28 February 2018

Flow – How Does It Work in Practice?

Aerial shot of 4 women, wearing pink t-shirts, rowing a scull boat.

Have you ever felt so engaged in your work that you lost track of time, totally oblivious to outside distractions? This state of hyper-engagement is known as flow, and helping employees achieve it is key to our work at People First.

Why? Because people are happier, more creative and more productive when in a state of flow. You could even say that flow is the key to employee engagement.

Understanding the theory of flow is simple enough, but applying it to everyday business is something different altogether.

In this blog we’ll look at how the science of flow can be applied in a practical way, demonstrating how technology can act as the catalyst for improved employee engagement and better people management.

How do we get people in the flow?

The concept of flow was conceived by Hungarian psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, who found that flow is achieved only when the degree of challenge is comparative to our level of skill. If the challenge is too great or our skill insufficient, we fall out of flow and into anxiety and stress. Likewise, if the work is too easy or we are over skilled, we become bored.

While it is possible for anyone to lose themselves in their work, we all experience flow differently. What works for me might not work for you. Similarly, some jobs or tasks lend themselves to flow more than others – those in customer-facing or performance-based roles are likely to spend more time in flow than those working a desk job.

That said, there are some key ingredients that help people achieve a state of flow. Employees need to be engaged in work that matches their abilities, working in an environment where they feel comfortable and supported. It is the responsibility of organisations to ensure that these conditions are in place.

In order to do that, you need real-time information about how your employees are feeling – and this is where technology can help.

Flow through technology

At People First, we’ve built our software around the science of flow, with functionality designed not only to help people achieve a state of flow as often as possible, but also the ability to record, monitor and contextualise employee engagement.

With access to a chatbot via their smartphones, employees can capture their current mood, providing them with valuable insights that they can then take to a check-in with their manager.

To help employees stay in a state of flow as long as possible, Focus Mode temporarily blocks non-urgent emails, giving your staff the headspace they need to really lose themselves in their work.

If an employee falls out of flow, they can discuss the underlying issues with their manager straight away. This represents a huge departure from a time when managers had little idea about employee disengagement until it was too late.

The instant nature of this process allows managers and employees to resolve any issues they may be having as quickly as possible – something that is critical to maintaining a state of flow. Knowing when an employee has become disengaged, stressed or bored gives both the employee and the manager an opportunity to quickly resolve the underlying issues.

Augmented check-ins

The best way to do this is through regular check-ins, where the employee's happiness is discussed as well as their performance and future goals. Check-ins should be informal meetings, where employees feel able to discuss any issues openly and honestly, and they should yield actual results and outcomes that both parties are happy with.

People First simplifies the whole check-in process, from scheduling through to completion, and even offers managers ice-breakers and suggested questions based on useful and relevant employee information.

Benefits for organisations

Flow isn’t just about employee wellbeing, it also has clear and practical benefits for the organisation. Happy employees are more productive, more creative, and more likely to stick around for the long term.

What’s more, spending more time in the flow mean individuals are likely to improve at what they do, creating an environment of positivity, continuous improvement and self-development.

Flow is the future

At People First, we believe that flow is central to the future of work – a future where employee engagement and wellbeing are at the heart of business decisions, and where each individual has the chance to do work that is absorbing and enjoyable.  

For us, the science of flow – and its practical application in the workplace – encapsulates our vision of the future of work, where technology enables us to be happier, more creative and more engaged, and where work is tailored to suit individuals, not the other way round.

The world of work is evolving, driven by changing attitudes and new technology. Flow is just one part of a greater shift towards a more people-centric, human approach to work – one that has huge benefits for employees and employers alike.

For information about how flow works in practice, why not download the People First Guide to Flow at Work.

Nick Edwards

Nick Edwards is a Content Writer at MHR

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