“You came here because we do this better than you, and part of that is letting our creatives be unproductive until they are.” - Don Draper
There is some subtle truth about how we all work in that statement. It’s not all about creatives (hate that word) being productive, it’s about creating an environment for people—anyone really—to succeed by doing their best work.
At the core of this environment lies a culture built on trust, empowerment and ownership, but, beyond that there are the nuts and bolts of how, where and when people work.
We all work differently; different things recharge our batteries, get us excited and drive us forward. Some of us need other people around us; some need alone time. Some need silence; others rockin' tunes. Some need routine and some great variety. Many, like me, prefer different things at different times and for different kinds of work.
Working smart is all about figuring out how best to structure your world so you can do your best, while at the same time letting others do the same. It’s about working with intention and eliminating arbitrary or unnecessary barriers and rules. It’s also about working to grow a culture of trust and empowerment, resulting in better work and happier workers.
Many companies (and probably more importantly, many workers) are figuring this out. Look at the developments around Results Only (or Oriented) Work Environments ROWEs. A company like Gap or Best Buy puts lot of thought and reasoning into the decision to go to with ROWE. But let’s boil it down to this: it works.
According to that article, something like 44% of American workers feel overworked. I think the feel part of that is important. Hours put in doesn’t translate to a feeling of being overworked. I know many people who work long hours (or, more often, many hours in a week, spread out) who don’t feel overworked at all. They feel engaged and energized, passionate and purposeful. Sometimes to do a job well takes time, and that’s cool, but that time needs balance; I don’t care how much you love your work, if you neglect other things and you’ll likely burnout eventually. You can’t thrive without balance, it’s simply not sustainable.
Some of the most productive and inventive people I know have put themselves in situations where they can work however, whenever and wherever they want. I firmly believe this is the best way to work and if companies want the best people doing awesome work, they need to figure out how to embrace that flexibility.
Why would you limit your ability to work to a single place or timeframe? Why limit your ability to create to a cube, or a desk? That just doesn’t seem smart.
Having said all of that, this flexibility needs to be build on a framework—like ROWE—that everyone understands; it needs a structured environment spelling out clearly what’s expected.
It also needs to be inclusive for as many work styles as possible. That means taking care of those people who absolutely thrive on the energy their co-workers bring, and who need that energy to do their best work.
There is real value in face time, and getting people together to bounce around things in the same room or via a Google hangout, etc is an awesome way to work. I like going into the office, and I love and find great value working directly with my teammates, customers and colleagues. As well, spending time with co-workers, both those on my team and others in the office is key to building the relationships that are very important to a great company culture.
Which begs the question: how can we work flexibly and smart—leveraging the full opportunity time and space offers us—while at the same time get that buzz and energy you get having your team all in the same room? How can we build and maintain relationships when everyone is on their own time and in their own spaces? Can technology help? Do we simply need to pair a lot of freedom with a little bit of structure?
I’m thinking the focus should be flexibility of structure, but I’ve a few ideas on how this could work:
- Designated teamwork days. Many companies have the concept of a flex day. What about flipping that around and having a day or two each week where you’re expected to be available to the rest of your team.
- Break into smaller teams and self-organize schedules. Instead of adopting a company-wide policy, let teams/groups negotiate their own way of working. Let them also hold each other accountable to keep things moving and not become blockers, etc.
- Make meetings optional. Seriously. If you throw a meeting, make it something I’m going to want to attend, but won’t keep things from moving when I don’t. Bonus points: don’t call it a meeting. I think meetings are one of the biggest problems with modern work. They are non-essential to getting things done and often the primary cause for slowing things down. Let people work and touch-base with their co-workers on an as-needed basis.
- On-the-fly office hours. Meaning, you let people define their own times (and places) when they can meet face-to-face. No set schedule.
- Redefine “face-to-face” with technology. I’ve had some great brainstorming/working sessions with remote members via Google Hangouts or Skype. It’s not ideal but it works.
- If you really want butts in seats, make your office space a place people want to come to and spend time in.
So, anyway, I don’t have a solid answer, but I’m always looking for new ways to work smarter and flexibility with time and place is essential for people to do their best work.
What do you think? Do you have ideas on how we can effectively have more freedom in how we work? What do you think of mine? I’ve started a Branch to discuss.