Ten Fatal Flaws of the Modern Day Office
As the economy changes and more Americans juggle multiple jobs and work from home, questions are being raised about the necessity and effectiveness of today’s offices.
Are we really more productive when working at the office?
Here we’ll examine ten fatal flaws of the modern-day office, and how many workers might get more done by working from home or by revamping office culture to minimize meetings and add things like recharge activities and no-talk afternoons.
As Pick The Brain editor Erin Falconer writes, it makes sense for employees performing labor-intensive jobs — like factory line work — to work for eight hours at a time, with just minimal breaks, but for information workers — people who need to be creative — eight-hour shifts may be unreasonable. Mentally, it can be hard to have that kind of stamina, and physically, our eyes can get too tired staring at the computer screen. For many office workers, creativity and strategic and critical thinking can be drained if they’re forced to work nonstop.
2. There’s Often No Work Day, Just Work “Moments”
Jason Fried presents this idea as part of his lecture at TEDxMidwest. After dealing with interruptions, lunch breaks, meetings and answering questions, office workers often realize they didn’t get much done during the official work day. From the outside, the office might look productive, but in reality the people running back and forth may only have a few moments each day to themselves to concentrate on real, meaningful work. This problem is especially damaging for workers in creative positions, like design or writing.
3. Offices Are Full of Interruptions
While managers argue that TV and naps are distractions that can interrupt work for those who work at home, office workers are also subject to many interruptions. It’s true that if you’re working at home, you can choose to turn on the TV or lie down for a nap. But at the office, the distractions and interruptions are often more serious, because office workers have less control over them. Meetings, phones ringing, e-mails coming in, and people coming up to your desk to ask questions or to just chat add up to an environment in which it can be hard to find enough true “work moments.”
4. There Are No Recharge Activities Available in an Office Setting
Recharge activities allow us to take a mental break from our work so that our brain has time to recharge and come back to the problem or activity with a new, fresh focus. But when you’re stuck in an office, your boss most likely isn’t going to let you get a hair cut or run any errands unless it’s your lunch break — and even then, you might have trouble breaking out on your own for a significant period of time. And while smoke breaks and even long lunches used to be the norm in offices across America, now some bosses won’t even let you check personal e-mail or Facebook as a way to take a break and recharge. This can be a mistake that actually cripples productivity, not enhances it.
5. We Need Long Stretches of Uninterrupted Time
With all of the distractions at work, office workers often don’t have a long stretch of time to really dig deep and think critically about problems. Quick brainstorming or flash ideas can happen, but coming up with valid, well-organized, and effective solutions and strategies often requires long stretches of uninterrupted time, which people like Fried think are impossible to get at the office.
6. Meetings Often Diminish Productivity
Meetings can steal everyone away from the few moments of actual work they were doing, and involve lots of time wasted on getting set up, passing out papers, eating, and listening to presentations. Often only two or three people are actually needed in meetings anyway; limiting attendance to them could cut overall office meeting time down drastically. Often one can get the same result — or better — from having a one-on-one 10-minute chat as from an hour-length meeting with 15 people. Or, if input of many is truly needed, one can just just e-mail everyone and ask for Reply All responses. This keeps everyone in the loop, but allows them to provide the input when it best suits their needs, not when a meeting can best be scheduled.
7. Managers Often Interrupt Needlessly
Fried also believes that managers are a major problem in the modern-day office because they’re constantly interrupting workers. As they check how things are going, ask for reports, and delegate tasks, they’re often reducing productivity, by leaving less time for employees to work out problems and hindering the creative thinking and concentration needed to come up with innovative solutions.
8. Face-to-Face Collaboration Is Much Less Important Today
Offices have always been physical places we can all go to connect and work on problems together. But now that so many electronic collaboration and communication tools are available we don’t really need a geographic center in which to work. We can talk online, in real-time, with people in the same city or those who are working across the world. There’s really no need to sit in an office all day if you can just as easily ask someone a question from your home office or neighborhood WiFi spot.
9. The Office Isn’t a Place People Associate With Productivity
As Fried remarks, when he asks people where they feel most productive, he hardly ever gets the answer “the office.” Instead, most people feel like they can get the most work done at home, on a plane or train, and anywhere else where they’re not likely to be disturbed. If no one associates the office with productivity, no one’s arriving to work with the right attitude. That makes it less likely that real, meaningful work is going to get done.
10. Offices Are Too Chatty
“Active communication” is what distracts us: when we catch up with cubicle mates or go to meetings. “Passive communication,” like e-mail, instant messenger or memos, is less disruptive and can just as easily be supported if employees work from home or at remote locations as if they sat in an office. Fried even suggests that managers introduce a no-talk afternoon periodically if they’re not willing to let employees work from home. No talking is allowed at such times; not as a punishment, but to give everyone the silence and privacy they need to do their own work.