Why Work Doesn’t Happen At Work (But Still Should)

The non-parenthetical portion of the above title is lifted from a TEDxMidwest speech of the same name from October 2010, by Jason Fried. This blog post is my response to the video (see below), highlighting the points that I agree with and the points that I feel were omitted.

In the above video, Jason Fried details why we can’t get work done at work, claiming that in a traditional office setting there are actually more distractions than in other workable areas (at home, for example). He states that managers and meetings (M&Ms) are the primary causes of our distractions. He then concludes with three suggestions for how we can make the office less of a distraction. So let’s dig in:

Things I Loved:

1. The Ten-Hour Meeting: Jason correctly states that many managers view a one-hour meeting as a one-hour meeting (or loss of one work hour). However, in reality, a one-hour meeting with ten people really must be viewed as a ten-hour meeting (or loss of ten work hours). Chew on that one for a bit, and then think about how many meetings you’ve lined up for the coming week.

2. Facebook, Twitter and the Smoke Break: Years ago, and quite often to this day, many managers don’t have a problem with employees taking a ten-minute smoke break. But they will go as far as to block social networks like Facebook and Twitter because those websites are “distractions.” In reality, these websites are just a modern-day smoke break for us non-smokers. Managers – ease up.

*Sidenote: I aspire to work in digital strategy upon graduating, so hopefully I’ll be using Facebook and Twitter more often than just as a modern-day smoke break.

3. Creatives Need TIME to Create: People working in creative fields simply cannot be asked to create in 15 minutes. Creative people need prolonged periods of uninterrupted work in order to truly analyze a problem, or devise a clever solution. Creativity, much like work itself, takes time. Therefore, placing creative people in distracting environments is a poor decision.

Things I Did Not Love:

1. The Irony of the Video Itself: There is a bit of irony here, in this video, in that I took 15 minutes of my time to watch a video that could have likely been completed in about five minutes, or written into a quick blog post. Sure, the video is entertaining as hell in its current format, but the irony of loss of productivity is there. It’s almost like reading a 200-page book on time management (extreme example).

2. Creative Collaboration: One of the recommendations Jason gives for a more productive office is No-Talk Thursdays, which are exactly what they sound like. However, I believe that a lot of creative work is best done when it emerges from group collaboration. Throwing a bunch of great minds together with a common goal for enough time often yields good, if not great, results. And it is this point with which I’d like to conclude. Sure, there may be distractions in the office, but the office also has the power of numbers – the power of people. Working alone at home (even if communicating via e-mail, IM, Skype, etc…) cannot replace the energy and spontaneity of genuine human collaboration.

Photo credit: Asher Sarlin

One Response to “Why Work Doesn’t Happen At Work (But Still Should)”
  1. Gedi says:

    Great video thanks for sharing Zach. His point about passive communication and collaboration is the answer to lessening unnecessary meetings. I like that he made the differentiation between voluntary and involuntary distraction. Its actually worse in the traditional office setting but most people don’t see it that way. I get to work from home and go to an office in my career so I can see both sides.

    The line; “trading in your work day for a series of work moments” is so true its scary. Whenever I’m at the office I find that I get more work done towards the ends of the day (after 4pm)* simply because there are less managers which means less meetings. Most location-centric jobs function under an archaic system. I’ve been saying it for the last 5-7 years. I used to work in corporate and Lord knows I don’t miss it.

    Good read.

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