Exos built a new company culture that boosts both employee productivity and wellness.
By Greg Hill and Amanda Carlson-Phillips
The world is evolving at a pace that makes it challenging for workplaces to handle. In 2021, the warning signs were hiding in plain sight: stress, depression, and anxiety, already at record highs before 2020, were now reaching crisis levels with spending in response to this cresting over the $500 billion mark. At work, these undercurrents manifested as employee disengagement, dissatisfaction, and burnout. Terms like the Great Resignation, Zoom fatigue, and quiet quitting made their way into the cultural lexicon.
Exos’s data from a recent study supports these findings: 49% of respondents say they don’t have enough energy to get through the day, while 71% can’t find that covetable state of focused work called flow. And while 50% report not getting enough sleep, 58% can’t break negative thought patterns throughout the day.
Many employers seem to believe that they have to get employees to work harder and faster. But corporations can increase their employees’ capacity and allow them to recover well enough to tap into it—a process called “Readiness.”
To explore this in a corporate setting, Exos partnered with Hofstra University to investigate the impact that intentional recovery could have on achieving a flow state at work. Flow is a psychological state of being fully immersed in an activity or task; it’s been described as an optimal state of consciousness and associated with peak performance, both physically and cognitively.
The study involved approximately 150 Exos employees, half of whom participated in a flow-based intervention while the other half served as controls. The flow-based intervention involved teaching participants about flow and then structuring intentional recovery throughout the workday. After four weeks, the intervention group participants were two to three times more likely to experience flow at work, reported less stress at the end of the day, and maintained a higher heart rate variability over time, a physiological indicator that their bodies were better “metabolizing” the stress of their lives.
Here are some of the core concepts of Exos’ new “Readiness” culture.
- Prioritize individual recovery.
- Micro-breaks: Intentional recovery moments are taken throughout the day, utilizing movement, sunlight, breathwork, and meditation tactics to refresh the body and the brain.
- Shorter meetings: Back-to-back meetings wreak havoc on the brain. Exos calendar settings were changed to make 25-minute and 50-minute meetings the norm. When longer sessions are necessary, each 90-minute block of work requires a 20-minute break.
- You-do-you (YDY) days: Some companies will refer to it as a four-day work week. Expectations on YDY days, which typically fall on Friday or Monday, is that individuals use the day to unplug, do independent work, or some combination of the two.
2. Support teams with flow triggers.
- Recharge breaks: To combat brain fatigue, specific recharge breaks are paired with the type and duration of work (think: creative ideation versus strategic decision-making).
- Meeting intentions: Flow follows focus, so hosts clearly articulate the goal of the meeting at the start. The company also declares “meeting bankruptcy” at the end of each year, canceling all meetings and ensuring new meetings are necessary, of appropriate duration, and include the right people.
- Protected work time: Calendar transparency tools are used to let employees know when teammates are seeking flow state.
Nearly one year into this culture shift, the company has learned a lot along the way. Bringing this “Readiness” culture to life required complete collaboration between operations, innovation, and people functions in addressing a complex balance of science, business operations, and HR legalities. And while Exos is currently studying the impact of this work with Wharton, overall, there are trends that indicate an improvement in employee engagement and well-being with maintained productivity levels.
That said, there have also been unexpected challenges. The three most noteworthy include:
- how to manage PTO alongside additional recovery time;
- the need for calendar transparency to improve collaboration and productivity; and
- the impact of pandemic-related isolation on some remote employees.
After receiving feedback from all areas of the organization, all three challenges have been addressed. For teams leveraging the YDY days, the additional day of intentional recovery is designed to come after a condensed full week of work. Therefore, during weeks when there’s a holiday or an employee takes PTO, the recovery day is also considered PTO.
To increase collaboration and productivity, employees now display their focus time, time away, and the majority of their work meetings on their calendars. This has helped the company better understand how employees spend their days and the best times to work with one another.
Lastly, Exos is leveraging “Community Wednesdays.” This mid-week initiative is done in a few different ways:
- with in-office staff through team events and in-person learning;
- client immersion time for regional staff; and
- interactive learning offerings for remote staff.
Recent survey scores show a 93% favorability score when asked if the company creates an environment that cares for employee well-being. Turnover rates have been cut in half. But the company continues to seek ways to hone the “Readiness” culture.
Greg Hill is chief people officer for Exos and Amanda Carlson-Phillips is the company’s chief performance innovation officer.