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Remote Career Development: Alicia Navarro Of FLOWN On How To Advance and Enhance Your Career When You Are Working Remotely

An Interview With David Liu

As a part of our series about the things you need to successfully work remotely, I had the pleasure of interviewing Alicia Navarro.

Alicia Navarro is a serial tech entrepreneur, with a passion for product, brand, design, and culture. She is the founder and CEO of new startup FLOWN, creating ‘deep work’ resources for knowledge workers. Frustrated by how hard it was to find the physical and mental spaces conducive to productive and creative thinking, Alicia began FLOWN to offer a set of online tools and resources to enable accountability, focus and creativity.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. What is your “backstory”?

I’m a Spanish-blooded, Aussie-born, London-based nomadic entrepreneur who was the first woman to top a computing science degree at her university. My career has been in product management, and then I fell in love with startup life and haven’t looked back. I founded a startup called Skimlinks in 2008 which became a successful international company that got acquired during the first lockdown last year. At the same time, I started my new startup — FLOWN — that helps people achieve deep work every day.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

We battled a patent troll who had a manslaughter conviction after killing a man in a Craigslist sex orgy that went wrong. Luckily we had patent insurance as a result of a dream I had, so we managed to survive the onslaught and win.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I was once misquoted by a journalist in an interview. I had said “when making product decisions, you can’t just trust data alone, because there is implicit bias in data: how it is captured, what is chosen to be captured (and what isn’t), and how that data is interpreted. You need to also talk to customers.”

The headline for the article was “You can’t trust data”, which unfortunately and understandably upset my data team. Oops!

I have learnt to be mindful of how I communicate externally!

What advice would you give to other business leaders to help their employees thrive and avoid burnout?

I encourage leaders to learn about ‘deep work’. It is based on the book “Deep Work” by Cal Newport, who describes it as work we do in a state of focused concentration, and it is in that state that we do our most valuable work, learn new skills and achieve pride and contentment. However, with so many online and offline distractions, we are eroding our ability to do deep work, at the same time that it has never been more valuable to our world.

The concept of deep work is a holistic one. It is not just about work. To cultivate a deep work practice, you need to weave a few ingredients into your work and life. You need to: dedicate chunks of time to deep work; intersperse that with play, exploration and learning; immerse yourself in nature, and even do the ‘grand gesture’ of getting away from your day-to-day environment now and then to do deep work; adopt rituals of accountability, have access to diverse people and ideas, and exercise your body and mind.

So to help your employees thrive and avoid burnout, you need to create the rituals, culture, and systems that allow your team to experience these ingredients on a regular basis.

Ok, let’s jump to the core of our interview. Working remotely can be very different than working with a team that is in front of you. This provides great opportunity but it can also create unique challenges. To begin, can you articulate for our readers a few of the main benefits and opportunities of working remotely?

The main benefit of working remotely for most people is the extra time gained from not commuting, and the ability to be more flexible with one’s work hours. This can mean employees can attend to their life commitments more easily, without sacrificing their work output.

Can you articulate for our readers what the five main challenges are regarding working remotely?

  1. Loneliness — we’ve gone from spending our days physically with our teams to being alone all-day.
  2. Dynamism — commuting to work may have been a drag, but at least it filled our day with new challenges, new encounters, new people… without this dynamism, many of us languish.
  3. Lack of mentorship — younger team members used to develop their careers by modelling positive behaviours they observed around the office. This is much much harder to do via 1-to-1 Zoom calls.
  4. Burn-out — the commute became a type of work ritual that separated our work from life, and provided a sense of transition. Working from home now often means we lack rituals that protect work from bleeding over into our home lives, leading to burn-out.
  5. Relationships — many people met their life partner or best friends at work. Removing that social environment from our lives will impact our personal relationships.

Based on your experience, what can one do to address or redress each of those challenges? Can you give a story or example for each?

  1. Solving loneliness — FLOWN helps with this. Our regular Flock sessions are live deep work sessions that begin by sharing one’s goals and connecting on a human level with a group of professionals. This can help stave off the loneliness of working from home.
  2. Solving dynamism — as above, FLOWN’s Flock sessions inject play, exploration, reflection, and introspection into your day, so you feel exposed to new people, encounters, ideas, and games, every day. We also offer content to help you recharge your focus, which includes exploratory Quests, entertaining Almanac entries, and invigorating Breath & Body exercises.
  3. Solving mentorship — leaders need to take extra care of their junior employees, giving them 1-to-1 meetings not just with their line manager but others across the organization they can benefit modeling from.
  4. Solving burn-out — adopting one’s own work rituals can help here. Coming up with a little moment that helps you detach and unwind from your day, can help in creating a needed separation from work and rest.
  5. Solving relationships — people need to seek real-world friendships and partnerships elsewhere, but companies can play a role here in encouraging extra-curricular activities in their teams, or running regular team off-sites.

Do you have any suggestions specifically for people who work at home? What are a few ways to be most productive when you work at home?

Apologies for the shameless plug again, but FLOWN is literally the answer! We are like a “Peloton for work”, where instead of a bike and spin instructor, you have our fabulous facilitators guiding you to do deep work and to recharge your focus when you are done. You do this by joining our Flock sessions, where you work in silence alongside other professionals via Zoom. Give it a try, it sounds nutty, but they’re so popular and effective.

Can you share any suggestions for teams who are used to working together on location but are forced to work remotely due to the pandemic? Are there potential obstacles one should avoid with a team that is just getting used to working remotely?

The key we found is effective knowledge management. We use Notion as our store of all knowledge, docs, plans, schedules, etc, which makes it very easy to communicate and plan together. Google Docs became an organizational nightmare, so we don’t use it for most things.

We also spent a lot of time working on communication protocols, so we understood collectively how and when to communicate different types of messages.

What do you suggest can be done to create an empowering work culture and team culture with a team that is remote and not physically together?

Most importantly, it is creating a ‘deep work’ culture: one that gives your team the time and space to work deeply on key tasks, rather than filling their days with meetings and emails (what is called “shallow work”). When employees are able to do deep work every day, they not only get more important work done faster and at a higher level of quality, but their sense of accomplishment is heightened, which directly contributes to a healthy thriving culture.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

Definitely about ‘deep work’! I truly believe that ‘deep work’ will be for the next decade what mindfulness was for the last decade… it will go from being very niche to being ubiquitous and endorsed by companies on behalf of their employees. Deep work is the answer not only to the challenges of Covid but the answer for how to live a rich and fruitful life where one’s relationship to work is transformed.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

I always used to say “If it was easy, everyone would do it”. It has always been a way for me to amass the strength and gumption to survive challenging times, or to solve difficult problems. The most important asset of an organization besides creativity is resilience, because problems are to be expected, but it is creativity and resilience that gets you through those.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

You can try out Flown at flown.com — we are currently free so give Flocks and our other content a try, and see how deep work can transform your life.

We are on Instagram at @flownspace too, sharing all sorts of cool tips and ideas around focus, creativity and fulfillment at work.

Thank you for these great insights! We wish you continued success.

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In-depth Interviews with Authorities in Business, Pop Culture, Wellness, Social Impact, and Tech. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.

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David Liu

David is the founder and CEO of Deltapath, a unified communications company that liberates organizations from the barriers of effective communication