Jason Fried thinks deeply about collaboration, productivity and the nature of work. He’s the co-founder of 37signals, makers of Basecamp and other web-based collaboration tools, and co-author of Rework.
Companies want you to come together in one place to do work
We have companies and non-profits and charities and all these groups that have employees or volunteers of some sort. And they expect these people who work for them to do great work. And so what they typically do is they decide that all these people need to come together in one place to do that work.
If you ask people the question: where do you really need to go when you need to get something done?
Typically you get three different kinds of answers. One is kind of a place or a location or a room. Another one is a moving object and a third is a time.
I’ll hear things like, the porch, the deck, the kitchen. I’ll hear things like an extra room in the house, the basement, the coffee shop, the library. And then you’ll hear things like the train, a plane, a car — so, the commute. And then you’ll hear people say, “Well, it doesn’t really matter where I am, as long as it’s really early in the morning or really late at night or on the weekends.” You almost never hear someone say the office. But businesses are spending all this money on this place called the office, and they’re making people go to it all the time, yet people don’t do work in the office.
What is that about? Why is that? Why is that happening?
if you dig a little bit deeper, you find out that people — this is what happens — people go to work, and they’re basically trading in their workday for a series of “work moments.” That’s what happens at the office.
You have work moments.It’s like the front door of the office is like a Cuisinart, and you walk in and your day is shredded to bits, because you have 15 minutes here and 30 minutes there, and then something else happens and you’re pulled off your work, and you’ve got to do something else, then you have 20 minutes, then it’s lunch. Then you have something else to do. Then you’ve got 15 minutes, and someone pulls you aside and asks you this question, and before you know it, it’s 5 p.m., and you look back on the day, and you realize that you didn’t get anything done.
What you find is that, especially with creative people — designers, programmers,writers, engineers, thinkers — that people really need long stretches of uninterrupted time to get something done
You cannot ask somebody to be creative in 15 minutesand really think about a problem. You might have a quick idea, but to be in deep thought about a problem and really consider a problem carefully, you need long stretches of uninterrupted time.
I think that sleep and work are very closely related
sleep and work are phased-based, or stage-based, events. So sleep is about sleep phases, or stages — some people call them different things. There’s five of them, and in order to get to the really deep ones, the really meaningful ones, you have to go through the early ones. And if you’re interrupted while you’re going through the early ones — if someone bumps you in bed, or if there’s a sound, or whatever happens — you don’t just pick up where you left off.
Well, if I can’t see the person, how do I know they’re working?
And if you talk to certain managers, they’ll tell you that they don’t want their employees to work at home because of these distractions.They’ll also say — sometimes they’ll also say, “Well, if I can’t see the person, how do I know they’re working?” which is ridiculous, of course, but that’s one of the excuses that managers give.
The real problems are what I like to call the M&Ms, the Managers and the Meetings
You can’t go to a website at work, and that’s the problem, that’s why people aren’t getting work done, because they’re going to Facebook and they’re going to Twitter? That’s kind of ridiculous. It’s a total decoy. And today’s Facebook and Twitter and YouTube, these things are just modern-day smoke breaks.
And managers are basically people whose job it is to interrupt people. That’s pretty much what managers are for. They’re for interrupting people. They don’t really do the work, so they have to make sure everyone else is doing the work, which is an interruption.
But what’s even worse is the thing that managers do most of all, which is call meetings.And meetings are just toxic, terrible, poisonous things during the day at work.
But meetings also procreate. So one meeting tends to lead to another meeting and tends to lead to another meeting.
What can managers do — enlightened managers, hopefully —what can they do to make the office a better place for people to work, so it’s not the last resort, but it’s the first resort?
It’s that people start to say, “When I really want to get stuff done, I go to the office.” Because the offices are well equipped, everything should be there for them to do their work, but they don’t want to go there right now, so how do we change that? I have three suggestions I’ll share with you guys.
1) We’ve all heard of the casual Friday thing. I don’t know if people still do that. But how about “no-talk Thursdays?” How about — pick one Thursday once a month and cut that day in half and just say the afternoon — I’ll make it really easy for you. So just the afternoon, one Thursday.
2)Another thing you can try is switching from active communication and collaboration,which is like face-to-face stuff, tapping people on the shoulder, saying hi to them, having meetings, and replace that with more passive models of communication, using things like email and instant messaging, or collaboration products — things like that.
3) And the last suggestion I have is that, if you do have a meeting coming up, if you have the power, just cancel. Just cancel that next meeting. Today’s Friday — so Monday, usually people have meetings on Monday. Just don’t have it. I don’t mean move it; I mean just erase it from memory, it’s gone. And you’ll find out that everything will be just fine