Jason Fried is the co-founder of 37signals, a company which specializes in developing productivity tools. In 2010, Mr. Fried gave a TEDx Talk in which he reviewed the key points from his New York Times bestselling book, Rework. Below is a summary of Mr. Fried’s talk.
Why Work Doesn’t Happen at Work
Mr. Fried opens his talk by stating he is going to talk about why people can’t seem to get work done at work. According to Mr. Fried, often when people are asked where they go to get something done they will answer by saying a certain room in their house, a certain mode of transportation like a train or a plane, or a certain time of day such as very early in the morning. However, what they almost never answer by saying is ‘the offie’. According to Mr. Fried, companies are spending lots of money on offices and are requiring their employees to go to it, yet, there is very little working getting done there.
What happens instead, according to Mr. Fried, is that employees are trading their work days for work moments. According to Mr. Fried, at the office we are able to do work, but only in certain spurts. This is because we are constantly being pulled off our work by our co-workers and bosses. This is a real problem because, according to Mr. Fried, especially with creative people, what is required to get something done are long stretches of uninterrupted time. Such period of long uninterrupted time in an office are very rare and as a result, Mr. Fried suggests many people, when they really need to buckle-down and do some work, will opt instead to work from home, a private co-working space, or opt to go into the office early or on weekends when they are much less likely to be interrupted.
To make a comparison, Mr. Fried suggested the situation of being constantly interrupted is like being interrupted during sleep. According to Mr. Fried, sleep and work are very closely related. This is because both sleep and work are phase-based, or stage-based events. According to Mr. Fried, there are five phases of sleep and in order to get to the really deep and meaningful later phases, you must transition through the earlier phases uninterrupted. However, when you are interrupted, you return to the earlier phases and when you are constantly interrupted, you never transition to the later, more meaningful phases. According to Mr. Fried, no one would expect anyone to sleep well if they were constantly being interrupted all night. Why then would anyone be expected to work well if they were constantly being interrupted all day at the office?
Often times, managers are apprehensive about allowing employees to work at home because they are afraid there are too many distractions. However, these distractions at home are what Mr. Fried calls ‘voluntary distractions.’ According to Mr. Fried however, many of the distractions that occur in the office are what he calls ‘involuntary distractions’. According to Mr. Fried, distractions at work like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter are not the problem. These are ‘modern-day smoke breaks’. According to Mr. Fried, the real problems are the managers and the meetings. As Mr. Fried points out, all of the places where people say they get the most work done, like their home or on a plane, do not have managers and meetings.
According to Mr. Fried, managers’ jobs are to interrupt people. The top way they do this is by calling meetings. When meetings are called, all work stops. Meetings are where we talk about things we should do later, and meetings often lead to other meetings. Also, according to Mr. Fried, meetings are expensive. If a one hour meeting has ten people attending it, that is ten hours of company time the meeting has cost the company. And often times, when a meeting is scheduled for an hour or a half-hour, this entire time will be used instead of merely using the time required which may be much shorter.
In order to make the office a better place to work, Mr. Fried has several suggestions. First, Mr. Fried suggests that for one day a month, office implement a no-talking policy. For one day a month, no employee is allowed to talk to another employee. According to Mr. Fried, people actually get work done when no one is talking to them, and no one is bothering them. According to Mr. Fried, four hours of uninterrupted time is the most productive gift you can give to someone at work. Mr. Fried suggests this day would be so successful, the policy would likely go from a once-a-month occurrence, to a once-a-week occurrence. The second suggestions Mr. Fried makes is to switch from active communication and collaboration (face-to-face talking, tapping people on the shoulder, etc.) to more passive models of communication such as email and instant messaging. According to Mr. Fried, this will allow these things to become distractions at a time of our own choosing. The last suggestion Mr. Fried has is to cancel all meetings. According to Mr. Fried, if the next meeting you have scheduled was suddenly canceled, what you will find is that everything will go on. And everything will be fine. All of the decisions and discussions that were assumed needed to be had in a meeting, will naturally occur regardless, on their own.
According to Mr. Fried, if managers adopt these suggestions and back-off their employees just a bit, he believes it will pay off for them in the end.