Software

Entrepreneur rings the death knell for the modern office, for all the wrong reasons

Is the modern office dead? According to one entrepreneur it is. But is he using all the wrong reasons?

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.

About

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.

39 comments
DPeek
DPeek

Jason Fried... Aptly named. Its as simple as writinig the most outlandish argument possible to bring attention to yourself. Once the attention is garnered, "facts" can be "de-published", or "re-published" as needed.

KhanSolo
KhanSolo

It depends on the industry I guess. In regards to the IT industry or office workers, I can agree that 'managers' can get in the way of strong production. It could be that the 'managers' themselves aren't trained on how to be efficient in their 'managing'.

Slayer_
Slayer_

The working managers tend to understand interruptions, and keep them to a minimum, and the purely fluffy managers, only really bug the working managers.

LocoLobo
LocoLobo

His attitude seems to imply that only writers & reporters can be creative. Or that is what work is all about. You don't think scientists, accountants, mechanics, or maintenance workers can be creative? I would disagree. The office is the place where supply requests are handled; where payroll is calculated; where data is collected, collated and redistributed. It's all about fixing things that need to be changed (read interruptions) before they go awry. Oh, yeah, it's also the place where the boss hangs out. Are these changes always for the better? Nope. But which would you rather do? Work for 4 hours on something and THEN be told, "We changed our minds 3 1/2 hours ago." Or be interrupted? I agree interruptions are a pain in the A**. Managers are too. But most of us don't have the luxury of working for ourselves. Besides, the one time I worked for myself, I found out I was an A** too. :( In the meantime, we do what we have to do.

david.walker2
david.walker2

I shared the quote: "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." with my coworkers, and we laughed so hard we fell over. We work for those guys! The "Ninety-three percent of the nails have been driven" guys (to reference another TR article we found hilarious). We laugh to keep from crying.

toni.bowers_b
toni.bowers_b

But in my job, I can honestly say my manager doesn't interrupt. So if you have that kind of environment, then yes, I can see where working from the privacy of your den could be productive. But I just wouldn't let the habits of some micromanagers dictate a complete change in environment, especially if the one advocating it sells a helpful product.

fabiogil
fabiogil

Dead? Not for the company I work for. In fact working from home is something more out of the ordinary than common ...

rackerman
rackerman

I think your title is a little "sensationalist". I don't think Fried's article or their (Fried/Hannsson) book Rework is about spelling the death knoll for the modern office at all. Although I don't totally agree with everything Fried, Godin and others in their culture have to say, some of the concepts are long overdue, but not for every business. It's about rethinking how businesses run, or more to the point how they could be run. It's about rethinking about how we spend our time in and out of our jobs. It's about a new world of work that in some places is here and working very well. It's about a world of work I'd much rather be in than the traditional environment, Corporate HR still seems intent on pushing. Geez folks, open your eyes - no close them and think about the possibilities.

toni.bowers_b
toni.bowers_b

...the concept. I don't believe people have to be in a brick and mortar environment to be productive. But I objected to his characterization that all managerial input is disruptive. One can waste time in either environment. I just think he made the reasons against a traditional work environment a little too simplistic.

glurrea
glurrea

In my current job I've experimented a lot more efficient from my subordinates if I let them do their work the most part of the time, and reduce meetings almost to zero, but, It's a ground rule in my team, not try to solve complex problems or get scope definitions from customers through email, if you had 5+ mails about the same topic, maybe it's time for a meeting to put everyone on the same page... so, it's somewhere in the middle between "no-talk" and "face-to-face", I'm completely sure that extreme points are bad...

jonesy100000
jonesy100000

I am an IT manager for two groups and I have a weekly meeting with my folks but if we have nothing to discuss I cancel it. It pays to have common sense, I've worked for managers who will meet just to make sure everybody showed up. Ridiculous!

GreenPirogue
GreenPirogue

I have been working from home for several years now, and after figuring out the best approach, I am at least twice as productive than I once was. And I think most of the increase in productivity is that I am not interrupted nearly as much as before. The only problem now is Office Communicator. My boss figured out how to use it, and I get interrupted several times per day, most of which I am sure is her ensuring that I am working and not watching movies or doing chores around the house.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

does it matter if you're doing chores or watching the tube while she's in her office?

ChallengerTech
ChallengerTech

I too have been working remotely for several years now...but I have just as many interruptions via IM,conference calls, LIVE meeting, etc...as I did when I physically worked in an office. I also think the world has changed a great deal...there are a heck of a lot more companies allowing tele-commuting/remote work positions...they are more cost effective than having a huge building to house employees, when meetings can be conducted via conference call, live meeting, goto meeting, video conferencing, etc. Not to mention, that's one less person clogging the highway!

logicskey
logicskey

I've read Jason's book, "Rework". I'm impressed and appreciate a better perspective view of progress. Interruption is a deterrent once the clear direction is defined and all the essentials to make accomplishments are added. Micromanager's disrupt progress. Taking a decent break and open communication is also vital to solving complexities.

B.H.
B.H.

...he's an "entrepreneur" He sounds too difficult to work with and has left so many positions he now "works for himself". We all know that contractor who is a P.I.A. and will always say he/she "chooses" to be a contractor.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

but with the people running them. If meetings are unproductive, look to the person in charge.

melias
melias

On further reflection, I wonder how he runs his offices? Do all his people work from home? How many managers?

RockerGeek!
RockerGeek!

Many lulz for this!! I'm going to agree that it sounds as if he gets interrupted... a LOT. Probably just decided to vent to the world bout it. But that's what Facebook is for ;)

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

he's the kind of employee that won't do anything UNLESS he's watched like a cornered rat.

RockerGeek!
RockerGeek!

That too! Too bad there are employees who don't work :( Lazy ppl...

Rayezilla
Rayezilla

those lazy people, probably cruising the internet instead of working hard every day. what losers.

melias
melias

And self-serving tripe at that. Now if he would just give us "No Work Fridays" I would be on board. ;)

SKDTech
SKDTech

Of course I work longer on the other days...

dante.griffin
dante.griffin

Who takes the blame/fall when a project goes haywire, the plans fall apart, or unanticipated events occur? And without the manager as buffer, you get the higher-ups interrupting you! At least you can ignore your manager sometimes! LOL

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

who do I go to when I have a problem? Who is setting the direction for the company? I hate strategic planning, writing budgets, handling customer and supplier relationships. Who's going to do those jobs?

tbmay
tbmay

Well...as long as you're on board with sticking it to the man....

wrmosca
wrmosca

After being both a manager and a "report", I know full well what a manager does, and if all he is doing is interupting, he's not doing his job. He's there to channel all his reports' work into a path that advances the company and keep them happy while they work. The best manager I had kept us informed of what was needed and treated us in a way that made us want to work for *him*, not the company. The company doesn't care a fig for the employee unless that employee can spin shredded documents into gold.

stuart
stuart

This is another lame subject and now I feel robbed of my time reading this article.

santeewelding
santeewelding

Of fast literary analysis. Did you climb up, over, and down every word until you got to the end before realizing you were had by your own slowness?

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

Why didn't you post that? Simple criticism without justification is, to me, as lame as you say the article was.

stuart
stuart

Read rackermans post.

stuart
stuart

Obviously, you are one of the managers of which Jason Fried talks.

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