Structuring The Flow Of Work
Architect David Dewane has a desire to break up the open office. To put people through what he calls the “eudaimonia machine.” Here people transverse through different environments during of their workday to maximize their experience and support better work rhythms.
His office starts with a grand entrance. Not one to rush through but one that typically holds a gallery to inspire. Next the employee moves into the salon. A place to grab a coffee and where to socialize. Next the employee moves into a collaborative work area of an open office setting where they can connect with their team.
The employee then transitions to the library. This is their opportunity to research in preparation of going to the fifth stage, the deep work chambers. This is the non-disruption area where progress is made. Lastly, the employee traverses a contemplative area, typically a garden or natural habitat where the employee can mentally process the work they have completed and what they will complete the following day.
Hopefully, we’ve all had good days at work where everything clicks. Productivity goes through the roof and things seem easy. You’ve hit a flow state of peak concentration. Those occasions are so memorable because it is so rare.
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi was the famed psychologist that studied focus and coined the term flow. He focused on the optimal experience. He then discovered unique states of peak engagement.
These periods of flow came to individuals that find the task intrinsically rewarding, A task that consists of a balance of skill and challenge. One that needs to be difficult enough to drive engagement, but have it not been impossible.
Successful conditions go beyond just focus and concentration though. Organizations are built by people and teams, not by lone individuals. As a leader you are looking to find the right balance of facilitating connection with the team and their ability to go into deep work.
The real difficulty is lining up deep work with connection time so that they don’t overlap. Flow is characterized by high level task engagement and concentration. Peak connection however is characterized by openness and a free flow of expression. The two sets of characteristics don’t pair well, but they do supplement each other.
Take playing baseball for example. In rare moments a baseball player will achieve a flow state when hitting a ball. Having extreme vision and concentration they can see pitches with great clarity. Then after their at bat they transition back to their team typically in the field into a cooperative stage playing with other fielders.
It is easier to spot what hinders flow than to point to what helps flow. These hindrances come in the form of the pop in visit. The quick question that needs an immediate answer. These are the distractions that pull us out of a state of deep work.
Other flow breakers come in the form of calls and instant messages. Instant messages made popular with the Blackberry phone showed the speed of alignment and decision making amongst a group of people. It spread throughout corporations which has led to people being flooded and overwhelmed with quick notes.
There is a great value in short communication. To ask and answer a quick question, it implies speed. This comes at the cost of focus however and will keep a person from ever achieving a flow state. For your office, think about different rules your team can put in place around instant messaging. Should it only be used at certain times during the day, or do they have to respond immediately?
Setting up rules and habits are effective building blocks for shaping an organization’s culture. Building a system that creates a stable context. One that reduces office and personnel friction.
Then reward these behaviors and repeat them until they become automatic. For example, we typically reward the metaphorical fireman at work. A crisis occurs and the individual that solves the problem, saves the day, and is showered with praise. Unfortunately, we never tend to reward the individual that goes into deep work of understanding risks and who prevents the problem from occurring in the first place. A habit to create, routinely rewards individuals for their intentional efforts instead of the one flying in to save the day.
Our environment is the accumulation of what we do and how we behave. These are our habits which decrease brain activity leaving us to focus our minds elsewhere. For example, afternoon walks. This has become a habit for many to go outside and walk while thinking through a problem. It turns a habit into a flow inducing state. Can you shift your environment into a collection of habits that induce flow?
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