According to Jason Fried, founder of web-based collaboration company 37Signals, the modern office is dead.
He says, in writing a piece for CNN, if you work from home or on a plane, you are less likely to be interrupted by managers and meetings. This is true if your company hasn't progressed to the point of conference calls, I guess. But believe me, if a manager wants a meeting, he or she will have that meeting, even if it means communicating through a conferencing device that sounds like you're talking into a bottle at the bottom of the ocean.
Also, he stereotypes managers by saying:
And managers are basically people whose job it is to interrupt people. That's pretty much what managers are for, they're for interrupting people. They don't really do the work, so they have to make sure everyone else is doing the work, which is an interruption.
Look, I'm all for sticking it to "the man," but really, if managers didn't have meetings then a bunch of people would be griping about how they hadn't gotten information they need. I don't like meetings for the most part (I've been in some that made me want to fake my own death), but I understand that most of the time it's the best way to make sure a group of people is on the same page on a number of work-related items.
For me it's a good way to make sure all parties involved in an issue are aware of what's going on. I don't like email for that purpose because too many people these days claim ignorance of their part in a project by saying they didn't "read the email." (If a coworker doesn't read your email in a forest does that mean it wasn't sent?)
The best compromise between no meetings and miserable-pit-of-hell meetings is to have the right kind of meeting. Appoint a leader to keep everyone on target. If, in the meeting, someone goes off on a tangent that is not directly related to the issue at hand, redirect things back on track. Or tase the person, I don't care.
Fried also suggests "No-Talk Thursdays" once a month, and doing away with face-to-face collaboration. How has face-to-face collaboration gotten such a sullied reputation that he wants to declare a day free of it? It's not like smoking or some other vice. I think that if more people had face-to-face communication, then a lot of problems would be solved. (I will note here that Fried's company makes web-based apps for collaboration, so he may have a horse in the race.)
All in all, I wonder about Mr. Fried's advice. I dislike interruptions at work as well but I have to say I don't experience them at the rate he apparently does.
Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.