Do You Actually Work At Work?

There is no better time to discuss about work than on…a Sunday. About the ways we work and about how these affect our productivity.

We often take work-related things for granted (for example, that we will be always able to print something out at work) but we also take many issues and setups as given, without even thinking twice whether the same can be done differently and perhaps, even more efficiently.

This is until I came across a very amusing, yet eye-opening speech held by Jason Fried at the TEDx Midwest conference.

In his speech, Jason Fried dared to challenge our society’s well established working norms.

In order to examine those, it is helpful to start from the beginning of the work-cycle à from employing the people. The hiring process often takes up a fair amount of resources and time, and after weeks/months of careful assessment, the right people are chosen for their experience, capabilities and culturally-fitting personalities, with the expectation that they will be able to do a great job.

In order to perform the great work they were hired for and expected to do, all these people are then brought together at one common place called the “Office” (= rented or built space filled with “stuff”: chairs, desks, printers, whiteboards, staplers and other equipment…). Their working hours have been clearly defined as well as the work-place with their assigned work-desks. The expectation is, that these people will be able to do the best work possible in the given working-hours-frame at their work-desks.

But what if we ask: “Where do we actually go when we really need to get something done”?

Jason Fried collected the unexpected responses. Some people said that they work well on a plane or a train. Some explained that they work best at home on the weekends/evenings, and some that they search fo a quiet café to sit and concentrate on the day’s agenda.

My personal answer would be that I normally go to the library to get things done. However, what is interesting is that by asking this question, one almost never hears the answer “I go to the Office”.

How come? Especially because companies are normally spending an incredible amount of resources to build and maintain a proper place to work called the “Office”.

Jason Fried argues that the reason lies in the fact that nowadays, we do not have any pure work day anymore. Research has proven that the majority of the people do not get to more than 1 hour of exclusive, uninterrupted work at work – and that is the specific reason why so many people prefer to work on the plane, in the car, or at home on the weekends.
Moreover, companies often do not support the so called “home-office” concept; mainly because they are concerned about their employees being distracted at home by TV or their couch. However these are all voluntary distractions people maybe or maybe not indulge out of their free will. On the contrary, at the “Office” employees are constantly exposed to involuntary distractions.

So how did reality transform the Office in a less productive workplace?

Jason Fried elaborates on the M&Ms = Managers and meetings.

Let us think a little bit about the work meetings we attend during our work week. People often call a short meeting (sometimes on a quite a short notice) and invite some people whose presence might not be 100% necessary. But in this case, that 1 hour meeting is not purely “an hour meeting”. It actually equals to the number of employees sitting in the meeting, multiplied by the number of hours spent in the meeting. So having 4 people sitting in an hour meeting equals 4 hours of the resources spent.

Same applies on managers. They sometimes like to “check-up” on the progress of a particular task and most of the time they are the ones who are also organizing meetings to discuss the next tasks. But in the meantime, the tasks which are being worked on are interrupted and the employees afterwards need more time to get back into the mindset and the original concentration they were in while working on a specific topic.

Hence, which steps should be followed to make people choose an “Office” as their working place Nr.1?

Jason Fried gives 3 suggestions which could serve as good ideas to improve the situation:

  • At least half a day once per month: “No talk in the office allowed”. 
  • Switching from active face-to-face interactions to the more passive ways of communication, e.g. e-mails (but here one also needs to be very careful with how often he checks his e-mails and how available he/she is)
  • Cancelling the next meeting 😉 and realize that everything will be just fine!

The whole speech you can also see at the link below. See for yourself!

P.S. How often have you been interrupted by reading this article or watching the video? Let me know in your comments! 🙂



Photo credits to TJ Photography

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