Not a Time & Place

Posted: November 26, 2012 by Matthew Hanwell in Leadership, Organization, Technology

I was speaking with a friend recently, one of the most dedicated individuals I have had the pleasure to work with. Someone who will spend excessive amounts of their own time and even their own money in support of the company they work for, and someone who is a treasure chest of ideas, knowledge and information on the latest and emerging internet trends. They were telling me that due to a new directive they now had to spend at least four days a week in the office, which was great, BUT that they now couldn’t get any work done!

This reminded me of what I have been thinking and saying over the years that for Knowledge workers ‘work’ is neither a time nor a place; work is the effort required to produce a desired outcome, and for knowledge work, the ideas, the creativity, the innovation and even the problem solving needed can happen at any time and almost anywhere. For me, having such a directive sends a message (even subconsciously) to people that unless we see you in the office we don’t trust that you are working. We pay you to work for so many hours a week, and therefore expect you to be in a physical place during these hours. It assumes that the ‘office’ is the most productive work environment.

I used to say to people that having your employee’s sitting at a desk from 9am to 5pm looking at a PC screen does not mean they are being productive, or producing anything of value! With all the information and communications technology available to us, with just how electronically connected we are, we still ask people to turn up to an office, even when this can and may very well be a less productive environment! Yes I know there are benefits of physical proximity and agree there is value in developing and maintaining the social relationships at work, and yes there will be the accidental physical interactions by the coffee machine or in the queue for lunch that otherwise wouldn’t happen, and yes nothing is better than face to face communication, but does this justify the lost productivity of a four days a week being in the office 9 to 5 directive? Should knowledge workers be free to determine the most suitable environment for themselves? And shouldn’t their performance be determined by the value they contribute to an organization rather than the number of hours they spend at an office?

Many years ago I attended a conference in Barcelona; Dr Patrick Dixon was giving a presentation, I was particularly interested since he was holding the Nokia 9110 Communicator in his hand as he told a story of his last week’s Friday, which went something like this; It had been a beautiful day so after breakfast he had decided to go for a walk with his wife and dog in the forest, he spent many pleasant hours walking, enjoyed a picnic lunch, however during the walk he had received a few work related emails, a couple of these he had replied to, he had received a fax, and had received and made a couple of work phone calls, he asked the audience if we though this was sad ? General consensus in the audience of several hundred was that this was indeed sad. His response, I think it is sad that you went to the office!

“Making knowledge workers productive requires changes in attitude, not only on the part of the individual knowledge worker, but on the part of the whole organization.”   Peter Drucker (Management Challenges for the 21st Century)

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Comments
  1. bluewoodtree says:

    This article is just great, it expresses exactly how I feel. For my work as researcher in molecular sciences who uses in silico methods only, i could also stay at home and do my work there. I further think that thworetically i would be more productive, since i can have recreational breaks and could running if i get stuck, i have my kitchen with all my food available and dont have to walk far away to have lunch, i have my own coffee machine without queue… And sometimes i really stay at home for a couple of days only until i eventually realize that i want to be at my office physically, because i miss the social contact, the communications with the other lab members, and the seminars. I figured out that i feel so much more balanced when i go to my office

  2. vpettee says:

    Balance. Balance. Socialization with co-workers and external inspiration are not exclusive of each other. Measure a person on their contributions which progresses the organization goals- REAL, not imagined. Give them freedom, but expect something.

    Again, this brings to mind a weak link. The Manager. We don’t need him/her to count hours. A machine can do that.

    • Matthew Hanwell says:

      Couldn’t agree more regarding striking the right balance. Unfortunately I believe some managers don’t and literally enforce such a directive to the letter – indeed the weakest link!

      This leads me to think what impact such managers are having on an organization overall?

  3. Sharon Reher says:

    Hi Matthew – I remember attending that meeting with Dr Patrick Dixon with you! It was hugely inspiring & well ahead of its time. I agree the need for face to face is the foundation of a relationship but agree that as knowledge & connectivity become prolific we should be freed from the shackles of a 9-5. It says a lot more about the managers/organisation than it does about the employees & is not conducive to good output – on that basis I will continue to walk my dog in daylight hours & work when it is dark:)

  4. […] in a blogpost on one of my favorite blogs called ‘The Illusion of Work‘, work is not a time nor a place.  “It’s rather the effort required to produce a desired outcome, and for knowledge […]

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