Infernal communications

By: Martin Read

Date: 14 December 2010

The wires are coming off. Cloud-based services are replacing office-based servers. Leaner and longer lasting laptops are replacing desk-bound PCs. And aggressive mobile phone tariffs could soon make the office landline an endangered species.

More than ever, your employees are free! To work from home, the road, the coffee shop — they’re free, I say!  

The give and take of IT

Except that, if you don’t mind, could you just back off a bit? They’re trying to get some work done. What is it with all this internal communication? The calls, the emails, the endless meetings? Couldn’t you just let them crack on with the thing you’re actually paying them to do?

Ironic, isn’t it? On one hand IT liberates individual workers, while on the other it provides managers with whizzy tools to keep those workers in check. The physical cables may be going, but workers can easily feel just as tethered by endless streams of communications from their bosses.

A sleep of faith?

Jason Fried of 37signals

Workflow guru and co-founder of 37signals, Jason Fried has a radical theory on working; he thinks offices are really bad places for it. Why? Ill considered interruptions by managers, and “toxic, terrible, poisonous” meetings. Managers and meetings —  M&Ms — are the cause of Interruption Hell.

In this intriguing presentation, Fried likens work patterns to sleep patterns: both are phase based, and you’re only really productive once you’ve reached a certain, deep level — you could call it ‘the zone’. If at any pre ‘zone’ stage you get interrupted, you have to commence the process and build up to the ‘zone’ all over again.

What employees want, crave even, is NO DISTRACTIONS! How can you expect your people to do their best work if you’re constantly interrupting them?

Cutting the cacophony

Fried suggests cancelling meetings and introducing ‘no talk’ days. Both make sense. But then he also thinks managers should switch from active communication (meetings, chats, phone calls) to the passive kind (email, instant messaging).

I don’t buy that. For too many people, checking the inbox or silencing the blinking instant message is a natural reaction. After all, that message might be important. When you’re at your PC, it’s like being in control of a car — you know where you’re going but you really must keep checking the mirrors to see what’s coming up.

If it was me, I’d go a step further with ‘no talk’ days that incorporate ‘no email’ and ‘no instant messages’. That way, workers would know up front that there'd be no internal communications or events of any kind, and could crack on accordingly. Why not try it, at least for one day in every week or two?

Just because IT provides so many powerful management and communications tools, it doesn’t mean you should use them. At least, not every day.

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