In the new workplace, all we want is a chance to Flow and grow

Flow Club is an unusually effective attempt at online virtual co-working that aims to power productivity for remote workforces.

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I was surprised at how well it worked. And while it felt a little like the experience we had in the early days of low-res video chats online, somehow the shared intention of the space helped me keep focus.

I’m talking about Flow Club.

What is Flow Club?

People with an interest in office real estate rental have worked hard to convince us that the workplace requires random collaboration at office water coolers. But, what if it doesn’t?

What if the random nature of such contact could be externalized, anonymized, and delivered as an online service? What if the people you interact with could be from anywhere, and if, in the absence of managerial hierarchy, workers could become motivated by their own desired goals and a little bit of perceived peer pressure driven by strangers?

That’s what Flow Club aims to deliver.

It’s a members-only club launched April 7 with backing from Y Combinator and Worklife Ventures. In my brief experience, it is an oddly effective attempt at online co-working that takes a bunch of random strangers trying to get work done, lets them speak together briefly, and then shoves them (live on camera) into a virtual space to share background music while trying to focus on what they must do.

It is one of a plethora of emerging technologies that aim to support new hybrid working models.

Emerging services like Webflow, TeamFlow, Archie, Pietra, LunchClub, Otter.ai, Boomerang, Bubbles and many others help deal with the pain points people have begun to experience in our fast-evolving new workplace.

Presence, communication, planning, networking, isolation, recognition, and other business challenges that arose  during the pandemic are in the process of being resolved. As they are, the reactionary push to force people back to the office will be exposed as irrelevant — and probably counter-productive — to the needs, opportunities, and goals of our time.

[Also read: Enterprise tech? Don’t forget to make it human]

So, how effective is Flow Club and what problem does it try to solve?

Using Flow Club

In my experience, it was surprisingly effective. There’s something oddly reassuring about pulling your best “I’m thinking” face in front of other people you've never met who offer up similar facial expressions. At the same time, it’s also quite good to be able to do so in an anonymous environment, one in which the only shared experience is that everyone is using the same service, and everyone is trying just as hard as they possibly can to get stuff done.

You can meet in general sessions, or seek out those focused on a specific theme, or for people who work best at specific times.

The sessions work like this:

  • You join a session.
  • Introduce yourself and say what it is you are trying to do.
  • The host speaks to everyone, wishes them luck.
  • On goes the music and everyone gets busy.

And that’s it — you’re alone, working towards your goal while listening to music, and recognizing that at least for this time (“flow”) you are among a small group of strangers who are all attempting to achieve something in the same shared virtual space.

The idea is that the shared nature of the experience helps you stay focused, while the online nature of the service means you maintain control over your remote working environment. Plus, being on camera makes you feel accountable.

Sessions are timed, and once they end, everyone is invited by the host to share how close to meeting their goal they got and to comment on the experience. The actual contact time is minimal — these are places to do, not to meet.

The data is you

I found using Flow Club a positive experience, though what I found most interesting about it is how it reflects the steady transformation of our working lives into data.

We know that much of human experience is turning into data. Flow Club is another manifestation of this change. In essence, it takes a very private and creative time — productive time — places a boundary around it and transforms it into a data experience that is (unless you switch the video off) captured on camera.

What the company intends to do with this data, or what data it gathers, isn’t clear. While I imagine part of its plan could involve combining AI-based emotion sensing with workplace psychology and machine learning for decision support, this isn’t explained on the site.

The business model seems to be as a (not cheap) member’s club. Flow Club users pay $40 a month for the chance to get together in these little online work groups. I confess that I'm a little uncertain if that model is a solid enough proposal, particularly as inflation bites.

The other concern I have revolves around privacy. I looked at the site, but I don’t know where the video goes, where the servers are based, who is present in the sessions, and the extent to which Flow Club may expose vulnerable endpoints to attack.

Given the history of online video and the Web, it seems critical to me that Flow Club is transparent and robust about security, particularly if it hopes to develop a presence in the enterprise. Without verifiable security commitments, the service can’t expect to be used in any regulated industry, and you must ask if the same results couldn’t be generated using any video collaboration service?

I enjoyed using it, it enabled me to get work done, and I think it will build its own audience over time. I just wonder if Flow Club couldn’t become more ambitious.

But data must support the human

What makes it worth discussing, particularly as we explore how to better exploit the distributed nature of the internet to enable working during a deeply fractured historical era, is how effective these sessions seem to be; I found the ones I attended most productive. (The company claims paying members typically attend six a week.)

Flow Club reminds me of Teamflow, the difference being that while the latter supports teams that already know each other, the former seems focused on providing members with team-like experiences with people they don’t know. It also reminds me of Focusmate, which pairs people with accountability partners for co-working.

At this stage of the evolution of the workplace, we’re looking backwards to tomorrow even as the next chapter emerges into the light. No one really wants to go back to the office unless they lease real estate. All we really want to do is flow and grow.

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Copyright © 2022 IDG Communications, Inc.

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