MEREDITH Strategy + Design

We design the places and spaces where people come together to do great work

Why work doesn't happen at work

In this very sad video of Jason Fried's at a recent TEDx conference are a set of proposals to address apparent problems with the office environment. I say very sad because Jason, as so many managers, seeks and proposes controls on behaviors that arise from the nature of the conventional office environment or attain a certain negative characteristic because of it.

This approach suppresses some of the behaviors that are characteristic of emerging generations, new ways of working, and the nature of creative and innovative pursuits that are essential to success. That is, understanding that work looks different now and that owning the experience of working is the competitive differentiator of the emerging future requires addressing the characteristics of the environment of work, not the behaviors that otherwise cannot be appropriately accommodated in a conventional environment and the impacts to performance that result.

In the video, Fried attacks both the informal interruptions that occur in the course of the day like interruptions to flow from fellow workers, and the more institutional interruptions of managers and meetings. Are these the overlays of the personal preferences of the lone entrepreneur as the organization he has built becomes larger and more complex?

He then offers three solutions – No Talk Thursdays, Passive Communications (email, IM, etc.), and No Meetings – each sounding very managerial in the most pejorative of connotation. Each, more significantly, impedes the speed, spontaneity, serendipity and socialization essential to success.

These are also the impacts from the inability of the conventional office to accommodate a new world of working. The new workplace, a place that has not yet been designed or come to full development, a place that was once called "the office," is no longer the place where production is measured by attendance and focus.

The place we go now to get things done (or the place we wish we had where we could go to get things done) is a place of socialization, communication, collision and creative collusion. It is a place that is essentially – that is, necessarily – open, active and buzzing. It is a place where the activities that Fried and others imagine to be interruption are actually the activities of disruption. They are the signals that people who have something to offer have come in contact with people with a mission and a vision, and new ideas are emergent. This is the place where people consider passive communication too slow, where people no longer understand what a manager is, and where "meeting" (but not "meetings") and "talking" are essential strategies in getting things done.

The reason why work doesn't get done at work is because the place where work is done is not designed for the way work is done. To apply restrictions on the activities that exemplify how work is really done is itself interruption, and  suppression of beneficial disruption. Stop interrupting what people are doing, and start being what people are doing.