Jason Fried thinks deeply about collaboration, productivity and the nature of work. He’s the co-founder of 37signals, makers of Basecamp and other web-based collaboration tools, and co-author of “Rework.”
Businesses, governments and other organisations invest so much money in bringing their people together at the office, but when people really want to get something done at work, they want to do it elsewhere. They tend to either do it at home, or on their commute (plane, train, car), or at strange times – early morning, late night, weekends. This is because most people in creative professions need uninterrupted time to work, and being at work chops up your day with meetings and other requests.
Jason sees a connection between work and sleep. Sleep happens in phases – to get to the deepest phase you need to go through the others first. If interrupted in an early phase you need to go through them all again. The interruptions in an office are not the same as at home – at home you can choose to turn on the TV or surf the internet or go for a walk. In the office the main interruptions are managers and meetings. Managers job is to interrupt – to check what you’re doing. They also tend to call meetings to resolve issues – taking 10 people out from their train of thought to talk about work (rather than actually working). For a 1hr meeting, this is 10hrs of lost productivity from the organisation. Meetings also have a habit of causing more meetings – scaling up the damage done.
So how can enlightened managers get their employees working at the office again?
- ‘No talk Thursdays’ – tell people not to talk to each other for 1 afternoon per month. It is amazing how much work will get done if employees can have 4hrs uninterrupted.
- Move away from face-to-face communication, and towards emails / messaging. This can still be time-consuming, but at least the recipient can choose when to deal with it. They can schedule around their core work and take it at their own pace.
- Cancel a meeting – if you have to make a decision at a meeting, just cancel it. The decision will still get made somehow, and you’ll free up everyone’s schedule.