The future of work is to be less busy

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I have long been fascinated by the way people do their jobs and more specifically how they are managed, and how the two come together to produce an effective workforce. When articles like this one appear, I then get to thinking about what could be done to improve the way businesses work.

The reality is that for many people, they have to work in organisations where statistics drive working practices and where traditional methods of management still rule the roost. These methods give birth to many downsides and tend to lead to selfishness, isolation and goals that consist of little else than getting through the day and taking home a salary.

The idea of performance reviews makes perfect sense, when done well, and are completely justifiable. You should not expect to be paid and at the same time feel that having your work performance monitored is somehow unfair or overstepping the mark. However, the idea of studying a job role or an employee’s effectiveness by how much profit each role brings is unfair because within any organisation some roles are profit generating and others are a natural cost of doing business.

The trick is to understand what people do in great detail and to then effectively monitor performance based on a series of calculations and averages throughout a pool of people. And this is where things tend to go wrong in large organisations where large groups of people perform different functions in the same division. Whether it be customer service, systems and IT or technical processes, it seems to be that different levels of employees have little to no understanding of what other people do each day in another level.

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If there is one plague in business throughout the world it is disconnection. No matter what industry, what size of company and in what country, disconnection if rife. Think about your own experience and ask yourself if your direct manager actually knows what you do each day. And then take that further to your senior manager who may not even know your name, and so on through the levels until the disconnection is complete and no one knows what the hell is going on.

It may be a British disease, but in my experience working for four blue-chip companies in my life, this layer-driven culture has existed in them all and has resulted in cracks being made that are easy to exploit for the benefit of those who a) may not want to do much work and b) may want to play the political game and move up the corporate ladder quickly. In short, say the right things to the right people and you will be fine because these people have no idea what you do and can only surmise your worth by the few words you exchange with them throughout the year which often fall within the list of cliches here.

So, we have this disconnection which needs to be solved, but to do so we need to cure what is perhaps the biggest problem in business today- the need to look and/or actually be very busy all of the time. We see it all day and every day; managers running around with their phones setting up conference calls at unspeakable hours, email after email going to and from people who are not actually dealing with problems, but are merely passing them on to someone else, and a perception that if you have a few spare minutes you are somehow inferior or are lazy or your job is not worthy or… you get the picture.

If we, however, decided that every person who works for a company should have their workloads dropped by a third overnight it is likely that there would be no loss of productivity at all in the long run. Here is a quick list of the potential advantages-

  • Less mistakes would be made because there would be time to get things done properly.
  • The quality of the work would improve because the mind would be freer to ensure that everything was done correctly.
  • Managers would have time to understand what their people actually do and how things could be improved.
  • Employees would also have time to think of better ways to do things.
  • Senior managers would have time to speak to their managers and teams, and to conversely come up with new ways of working.
  • And all the way up the chain, there would be a greater understanding of the company, the processes and most crucially, what customers want and need.
  • People who shirk their responsibilities and do little will be found out which will increase general productivity.
  • New ideas, a more productive and high quality workforce would ensue and the organisation as a whole can then concentrate on the outside world rather than running around like rats in a cage merely hitting numbers and targets day after day.

Creative industries have to do this. The iPhone, Rolex Submariner and culturally important products did not come from people who are on multiple conference calls each day or having to deal with a myriad of communications into the night. They came from people who have the time to do things well and to think in a new way.

We have millions of people running around trying to squeeze in way too much work which only results in ticking boxes and getting nothing done. Whether it be in a factory, an office or anywhere else, they are unhappy, unfulfilled and merely go back to getting through the day and picking up a salary. If the creative idea could be moved to other industries everyone would win.

Look at Apple. A few years back the customer service was supreme, the products were wonderful and the company as a whole ruled the world. Rumours persist that the company is struggling to keep the amount of staff it needs and, in my experience, it is telling that customer service levels are dropping and that we are seeing a lack of momentum compared to what came before. Apple is in danger of becoming just another tech company that sells predictable products and which services them to the point of acceptability rather than aiming to wow the customer.

I don’t think anything will change because we are obsessed with being busy and producing productivity stats without actually realising that there is no high quality end product to what we are doing.

Categories: Articles

1 reply

  1. Yeah, you outline some really tough problems.

    Combine it with- it’s really tough for most people (myself included) to have any sense of profit/loss and how companies make themselves going concerns, and how that ties in to our day-to-day activities. Working in tech, I’ve worked on more than my fair share of companies that gave themselves very little chance to be profitable.

    In part, it comes from general innumeracy – not in the sense of “people should have studied their maths more”, but in the sense of it’s tough for our forgetful monkey brains to keep track of stuff and see how it pile up over the course of weeks and months, or how ANYTHING scales past small village scale numbers…

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