Headspace is officially “the happiest office in the world.” But this Santa Monica startup is more than just upbeat—they’re also really successful. The Headspace app has been downloaded over 25 million times.

To hit that milestone, the team has had to hunker down into serious GSD mode. Another word for their approach? Mindfulness.

It may sound squishy, but the benefits are solid:

It’s also a method more and more companies are toying with. When Aetna rolled out a mindfulness program, they saw a 62-minute per week gain in productivity, valued at $3,000 a year per employee.

But can mindfulness really make a business more successful?

According to Tom Freeman, heck yes. Tom is Headspace’s learning and development manager, and believes that real mindfulness doesn’t involve green juice, incense, or New Agey philosophies—it’s simply about getting more in tune with the team.

“I like to think of mindfulness in terms of ‘awareness,’ as it has a lot of value in a business sense,” he explains. “How aware are you of what’s happening in your organization?”

In this interview, Tom unboxes his top tips for amping up your team’s performance, along with a toolkit to help you tie those powerful tactics into your small business.

Wait, does this story apply to me?

Mindfulness isn’t some hippie-dippie concept—it’s an age-old tool small businesses can use to increase performance and productivity. Because when your team feels connected to their work, they work better. Specifically, 12 percent better. And as a tiny company, that can have a huge impact on your bottom line.

Trick #1: Toss out those generic goals and draw a tree.

What this means for you: Define a clear set of goals and operating metrics that are relatable to every member of every team.  

“Not knowing or understanding company goals can seriously inhibit productivity,” Tom says. “Gym memberships, free lunches, or perks won’t fix this.”

Employees should be able to recite your company’s purpose in their sleep. Beyond that, they also need to see how their roles and projects bring those company goals to life. Why? Because specific, tangible goals are directly linked to higher performance.  

At Headspace, the team solidifies its goals by drawing a tree. The top organizational goals form the “trunk” of the tree and smaller, more granular ones branch out from the foundation. The tree visual is also a helpful way to think about how connected everyone is at the company. Each part relies on the other to stay alive.

Here’s how to copy their approach:

Choose three to five clear goals that matter to your business.

For instance, they might be:

  • Attract more customers.
  • Increase sales.
  • Improve my service or product.
  • Enhance the customer experience.

Choose areas that are clear and crucial to your company’s success. If you own a gym, “increase membership by 10 percent” is better than, “increase membership.” Or if you own a dental practice, say “make filling out paperwork faster” instead of “improve the healthcare experience.”

Draw a branch from every goal to each of your teams.

(Skip to the next step if you don’t have departments or teams.) Now, smash each goal open. If you own a gym, what does increasing membership by 10 percent translate to for various teams? It may mean that your front desk team needs better training on membership sales, or that you need to prioritize hiring so you can have a larger roster of personal trainers to turn to.

Connect team goals to individual goals.

Finally, write down smaller goals for individual employees to own. So if you want to ratchet up sales at your deli, then perhaps every cashier should try to upsell a drink and chips to three more customers per shift. “Your leaders and employees must know what the finish line looks like,” Tom says.

Attach numbers to each goal.

Next, figure out how you can track success in whatever way is most meaningful. It could mean emailing surveys to 1,000 customers and getting a score of 90 percent or more. It could also mean improving one of your review site ratings by a certain number of stars.  

Done right, goal-setting cuts away the noise of ambiguity. “If an organization isn’t clear on why it exists, then that can cause stress and anxiety,” says Tom.

Trick #2: Give your team some space.

What this means for you: Even if you’re not bought into the whole meditation idea, find ways to give your team the mental space to do great things.

It’s easy to jot down giant goals. It’s harder to build a culture—and a physical space—that lets you achieve them.

Walk into Headspace HQ, and you’ll quickly see that mindfulness flavors every aspect of the company, from meetings to metrics. To introduce the idea of mindfulness into your own business, create a separate, relaxing space in your office. While Headspace has custom-designed meditation pods for employees, you don’t have to hire a furniture designer to give your team the same benefits.

Here’s a fast and cheap way to set up your own meditation room:

  • Scout out the right spot. A quiet corner or room will do the trick.
  • Keep it private. Close the door, put up a sign, or set up a room divider.
  • Turn on the cozy. Set up comfortable chairs, sofas, and pillows. Add some plants to liven up the space. If the lighting is harsh, add some dimmable lamps.
  • Cut away the distractions. Have a noisy office? Throw in a few noise-canceling headphones or earplugs. If your thermostat is kerflooey, fans, space heaters, and open windows can do wonders.
  • Make it easy to use. Give people the option to book the room in groups or independently, either through Google Calendar or a simple sign-up sheet.
  • Don’t require folks to use it. It should be a space people can use when and how they’d like.  

You also don’t have to encourage meditation outright if it doesn’t feel right for your particular business or team. Instead, you can incorporate a few lightweight mindfulness-inspired activities:

  • Test out a few tools with the team. Check out PostureMinder, a Chrome plug-in that reminds you to sit up and take breaks, and F.lux, which dims your monitor based on the time of day.
  • Banish phones in meetings.
  • Establish no-meeting days.
  • Add pillows, configurable seats, and more democratic seating arrangements to meeting rooms (like including a couple of tables).

Tom also emphasizes the importance of staying flexible, especially when introducing something new. Headspace used to run shorter, group meditation sessions. Then, employees gave feedback that they wanted longer sessions and the option to meditate on their own.

So, the company refined things. After extending the time to 15 minutes and allowing people to listen to individual selections, attendance skyrocketed. “Giving people control and choice in building a habit goes a long way,” Tom says.

Trick #3: Commit to constant flux.

What this means for you: Take your employees’ temperature regularly—and change things up based on their feedback.

The next step? Testing your initiatives—including the ones that might feel weird at first. Getting into a feedback frenzy ensures everyone is always working on the right thing, while pumping up the team’s efficiency along the way.

“One thing we strive for is to always bring a ‘curious mind’ as we scale,” Tom says. This includes explicit things like helping his team expand their awareness through meditation, but also related things, like constantly collecting feedback.

Headspace runs quarterly employee surveys that measure how the team feels in areas like culture, internal communications, and personal wellness. “The results give us a valuable snapshot into how our team is feeling as we scale,” Tom says.

Some of the questions they ask include:

  • How well do you feel the teams work together?
  • Have you been able to learn new skills at work?
  • How stressed are you?

They also experiment with the survey methodology, whether it’s the number of questions, wording, time it’s sent out, and if keeping it anonymous works for every situation.

Managers then sit down to discuss the results with each employee. The goal is to find ways to improve, using the goals tree as a guidepost. It’s also a chance to give people a voice. “A healthy workplace culture is one in which all employees feel represented, respected, and heard,” says Tom.

To copy Headspace’s feedback technique, try to quiz your team on the regular, especially when introducing new things. You can also use a service to implement employee happiness surveys, or create your own with Google Forms or Typeform.

As a result of the quarterly employee surveys, Headspace tweaked their company goals to make them clearer about who is responsible for various projects. “Maintaining transparency and keeping everyone on the same page is much harder when you’re bigger,” says Tom. “You have to continually question and evaluate.”

The Headspace way.

You don’t have to work at a multi-million dollar startup to breathe in the productivity benefits of mindfulness. By following Tom’s advice, you can find creative ways to help your employees work smarter. And when those tiny efficiencies lock into your place, it will give your team the breathing room to do incredible things.

“At the end of the day, your people need the headspace to do good work,” says Tom. “Give that to them, and you’ve won half the battle.”

Iris Kuo Iris Kuo is a writer in San Francisco focusing on entrepreneurship, data, and diversity. She co-founded the diversity index LedBetter and is a proud alum of The University of Texas at Dallas and Columbia University.
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