The Way We Work: Benefits of a Mindful Office

“The Way We Work” is an Evernote series that explores work trends and tools that redefine your work throughout 2015 and beyond.

You might say that Steve Jobs quietly brought mindfulness to Silicon Valley.

As a practitioner of mindfulness, Jobs embraced meditation in solitude and his studies of centuries-old Eastern philosophies helped bring focus during the biggest moments of his career. Outside of his private studies, mindfulness never made it deeper into the workspace at Apple.

Today, you might say that mindfulness is having its moment in the valley.

Not only has it been brought into major organizations like Google and Facebook, but mindfulness has also reached mainstream heights within major sports teams like the Seattle Seahawks and the Boston Red Sox.

Whether you’re talking about Google or the National Football League, the idea of mindfulness being brought into the fold of a corporation usually comes from you — the individual contributor — and works it way from the bottom up.

The degree to which we are reliant on technology for the work we do is reaching perpetual distraction. We are always on, always connected. Ironically, that’s the opposite of the positivity of our constant connectivity. In reality, we’re fragmented and disconnected at the loss of focus on the time to achieve our best work.

In response, mindfulness is being embraced by growing numbers of workers as a tool to learn how to be present in the moment. This is especially helpful as a confluence of social inputs has taught us to always be “on” at every stage of our day, morning, and night.

You could argue that businesses may see this as an instrument to increase employee output, productivity, and profits, but research is showing that the individual health benefits of being mindful are making a huge impact.

Aetna, which implemented mindfulness practices in their workplace, has seen notable qualitative benefits tied to biomechanical processes like reduced heart rate variability. Essentially, they are seeing that employees are less stressed. Happier employees are able to be present during stressful moments and can feel empowered to find creativity and success with projects.

At Facebook, employees are leading impassioned hack days while practicing mindfulness and the end result is more sensitive algorithms that architect how we interact with the world’s largest social network.

The NFL’s Seattle Seahawks allow players to complement the hard-hitting physical demands of training camp with the opportunity to close their eyes and visualize success, quiet their minds, and focus attention inward. In a league where business success is measured on championships, the Seahawks have revitalized a franchise and appeared in two straight Super Bowls.

Can the practice of meditation make an impact in your workplace? We recently spoke with author, New York Times reporter, and longtime Evernote user, David Gelles about how the benefits of mindfulness can help you become happier and less stressed in the work you do.

Photo Credit: Alison Boyd Gelles

His newly published book, “Mindful Work” examines the role of mindfulness and meditation in the workplace.

Evernote: Let’s start with a pretty high-level thought. What defines happiness in the workplace?

David Gelles: I don’t know that there’s one definition of happiness in the workplace. For some, it might be doing meaningful work that gives them a sense of fulfillment. For others, it might be simply doing a good job something they’re not necessarily passionate about, but affords them a comfortable lifestyle. And for still others, it might be working with colleagues they enjoy in a great setting. I’m not going to say one definition is more valid than the next.

Evernote: Is a much happier workplace a more productive workplace?

David Gelles: There’s probably some evidence out there that makes a case for this one way or the other, but I’m not familiar with it. What I do believe is that healthier workplace makes a more productive workplace. At Aetna, for example, they rolled out yoga and meditation programs to thousands of employees. Soon, workers were less stressed, healthcare costs came down, and productivity improved.

Evernote: What about the business advantages of practicing mindfulness? Is there a competitive advantage that this could bring to a corporation?

David Gelles: I like to think of improved productivity as a happy side effect of mindfulness practice, not the goal. In my experience, individuals turn to mindfulness as a tool that can help them become less stressed, happier, and even kinder and more compassionate. If this happens to make them more efficient, great. But I’m always cautious when people sell meditation or mindfulness as some kind of competitive advantage.

Evernote: The fact that we are even talking about being mindful in the office, or specifically, meditation, signals a pretty significant shift in how we think about the workspace. What does this mean for American corporations and what they expect from their employees?

David Gelles: Mindfulness and meditation are practically mainstream now, and that marks a really dramatic shift from even a few years ago. To be sure, not every company is on board with this movement. But from Silicon Valley to Wall Street to the Midwest, companies of all sizes and in all industries are embracing yoga and meditation in different ways.

That, to me, signals that at least in some corners of the corporate world, businesses are placing more emphasis on the mental and physical well-being of their employees. And that’s a good thing indeed.

Evernote: In you research, what was one of the most surprising facts you learned about how this trend is impacting the way people work?

David Gelles: When practiced diligently, mindfulness seems to make us more compassionate, more socially responsible, more ethical. For something that is in many ways very individualistic, that’s rather astonishing. But what I think is happening is this: As we become more self aware, through the practice of meditation, we also become more aware of how our actions impact others. And with time, this leads us to more fully consider how we might make things better for those around us.

Evernote: You discuss some very prominent, successful companies in your book like Google with executive support that champions mindfulness. How should employees working at smaller organizations incorporate this for their team or entire organization?

David Gelles: The nice thing about mindfulness is that it’s scaleable! Big companies may have the resources to roll meditation and yoga training out to thousands of employees at once, but it’s really up to the individuals whether they embrace these practices or not. So I don’t think small companies are at any disadvantage on this front.

In fact, I think smaller companies with more nimble cultures probably have a bit more freedom to experiment.

Whether that means having weekly or even daily meditation sessions, creating a space for people to practice, or bringing in instructors, find what’s right for your work culture and give it a try if there’s the appetite.

Evernote: Whether you’re a knowledge worker or freelancer, productivity is one of the major goals we try to reach — a type of homeostasis that serves as a benchmark for the work we accomplish and the projects or goals we achieve. How important is being mindful to that end goal for the work we do?

David Gelles: Again, I try not to oversell mindfulness as a productivity tool. Mindfulness can help make us less stressed, more attuned to the present moment instead of lost in our thoughts, and maybe a bit healthier and happier. But I don’t think it will magically make us complete tasks faster, or suddenly give us extra hours in the day.

Evernote: How long have you been using Evernote?

David Gelles: I joined Evernote on October 8, 2009, and have the Welcome email to prove it. At the time, I was a tech reporter for the Financial Times in San Francisco.

Evernote: As a journalist, how does Evernote help you daily work?

David Gelles: I take almost all my notes in Evernote, usually typing directly into a note as I’m on the phone. If I’m offline, I’ll take notes in another application, then paste the notes into Evernote. I usually have one or two notes per story. For rolling stories, I’ll sometimes divide up notes by sources.

Evernote: How did Evernote help you accomplish your daily writing, research and the eventual publishing of “Mindful Work?”

David Gelles: I used Evernote on and off during the writing of Mindful Work. When it really came down to churning out the chapters, I found myself, against my better instincts, using Word.

Evernote: Can you describe any of your Evernote workflow that helped you along your path of researching and writing?

David Gelles: The ability to search across documents is one of the best features of Evernote. It makes it incredibly easy to find something, especially if you can only remember a keyword or a fragment of a conversation.

Evernote: Favorite Evernote power tips, tricks, or shortcuts?

David Gelles: Wish I was enough of a power user to know all the hacks, but for me, the simple service, along with the ability to create easily navigable shortcuts and folders is huge win.

Originally published at on March 19, 2015.