Why Work Doesn’t Happen at Work

October 27, 2015

11:01 am

I recently watched a very informative TED Talk that really changed my outlook on work and productivity. The video features a speaker, John Fried, and his speech is entitled, “Why Work Doesn’t Happen at Work”.  He makes some points in his talk that give great insight into productivity and efficiency in the workplace or any “place” that you work. Mr. Fried has conducted some research into work productivity and asked many people where they go when they really need to get some work done. The answers he received might (or might not) surprise you.

Where Do You Go When You Need to Get Work Done?

Businesses spend so much time and effort renting, building and furnishing office spaces. Yet, when Mr. Fried surveyed people about where they go when they need to get work done, no one ever says “the office”. He says he always is amused at the unique answers he does get. Sometimes the answer is a place, sometime, they name a certain time or a quiet room. So why does no one ever say they get work done at “the office”? One might think it is because of social media, which he says is akin to the old idea of a cigarette break, but it isn’t a voluntary disruption that causes people not to get work done at their office. Mr. Fried says the answer is because there are too many interruptions that happen at offices from external sources. He labels the problem “M&Ms” which stands for managers and meetings. Everyone knows that all too often, when you are at the office, everyone gets called in for a meeting that could have very likely been handled by email or with a lot less people that were all called into the meeting.

The Stages of Work

This next part is the real revelation with this concept. Of course, managers and meetings are nothing new. The root of the problem is that all of the distractions and disruptions mean that people in the office can only work in small spurts of time. A few minutes here and there doesn’t allow you to get anything done. Why? Mr. Fried answers that it is because work has to be done in stages in a similar way that we sleep in stages. You have to get to the deeper stages of work to actually benefit from it and get to a frame of mind where you can get your work done in an efficient manner.

Solutions for M&Ms

So what is the solution for all these interruptions at work? It is time for managers to understand that meetings are not only unproductive, but that they are cutting into the time when employees have the chance to be productive and work efficiently. He has some ideas on how enlightened managers can make the office a better place for people to actually get work done. He has three suggestions to remedy the situation and get work done at offices:

  1. No talk Thursdays. If every Thursday isn’t an option for this idea, then try starting with just one Thursday a month and see how that helps. If the entire day isn’t an option, start with just an afternoon where no one can talk to each other. When you see how much productivity happens, you might be able to then see the benefit of implementing this more often.
  2. Switch to passive collaboration instead of active communication. Rather that holding face to face meetings, use email or chat. Allow employees to answer on their own time rather than holding up everybody’s time with a long meeting.
  3. Cancel the next meeting! When you realize that everything is still fine even without the meetings you have been relying on, you can move forward with a new way of communicating and collaborating while still allowing employees to be productive on their own time.

What are some of your tips for actually getting work done at work? Share them below.


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Richard Larson is blogger and Brand Manager for GoPromotional.co.uk. He enjoys sharing business and marketing tips, both online and offline.

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