingers and make all distractions go away. We have to actively set ourselves up in a space that protects our concentration and leaves room for flow, even if that environment only lasts for an hour.
Each person's approach to creating such an environment will look different; what matters is that we take the time to create it. The parent of four may need to get out of the house and work in an office while the single 20-something without roommates may thrive working from home without coworkers to distract them.
Start conversations with your employees and ask them what barriers to productivity they encounter and what they might need to overcome them. For example, we had an employee who found it extremely challenging to work from home and was struggling to complete their work. Rather than let her languish (or seek a new job with an office), we found her the office space she needed and she is now more productive than ever. Each employee has a unique set of circumstances and challenges, and it is part of our job as leaders to help them identify and establish the work environment that is most conducive to their productivity.
Flourishing in flow
We all want to work in a place that makes us feel happy, productive and supported — where we love our work and find ourselves frequently in flow, hours passing before we rip ourselves away from the task at hand. The good news is that these elements are not mutually exclusive. They are inherently intertwined.
The state of flow is born out of joy and passion for our work and inspires productivity when we can enter it. Furthermore, happiness and productivity create a self-fulfilling cycle. Studies have shown that happy people are more productive. And when we are productive, we feel accomplished and our self-esteem is boosted, leading to a greater sense of happiness. Each of these elements works in tandem to create a happy, healthy and productive workplace.
By empowering our employees to enter flow, we not only give them the opportunity to grow and advance in their careers in the future, but we also make them more effective in the work they are doing in the present. It is in every party's best interest to identify the employees that want to grow and the employers who will create the environment that allows them to flourish. Workplaces that feel stagnant or cluttered by chaos will be left with workers who are happy giving the bare minimum, unmotivated to reach for more.
Creating space to flow
For most, the state of "flow" happens accidentally and is only occasionally stumbled upon when one is particularly inspired. And while it is true that it's an easier state for some to attain than others, everyone can and should benefit from a workplace environment that encourages it. So how do we create a space and a process that enables all employees to find their flow?
There are clear and tangible steps we can take to cultivate flow. First, assigned tasks should be challenging yet achievable to engage employees without overwhelming them. Second, an employee's tasks and assignments need clearly defined goals (short-term and long-term). Finally, an employee's work should receive immediate feedback that recognizes their efforts and guides them forward, motivating them to continue finding the flow state.
Building upon these steps, my colleagues and I launched an experimental product intending to create a system that enables employees to be in flow for 90-minute intervals, regardless of their outer circumstances. As we test this product, we are working with employees to design the environment they need to flow and then putting that environment to the test by assigning a specific set of tasks to complete in 90 minutes. In creating a system and working closely with our employees, we hope to help them find their flow with more ease and frequency, thus increasing productivity and workplace happiness.
Flow is essential to business
Flow is not just a hokey term espoused by yoga teachers and psychology books — it's an essential element of business and a sign of a healthy work environment. Employees want to work in a place where their growth is supported and inspiration is given room to flourish. It is an advantage to employers to empower people to find their flow. In doing so they will inevitably attract the most productive and valuable employees. It takes work to cultivate such an environment, but the effort is well worth the payoff in a workplace filled with employees who are motivated, happy to be there and eager to learn.Of course, no person will be in flow 100% of the time. There will be tasks we don't enjoy and moments where we need to take a coffee break or a walk outside. However, the more we can do as employers and employees to cultivate it, the more we will wake up to find blue skies and strong winds, ready to push our sailboats steadily along into the future.
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