Why work doesn’t happen at work

By TRISOFT team

“If you ask people ‘where do you really want to go if you really need to go get something done’ you typically get three different kinds of answers. One is a place, location or room. Another one is a moving object and the third is a time.” Jason Fried

In a great TED talk, Jason Fried, co-founder and CEO of Basecamp and author of REWORK explains why he strongly believes that work doesn’t actually happen at a workplace. How does he know that? Well, in a 10 year long span of asking people where they feel like going where they need to get something done, he says very few people indicate their office as the ideal place to work.

On the other hand, businesses invest a lot of money in buying or leasing buildings/spaces so that they can bring their people together at an office. Their goal is to create a productive environment, where employees can do a great job every day. However, the result does not always measure up to these expectations. Lets see what are the reasons Jason Fried believes this happens:

1. People have different preferences in regards to their workspace

When asked where they wanted to go so that they can work efficiently, most of the respondents chose surprising locations or times (surprising to businesses, that may expect people to respond with “the office”), such as: “the porch,” “the kitchen,” “the train,” “the coffee shop”, “the library”, or even, “It doesn’t really matter where I am as long as it’s really early in the morning or really late at night, or on the weekends.”

The thing is that the actual location or time does not matter as long as you are getting work done. And at an office, without the uninterrupted time one needs, it might be more difficult to find the peace you need to be efficient.

2. Multiple distractions divide your day and time

Most managers who don’t agree with the remote working „method” think that staying at home has too many distractions, such as television or social media. Practice shows however, quite the contrary — these kinds of distractions are voluntary, which means the employee will choose when and for how long will do it.

As opposed to being in the workplace and having your colleagues talk to you whenever they need to and your boss call you into meetings whenever he plans to. These are involuntary distractions and are much more damaging to one’s productivity than the voluntary ones.

This is why, out of 8 hours of work, sometimes we can’t say how many hours we spend doing actual work. With all the office fuss, there are times when you leave for home feeling as if you did nothing at all. According to Jason, the managers and meetings (M&Ms) appear to be the worst at causing distractions.

3. The problem with managers and meetings

It’s not a secret to anyone anymore, but maybe it’s still tabu — that being dragged from something important you were attending to by your fervent manager just to talk about what you are up to happens every other day at the office.

Why do they do that? Well some of them just need to know what you’re doing — it’s in their job description. But others, well others have no idea what a manager, let alone a really good manager, should be doing. So out of their own insecurity they they keep calling meetings to figure out „what’s going on“, micro-manage people or worst of all, actually do their work. And that produces interruptions.

The same goes for meetings — places where time dies and people fall asleep or get frustrated about having stopped working just to talk about things that should be done, or things that will be done in a few months, or things that will never be done. The solution? We need fewer and actually productive meetings; meetings where people are prepared for what will be discussed, decisions are taken and problems are solved. This is because with such daily distractions, the employee’s ability to focus is diminished. You probably know that it is very difficult to return to your thoughts after being interrupted.

4. Work is like sleep phases

It’s like sleep phases, Jason Fried says — in order to get to the deepest phase you need to go through the others first.When a noise or someone bumping the bed disturbs your sleep, you have to start the phases from the beginning again. Your work pattern is similar. 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. It depends on your own manner of organising your work and of course, on your own sense of responsibility.

If the office cannot be avoided

It’s obvious, when asked about their preferences, employees tend to choose more familiar environments, such as at home or in their commute (plane, train, car), or at strange times — early morning, late night, weekends. This is because, as we’ve mentioned before, most people need uninterrupted time to work, and being at work chops up your day with meetings and other requests.

However, if you do need to have people working at an office, there are ways to minimize the negative consequences. Here are 3, proposed by Jason Fried:

  1. ‘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 4 hours uninterrupted.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

Other resources

“Self-education is, I firmly believe, the only kind of education there is.” — Isaac Asimov

If you are eager to find more resources and more inspiration on the topic, here are another 5 TED talks be thought were great:

SIMON SINEK: HOW GREAT LEADERS INSPIRE ACTION

This TED talk by Simon Sinek is a definite eye opener. It describes how great leaders inspire action and why some achieve goals and some don’t. He explains concepts like the Golden Circle, a new way of looking at how people approach what they do. His entire talk comes together with some amazing examples from the Wright Brothers and Apple Inc.

STEFAN SAGMEISTER: THE POWER OF TIME OFF

In this talk, Stefan Sagmeister discusses his personal experiences with taking extended periods of time off from work, and why he believes that sabbaticals would do everyone good. According to him, sabbaticals help one find themselves, learn more about people and enjoy the luxury of time. One of the highlights of the talk is when he shows off the innovative projects he worked on during his time off in Bali.

SHAWN ACHOR: THE HAPPY SECRET TO BETTER WORK

In this fantastic talk, Shawn Achor discusses how happiness actually inspires productivity. His entire talk is centered around positivity and how little habits can help you be happy and in turn more productive. Some of the mantras he mentions in the talk include:

  • Taking two minutes out of the day for 21 days to write down three new things you are grateful for
  • Writing about a positive experience you’ve had, every single day
  • Exercising
  • Meditating
  • Carrying out one random or conscious act of kindness each day.

NIGEL MARSH: HOW TO MAKE WORK-LIFE BALANCE WORK

Nigel’s inspiring talk touches on the subject of work-life balance — a touchy subject for many. Work life balance is never easy to achieve and in most cases is just a line waiting to be blurred. In this talk Nigel talks about his experience with achieving work-life balance. He also lays out an ideal day balanced between family time, personal time and productivity — and offers amazing inspiration to make it happen

ARIANNA HUFFINGTON: HOW TO SUCCEED? GET MORE SLEEP

Media mogul and author, Arianna Huffington gave this short, humorous talk about how sleep is linked to success. She touches upon the irrational race to sleep less in the tech world and how changing that can make us happier, more productive and more successful.

Conclusion

At TRISOFT we know the value of our people and we definitely value their work preferences. Our team is spread out through the country, working remotely for almost 11 years now.

Contrary to what common habits would have suggested, we chose to offer our employees freedom and to trust their own way of organizing their work time. The result: we have a strong, solid team working from the comfort of their homes, or some cozy cafe, or the office, if they feel that is the most productive location for them.

What is the most productive work location for you?