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'Businesses are spending all this money on this place called the office and they’re making people go to it all the time, yet people don’t do work in the office. What is that about?'
In his TED talk ‘Why work doesn’t happen at work’ Fried shares his rather radical theory about work: that the office isn’t the best place to do it. Work, Fried believes, is an activity, not a place.
This begs the question: are we limiting productivity by working in an office? How do we create an efficient, happy company for the modern age?
Brainwork requires flow – a psychological state of concentration that takes 15-20 minutes to achieve and which is easily disturbed. Getting quality work done requires uninterrupted alone time. If you’re a maker (someone who spends their day creating), it’s a necessity.
Fried uses the analogy of sleep to explain the importance of uninterrupted work time. Sleep, he says, isn’t something you just do; it’s something you fall into gradually. You don’t just close your eyes and enter deep sleep, it takes time to progress to that state.
The same applies with work. Recent research confirms the intuition that “Sound affects us psychologically, psychologically, cognitive and behaviourally, even though we're not aware of it,” according to Julian Treasure, Chairman of The Sound Agency.
Noisy shops are unwelcoming. Hospital noise levels affect patients and distract staff. But perhaps the worst culprit is the open-plan office. Treasure says that office workers are 66 percent less productive in an open-plan office than when working on their own.
But can you have that in the office?
Jason notes two big issues with office culture: managers and meetings. It’s a manager’s job to check up on employees, and holding interruptive meetings is the way to do this. As he explains on his blog:
'A one-hour meeting with six people is a six-hour meeting. A 15-minute meeting with nine people is a two-and-a-quarter-hour meeting. Even a 15-minute meeting with four people costs an hour of collective work time.'
These distractions are costing businesses. In a study of time budgeting at large corporations, Bain & Company found that just one weekly meeting of midlevel managers was costing an organisation $15 million a year.
The cost of ad-hoc interruptions add up too: author and researcher Jonathan Spira estimates that interruptions waste up to 28 billion hours a year, costing the U.S. economy a cool $1 trillion.
A manager needs updates, but a maker needs no interruptions. How does that work?
Another of Jason’s blog posts shows his calendar for January 2017. This is how it looks:
‘Time is the raw material of creation’, as technology pioneer Kevin Ashton explains, and Jason has an abundance. This is what enables him to immerse himself in projects and problems, and to do real work.
What do I mean by real work? As Kevin explains:
‘[It's the] work of becoming expert through study and practice, the work of finding solutions to problems and problems with those solutions, the work of trial and error, the work of thinking and perfecting, the work of creating.’
It’s the kind of work that makes a difference – more so than answering endless emails and attending pointless meetings, the hallmark of office culture.all bad, though
Even though the office might not be conducive to the ideal work environment, office culture does come with its perks. These include:
After work drinks with colleagues is common practice. ‘Employees who have positive workplace relationships are happier at work’, explains author and speaker Alexander Kjerulf.
'We know that people who are happy at work are more productive, more creative and more successful overall.'
There’s something to be said for getting up in the morning, putting on the corporate uniform and sitting in the office from nine to five. It makes the office the place of work, and home the place of fun and relaxation.
This separation of church and state is important for both productivity and mental health, but it’s something that people who work remotely or from home don’t always have. Remote work takes a disciplined mind that knows when – and how - to switch off.
Jason Fried offers some solutions to the problem of workplace distraction. One insight is ‘no talk Thursdays’, where for one day a week, people in the office are not allowed to talk to one another. Absolute silence.
"Being stingy with your time is part of leading a creative, productive life"
Being stingy with your time is part of leading a creative, productive life explains Kevin Ashton. One way of doing so is to follow Fried’s mantra:
'Say no more.'
For those of you working outside the office, test how well you handle work away from 'work'.