Is it possible to get the benefits of working in the office, at home? Creative Director at FLOWN, Andy Penfold, discusses how remote coworking is helping employees benefit from social cues and accountability to beat burnout and loneliness working from home.
Imagine joining a Zoom call with a load of other people, with the sole intention of working on your own work, by yourself. It sounds odd, but a growing number of remote workers are turning to services that allow them to do exactly that.
With millions of people finding that their home-working lifestyle is here to stay, digital co-working is growing. People are looking for ways to hack their new lifestyle to make it work for them and to ensure their mental health doesn’t suffer.
Digital co-working, often called ‘virtual accountability’, is pretty simple. It’s where people get together, usually on Zoom or similar, to work. Just as they would in a real co-working space. But in the digital space, companies are offering this as a service.
My company FLOWN, for example, runs digital co-working groups called Flocks. These are hosted by trained facilitators, and incorporate aspects of community, accountability and entertaining content, with the goal of helping people focus on their tasks.
Your WFH employees might already be experimenting with tools such as FLOWN. The benefits range from greater productivity to better mental wellness.
The simple fact is that humans are social animals. We’ve got to the top of the Earth’s food chain in part because we’ve learned to feed off each other and work in cahoots with each other. Working in the presence of others helps us perform.
This also leads to the idea of accountability. Accountability is being responsible for what you do. And being able to show why you did it that way and demonstrate how well you did it.
Accountability is essential for a well-functioning team – it’s why daily stand-ups are a good idea in fast-moving workplaces. And why giving the promising new intern responsibility for something important often helps them flourish.
But in remote teams accountability can morph into over-expectation, feelings of being overwhelmed and distractions. Your employees are more connected to their managers than ever (constantly chiming Slack, Teams, WhatsApp, SMS and more are testament to that). But workers often experience an oversupply of communication and an undersupply of team camaraderie, support, and time to focus on deep work.
Digital co-working often helps workers redress this balance. It can help recreate the ‘pressure’ of the office, without the politics, toxicity and endless distraction.
Unlike your schedule of meetings in your actual job, signing up to a Flock with FLOWN is voluntary. The act of doing so is a commitment to ticking off tasks.
And that act of commitment has been shown by psychologists to make a huge difference to your ability to deliver. It’s like booking a spin class (as opposed to saying on Sunday night ‘oh, I’ll go to the gym at some point this week’). It’s known in neuroscience circles as implementation intention, and it’s a powerful thing.
At FLOWN we like to go a step further. Every Flock starts by splitting participants into breakout rooms to share their intention for the session with a small group.
Stating your goals in public like this (even to an audience of strangers) is a powerful psychological driver that commits you to achieving what you intend to achieve.
It also forces you to prioritise your tasks – a key aspect of personal workload management. If you prioritise, you can manage your boss’s expectations much more effectively, and ensure the most important deliverables are delivered.
It’s not simply an act of putting additional pressure on yourself to work hard. The experience of working with others also produces brain states that make you feel great.
Dopamine whooshes through you as you tick off your to-dos. Plus the commitment to work without distraction ushers you towards the Nirvana of ‘flow’ – the state of being where your consciousness merges with your work and you lose track of time because, well, doing good work at the peak of your powers is really quite absorbing.
And this is the crux for organisations: the smartest companies understand that workers need dedicated time to do the most important work – the tasks that will make the most difference. That, after all, is why you hired them.
It’s also the work that’ll keep them engaged, and keep them from burning out. The more you can facilitate this ‘deep work’ in your workforce, the better their outcomes will be and the more engaged they’ll be, too.
Tools like digital co-working may seem quirky, but the WFH revolution is creating demand for people who need help focusing, prioritising, delivering – and staying mentally well. Your business would do well to explore the trend.