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Productivity at office, is a Utopian concept. If you ask people, where they get work done the most – its never the office – ironically.

Companies do all kinds of tricks (can you find a better word?) to make people productive by enticing them to show up at offices. Stock fridges with food, get ergonomic chairs, gives the most expensive softwares, do casual Fridays, free beer.. and what not, only to find that their employees aren’t productive at office. Why?

I mean, if you really think about it, it’s a serious issue.

Productivity is something that is very personal to an “employee” (I don’t like this word but couldn’t find a better replacement). But unfortunately, at lot of companies and startups, it is not employees who decides (or measures for that matter) what their productivity is – someone else does by offering the environment that they think is supposed to be productive. And that is the whole issue with this thing!

Offices offer the most un-productive environments

I’m sure there are personal preferences but, think about it – what makes you more productive?

To me, I need long hours of uninterrupted time. That is one thing I could use.

I love multi tasking but that doesn’t mean I am working on 20 different tasks at the same time. My brain is accustomed to find a pattern around the different tasks and give me the best results in the least possible time.

So if I’m working on a report, I might have ten tabs open that has data to that one single report. I think that only an efficient mind can multi task properly. And by efficiency, I mean getting maximum results with minimum resources in the shortest possible time.

But to accomplish something like that, I need a distraction free environment. And what is a distraction free environment? Definitely not office.

In fact, an office is where you are most distracted.

Meaningless meetings, poking peers, water cooler jokes, smoke breaks, annoying boss, jamming printer, annoying co-worker on the phone…boy I can think of at least 21 examples.

Offices, in my opinion is a drama set. Arranged by personal choices (mostly by the management), where they expect you to perform.

Monkey work isn’t productivity.

Now, one might argue that this is how things have been working for ages in big companies – those where everybody is productive and work is getting done. Yes, you’re right. Work is getting done, but people are being productive? I doubt.

Being productive is not the same as getting work done. Now, this is a question of whether companies want you to be productive or not. Now, if you carefully look at it, companies who wants to get “monkey work” done don’t want you to be productive.

These are the folks who wants to get things done, the way they want to, within the set of conditions given.

Painting a master piece in ten minutes, isn’t productivity either.

Time bound work cannot be called productivity. It is just a task.

To complete a task, all you have to do is move from point A to point B in X minutes/hours.

If you’re given the most expensive software, an extra monitor and an ergonomic chair and free beer to get that done, I doubt if you’re being productive.

Managers gives you the biggest distractions.

People love working from home, or a park or the library. Those are the places where they get most work done. Not cubicles. Office is more like a pattern stitched by the management for their convenience.

Managers want you at the cubicles so that they can watch over you, and call you to the most unproductive meetings and have you run for errands. They are insecure. (By “they” I mean them, not them.)

Meetings are a waste of time.

Its your manager who always calls you for those boring one hour meetings, right? And those all-group meetings that runs over other things like cancer? I wish if people stop doing them.

I’m not trying to say that meetings are absolutely wasteful. It is just that the format in which they’re conducted with twenty people debating over one single issue on large table and a single projector is just radically a waste of time.

The fun thing is that, after the meeting, all the twenty guys disperse, go in to their smaller one-two groups and discuss the “actual” problem, which they never could while at the meeting. This is a universal behavior I’ve found at all organizations, both small and large.

So, if meetings are counter-productive, why have them in the first place? Why not re-format them and have them around water coolers or smoke breaks, where people really contribute (and not fake like in the meetings).

So, what is the solution to doing productive work?

Simplifying objectives and managing expectations. That is all.

Manager or not, a company has shared goals, at all levels. A manager has his goals (managing people is not a goal by the way), a regular worker too has his goals, so does the CEO and Directors.

Split it up. Clarify what each one’s role is.

If you follow a tier system, figure out what your manager’s expectation is from you.

Write it down on a piece of paper (or your project management tool like this one) and set a date to review it.

Now its your turn. Ask the manager to fuck off and let you do your thing.

Think, research, prune and sit on the idea and work on it however you want, until you can get it done on the day assigned. Managers who come to check up with “How’s it going?” is only trying to “direct” you.

They don’t need to do that. If you are an empowered, worthy of it, skillful employee, you must be knowing your shit by now. You don’t need no reassurance.

Work from home.

If your manager thinks that he cannot live a day without seeing you at the office, he’s lying. He is insecure that you might be going to the movies or watching TV while working from home.

If you actually wanted to, you would do it anyway (voluntary distractions) . But in the name of voluntary distractions, if you go to the office, you have ten times other involuntary and non-productive distractions to deal with.

The thing is not all companies get it. They can’t take chances.

“You mean, send all of my workers to work from home?” No. That is not the point.

If you’re serious about actually empowering employees at work, trust them, give them the freedom along with expectations. And let them figure out how they can get productive themselves.

Don’t trap them with flimsy things like beer or ergonomic furniture (and casual Fridays!!!). That is so 2008!

Move on to the future. Move on to workshifting.