Work and the Working Moment

There are two easy targets in the workplace which could keep Scott Adams busy until the day he dies. Managers and Meetings. These are the two targets Jason Fried chose for his Ted Talk on “Why Work Doesn’t Happen at Work”.

So first, let me say this clearly: I agree with Jason in many respects. I firmly believe that a place with a desk which you travel to every day is generally a pretty bad environment for creativity. With the expectation that most work requires creativity to some degree, this is a Bad Thing.

But I disagree with a point that I think is key: the idea of the “working moment”. A working day is generally 9am-5pm, or thereabouts, but during this time do we all really work all the time? Really? I don’t believe you.

Within a working day, whenever it begins and ends, we all daydream, take coffee or toilet breaks, a lunch break, some random chats with colleagues either in person or on the phone – is it all work? Well, it’s hard to say because what we’re really asking is whether it all adds value to your organisation or not. If a 15 minute session on Facebook makes you happier and gives you more get-up-and-go, so you work more effectively, then it’s hard to see how it was wasted time.

I firmly believe that working moments are a good thing, but you as an employee need to be in control of them. You need to be able to decide when and where to work, and your start and end times during which your working moments occur don’t need to be 9am and 5pm.

Jason suggests that interruptions in the office cost time, and prevent you from doing what you were doing when interrupted. Obviously. But there is an implication that the interruption is of no value. This is rarely true. And he believes that these interruptions occur at the office, whereas when working elsewhere (ie: where you want to work) you are not subject to interruptions but instead to distractions.

There’s clearly a difference – an interruption happens to you, and a distraction is something you cause to happen yourself. Probably because your mind has wandered and you’re no longer efficient. So a distraction may not actually reduce your efficiency at all, in fact it may give your mind a needed break. All this can happen either in the office or at a preferred workplace, but it’s true – at least in my experience – that interruptions are far more common in an office.

What I suggest is limiting yourself to one or two days in the office a week – maybe more, maybe less, depending on what works best for you. And on that day, be prepared to deviate from any agenda you have. Let that be the day where you discover things you didn’t know you wanted to discover: about your colleagues, your company, your industry, your government or even your celebrity idols. Let that be the day where you cement bonds with co-workers, help colleagues who need help but weren’t asking, share things with people you didn’t think you needed to share them with.

So what about meetings? Well, we all hate them – right? They’re always a waste of time, right? Well, no. Actually, meetings are often enjoyable – a place to vent feelings, to learn from others, or perhaps to daydream about something potentially work-related. But surely, they’re a waste of time? Well, the issue with seeing meetings as dead time is it assumes that meetings don’t achieve something. Ever. Surely that defies belief. Perhaps if we were all laying bricks, we would be able to say with conviction that attending the weekly team talk prevents us from “doing our work” – laying bricks. Perhaps. But most people don’t have the luxury, if that’s the right word, of a job requiring us just to get our heads down and get on with it. We need to talk to other people, and it’s contrary to our evolution to always do that one-on-one.

I do appreciate – I evangelise it – that collaborative tools give us the ability to share in a much more passive way today, rather than always actively, which means that teams working together don’t need to be perpetually locked in the same room in order to function well. Quite the opposite perhaps. But healthy communication is a subtle blend of all our tools.

Making meetings a black-and-white enemy masks the real problem. Which is that people often don’t do meetings well. Too many people are invited. They have poor agendas. They are used to avoid having to make decisions. Ah! Empowerment of the individual to make decisions. What happened to that old idea?

Keep meetings to an agenda, involve only key participants and then use collaboration tools to make sure decisions, key points maybe even full minutes, or audio/video recordings are available to others who will find them useful. Meetings certainly can be useful.

Then we’re left with managers. Managers aren’t the ones who waste our time with meetings, and they aren’t the ones who cause constant interruptions at work. At least not in my experience. There is a lot wrong with the style of a lot of managers, but this accusation from Jason is just too broad-brush. We’ll return to managers in other blog posts, I’m sure, but for now I will let them be.

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About mikbarne
I'm a writer and freelance communications and collaboration consultant with nearly 20 years experience in UK telecommunications, specialising in VoIP, Unified Communications and Collaboration, and building effective communications architectures. Visit my Google+ Profile

One Response to Work and the Working Moment

  1. Pingback: Work and the Working Moment Mike Barnes’ Blog

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