Office Dream State
The standard 40-hour week began in 1940 to make more jobs. In the past it had been commonplace to have workers put in 60 to 80 hours a week. Businesses could keep labor costs low paying straight time for extended hours. At this point in the country, we were trying to make our way out of the depression. We then changed the standard work week to 40-hours and employers had to pay time and a half for hours beyond 40. This was to encourage employers to hire more people instead of just paying their current workforce more.
Since then, we and many other countries have kept that magical number of 40 as the right amount someone should be expected to work. It is a curious number to land on though. Work represents a third of your day but doesn’t take into consideration the different variables that discrete jobs endure. It is just a number that made since for industrial America in 1940.
A handful of companies are challenging that notion though. Sweden’s Toyota Gothenburg, an automobile service center, took it upon themselves to try out 6-hour shifts and 30-hour weeks. Since 2003 they have quantifiable results in higher collaboration and ruthless prioritization. Their company value of respect for time has changed the way they manage human capital.
Work hours are an invention of mankind. For those that love their job there is never enough, for those that hate their job the fewer the better. Some companies have tried on the 5-hour workday. Following Parkinson’s Law that work expands to meet the time allotted. Now if you only had 5-hours, you would be forced to prioritize to finish all your items within that compressed timeframe.
This brings about the secondary question of if you can do your job in 5 hours, are you challenged? Or is that time efficiency based on proficiency where a junior employee could spend 8-hours on an item where a seasoned vet can accomplish it in 3-hours? My guess is that in most cases the role is not challenging or engaging enough to expand for the full time allotted.
We run into the tertiary problem though with time. If you become proficient with the task assigned, the typical response is for your boss give you other work to do. The other side is that the employee will then focus their spare time efforts on what excites them instead of what their manager wants them to do. Both are losing propositions in terms of looking at work through the prism of time. As Elon Musk quoted of nobody ever changed the world on 40 hours per week.
Time counting is the throwback to industrialism to pay for the time people spend at work instead of the work they do. The new model of work copies the preindustrial era environment where the focus stays on output. An ass sitting in a chair not working is the equivalent to an empty chair.
Time at work should be nebulous. Work can take 4 hours or 20 hours, it doesn’t matter. The focus is the product. We as humans like predictability though, we want to adhere to timelines. But by trying to achieve time constraints you squeeze quality and enjoyment.
Think of the craftsman. Work takes as long as it does to get it just right. If you hire a carpenter to remodel your cabinetry, you pay them on their outcomes not on how much time they spent working on it.
As in retail, there isn’t a one-size fits all for building the perfect work environment. People are different and some people work better in different conditions than others. Is it fair to treat people differently to maximize their performance? Yes, if the efforts you put in apply equally during the process. Would you purposely want to put someone in a position that restricts their performance?
The goal of a leader is to get the best out of their people. It is different for every company and every person, and you will run into obstacles. Time accounting is typically number one on the list. However, your role is to push those boundaries as the liaison between the company and the employee
Early retailers and eCommerce platforms have focused on creating an effortless experience. An experience that builds a sense of flow. One in which it is easy to purchase the products they are selling.
Ideally, we should put this same effort into designing the office experience like retail does for shopping. How do you create an experience where it is easy to work? First thing, you remove the friction that disrupts flow.
Friction is the inconvenience or out of sync step that disrupts flow. What creates friction to workflow? In many offices it is the three M’s: meetings, movements, and messages. The office environment of our dreams is the one that minimizes nonvalue added items and puts us into flow instead of taking us out of it.
Flow is the condition of extreme concentration where time no longer exists as you reach extreme concentration. While it is rare it is even more rare to accomplish this feat with a team. However, you can set the conditions which help enable flow.
The main condition centers on concentration. Inevitably, the office is full of distractions. Be it noise, interruptions, or digital notifications, our focus is under a steady state of attack.
The next condition to flow is achieving an ultra-high level of engagement. This consists of challenge, to the point where the challenge overtakes the mind and become all engrossing. It is rare to achieve flow. However by controlling the conditions to enable concentration and increase engagement, your odds of achieving flow are increased significantly.
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