As I was glancing through my twitter feed the other day I run into a Ted Talk on “Why work doesn't happen at work.” Sort of intriguing, I thought, and probably full of good tips for most of us at the Bank Group.
Jason Fried, the talk protagonist, does a lot of thinking about collaboration, productivity and the nature of work. He's the co-founder of 37signals, and co-author of the New York Times-best seller "Rework."
A software entrepreneur, Jason offers some practical suggestions on how we could turn the office into a more productive place. After all, increasing productivity seems crucial to meet the twin goals of reducing poverty and boosting shared prosperity.
So, where do you really go when you need to get work done? That’s the question that Jason has been asking people for about 10 years.
“Typically you get three different kinds of answers,” he explains in his talk. “One is kind of a place or a location or a room. Another one is a moving object and a third is a time.”
Some examples mentioned might sound awfully familiar to most of us: the porch, the deck, the kitchen, the basement, the coffee shop, the library. Or the train, a car, a plane, -- so, the commute or when we are on mission. For some people it doesn't really matter where as long as it's really early in the morning or late at night or on the weekends.
Interestingly, notes Jason, you almost never hear someone say the office. So, what’s wrong with the office? Here are some insights.
First, people today don’t have a workday anymore, but a series of "work moments." This means that you have 15 minutes here and 30 minutes there, and then something happens and you're pulled off your work, and you've got to do something else. So before you know it, it is 6 p.m., and you realize that you didn't actually get meaningful work done. You probably just managed to complete tasks.
The problem, explains Jason, is that most creative people -- designers, programmers, writers, engineers, thinkers, economists-- really need long stretches of uninterrupted time to get something done. But very few people actually get this quality time at an office. And this is why people choose to do work at home, or they might go to the office really early in the day, or they stick around until late, or they get work done on the plane, or somewhere else with no distractions.
According to Jason, most of the interruptions and distractions that really cause people not to get work done are involuntary. And the real problem is what he calls the M&Ms: the managers and the meetings.
Managers, he says, have to make sure everyone else is doing the work, so they need to check-in, which creates interruptions.
Jason reminds us that when you listen to all the places that people talk about doing work -- home, train, plane, or late at night -- you don't find managers and meetings. You may find other distractions, but not managers or meetings.
The second problem is that meetings tend to procreate, and cause productivity losses. One meeting tends to lead to more meetings, which in turn take away hours of work from many people, not just one.
“If there are 10 people in the meeting, it's a 10-hour meeting; it's not a one-hour meeting. It's 10 hours of productivity taken from the rest of the organization to have this one one-hour meeting, which probably should have been handled by two or three people talking for a few minutes,” Jason explains.
So what can enlightened managers do to make the office a better place for people to work?
Jason offers three practical suggestions that any organization or company, including the Bank Group, should consider.
- First, pick one day a week, say Thursday, and turn it into a “no talk Thursdays”, at least half a day, so people have the uninterrupted time they need. “Giving someone four hours of uninterrupted time is the best gift you can give anybody at work (…). Giving them four hours of quiet time at the office is going to be incredibly valuable,” Jason notes.
- Second, switch from active communication and collaboration, which is like face-to-face meetings, to more passive models of communication, using email, instant messaging, or other collaboration platforms. Although many people think that email or IM are very distracting, they are at a time of your own choosing. “You can quit the email app; you can't quit your boss. You can quit I.M.; you can't hide your manager,” says Jason, explaining that you can be interrupted on your own schedule and when you're ready for it.
- And third, simply cancel that next meeting. Everything will be just fine. “People have a more open morning, they can actually think, and you'll find out that maybe all these things you thought you had to do, you don't actually have to do. Or they are actually being done anyway,” he points.
Maybe someone will call a meeting to discuss them. Or better yet, just watch Jason’s talk.