Leaders at some of the largest tech companies are trying to fix the biggest problem of the century: not enough time in the day.
They aren’t fixing the situation with an app or a new productivity system, but by bringing the ancient practice of mindfulness into the workplace. When Twitter cofounder Evan Williams started Medium, he placed a room in the middle of the office where yoga and meditation could be practiced, and brought in Will Kabat-Zinn to offer mindfulness and meditation classes several times a week. Google launched the ever popular Search Inside Yourself course about emotional intelligence, Asana offers employees private yoga classes, and corporations that range from Starbucks to Aetna are integrating mindfulness into the workday in one way or another.
According to Soren Gordhamer, founder of Wisdom 2.0, an annual technology and mindfulness conference, the movement is coming from the need to manage the flood of information that is now a part of daily life. “There is a longing for a more spacious, quality existence, both inside and outside of work. The next-generation company and employee is looking for quality of life,” he says. “We are in the middle of a culture shift; we are no longer interested in just getting through our workday and striving toward relief at the end of our careers. It’s about more quality and connection within the work-life continuum.”
“It’s not about having a bad day at work and then going to yoga so you can feel better,” Melissa Daimler, head of learning and organizational development at Twitter, shared during an event hosted by Impact Hub San Francisco about the future of leadership and development. “Business and our work environments are the cornerstone for not only transforming organizations, but ourselves.”
“We want to prepare people for how to deal with the challenges ahead and engage them with solving problems that don’t seem to have solutions,” said Karen May, vice president of people development at Google. “We find that people often take interest in our mindfulness programs because they not only want to be able to develop the skills to focus and pay attention to the task at hand, but they also want to learn how to clear their minds so they can be more innovative and creative thinkers. Mindfulness is a powerful tool to develop a stronger capability to handle ambiguity and complexity, and while mindfulness is one way to increase self-awareness and reduce reactivity, it is not the only way,” she said.
May emphasized that one size does not fit all. “I never want to assume that what is relevant or helpful for one person will be relevant or helpful for another . . . this work is very individual and personal, and I don’t want us to be prescriptive.”
Formal learning process. Google engineer Chade-Meng Tan’s initiated the now infamous “Search Inside Yourself” two-day leadership program that introduces the tools of mindfulness and emotional intelligence.
Twitter hosts manager training sessions (#twittercore5) where managers have opportunities to practice skills. Daimler shared, “One of our core skills of managers is coaching, which is about listening, being present, and asking questions.”
Create physical space. Create a physical space that is reserved for mindfulness programs, and allow for employees to have ownership over the life of the programs. May explained Google’s approach: “Our employees are really the leaders and champions of our mindfulness programs.”
Variety. Offer a variety of teachers and techniques where different techniques and habits can be explored.
Encourage and support community. Create systems for communication and information sharing. Google launched gPause, an internal online community where they share books, resources, retreats, and more. A few favorites that were sited were the apps Headspace and Insight Timer, and the book Wherever You Go, There You Are by Jon Kabat-Zinn.
How will you know you’ve accomplished human being status versus human doing in the workplace? “I see the goal of this work as taking people one step further from where they were before,” May said. “That’s huge. That’s success.”