Flow is a hyper-productive state of work that helps bring people the feeling of great passion, expertise and passion in their work. It is often described as the experience of 'being in the zone'. Anyone who has been in a state of flow knows that it is a very gratifying experience that can help employees find satisfaction in their work.
At Techstars, we recently did a fun exercise via Slack where each individual had to describe the environment in which they found Flow. What was most interesting about this exercise was that no two answers were the same. The responses ranged from a background of hard-rock to complete silence. Some preferred a large cup of ice water, others coffee. One founder stated they needed natural lighting in front of a window, many others said a dark room. Multiple people noted the comfort of your space including the temperature of the room. Some founders could hone in on even the smells that put them in a state of flow such as a warm-smelling candle lit nearby. A consistent theme across the responses was a quiet or clean inbox, a checklist or clear problem, and no distractions.
Until I was asked to respond to this prompt in writing, I had never consciously considered all the intricate details of the surroundings that best put me in a state of flow. It forced me to think deeply about my recent experiences with flow, imagine myself back in that space, and describe my surroundings. Since this exercise, I have been able to manufacture myself a surrounding that promotes flow.
Are your remote employees working in an environment where they can find flow at least a few times per week? Does their office space at home even allow them to manufacture this environment? If not, how can you help them to fix that? Because an employee in flow not only feels great about the work they are doing but they are also incredibly productive.
Many companies have begun to recognize that a workday with no interruptions is incredibly valuable. Business leaders globally have created company-wide rules like the “no meetings on Friday” rule. To help improve productivity, focus and reduce Zoom fatigue. Another key result of no meeting days is creating time for your employees to find flow. Perhaps as a manager of an individual team, you cannot create a rule like this but what you CAN do is create flow time blocks for your employees. As a manager, you can create a standing calendar event for your team 2-3 times a week dedicated to finding flow. This will prevent meetings from being scheduled by other teams/departments. Ask your employees during this two-hour period to turn off their slack and email notifications and just dive into their work uninterrupted. Remind them to manufacture their flow environment at this time and not to reach out to other teammates via Slack.
Renowned organizational psychologist, Adam Grant, has written many articles and given presentations on the value of Flow. To Adam, one of the key criteria for finding flow is having a meaningful challenge to tackle. Helping your employees find meaning in their work is part of being a great manager. You may be thinking, “in our field of work, connecting our challenges to meaningful impact is difficult”. In Grant’s famous Ted Talk, he uses the example of finding flow while playing Mario Kart with his family. Something that may seem to be a trivial challenge.
However, he knew the ‘why’ behind this challenge was finding a way to bond with his children and siblings during COVID when everyone was feeling languished. This brought meaning to his challenge. Empowering your employees with the greater WHY behind the work they are doing is a critical part of helping them find flow.
Ultimately, as a leader, if you can help your employees identify the environment where they find flow, help them reduce all the distractions that come with a typical workday, and empower them to find the why behind their current project you will have unleashed the productivity superpower that is flow.
You must also be able to feel like you're making progress throughout your work. That is why so many people include a todo list as part of their flow environment. Accomplishing small wins along the way is important to achieving flow. You won’t feel like you are in flow if you spin your wheels for the two hours you have set aside. Help your employees feel like they are checking items off their lists or making meaningful progress.