Why the least productive place you can work is at the office

By 25 June 2018 February 24th, 2020 2 Comments

I always find it strange when employers don’t let their staff work from home. For some reason, they believe that by looking over their staff’s shoulders for eight hours a day, they will get more work done.

Why do people believe the office is the best environment to get stuff done? It’s a myth that coming together in a formalised place makes us more productive.

This simply isn’t the case. The office is one of the least productive places we can go.

Office cubicles Double-Barrelled Travel

Cubicles… *shudder*

Office ≠ Where work gets done

When you ask someone where they go when they really need to meet a deadline and finish off an important task, what do they tend to say?

In my experience, it’s a variation of one of the following:

  • The basement
  • A quiet coffee shop
  • My home office
  • A place where I can be alone
  • The office on the weekend when no one is around
  • The library

You don’t ever hear someone say, “My office on a Friday afternoon.” Why? Because people don’t tend to work well in this environment.

Just think about it for a moment. I know that when I worked in an office I would arrive at 9am, get a coffee, have a chat with some colleagues in the kitchen, boot up my computer, browse through some nonsense joke emails sent to me by my dad or another colleague, and then – finally – get to work. At this point, it would be 9:30am or later.

Now that I work for myself, I tend to do all of this before the clock hits 8am. By then, I’m already well in to my work day. By lunchtime, I’ve completed most of my tasks for the day and can normally take the afternoon off, exploring wherever I happen to be.

If I was still in the office, I might come back from lunch, finish my tasks a few hours later than I would’ve if I was alone, thanks to people interrupting me for a social chat or to ask a work question. The last hour of my day in an office, perhaps I’d have run out of things to do, or my attention span will be spent, so I’d cruise Facebook or read the news online.

I certainly know which day I’d rather have.Computer workplace Double-Barrelled Travel

Productivity improvement

But don’t just take my word for it.

A company called Ctrip decided to carry out a study where they wanted to cut down on their office costs by letting half their staff work from home. They actually thought that their employees would be less productive in a home environment, but the cost savings from letting them work from home would counter balance this.

What they found was not only was there a productivity improvement of one third, the company also saved nearly $2,000 in costs per employee.

These are savings not to be sniffed at.

It might sound surprising but many companies have been taking advantage of these kinds of savings for a long time. In the US, telecommuting has increased by 80% since 2005. Unfortunately, the rest of the world hasn’t seem to have caught up just yet.

We’re more creative on our own

You might love a good brainstorm, but research shows that we’re actually more creative when we’re alone and without distractions. People interrupting us constantly and emails coming through 24-7 can truly stifle our creativity.

We think best when we have a clear mind – and often that clear mind comes from having time to ourselves.

A state of ‘busyness’ can really cramp our creative style and prevent us from having time to reflect and think about the work we’re doing.

Some people pride themselves on being ‘so busy’ at work. But is this actually something to be proud of? Being in control of the way you spend your time gives you the feeling of freedom. And with this freedom comes the chance to expand our creative energy and increase our brain’s capacity.

Being alone in a quiet space can give us a chance to meditate, and this can allow us to think a whole lot more efficiently.Creativity in the workplace Double-Barrelled Travel

M&Ms – the workplace evil

What I hated the most about working from an office were meetings. Actually, it was meetings and managers, aka M&Ms. Both are time wasters, especially if the meetings are pointless and the managers are of the micro-managing variety.

To me, a meeting is just a way to talk about what you’ve done and what you’re going to do, while wasting time and distracting you from actually doing the tasks you need to complete. Not only this, but we waste time scheduling a meeting, waiting for people to arrive and then by listening to information inside the meeting that isn’t relevant to us.

Another problem about meetings is that it’s often the most outspoken people who are heard, instead of the most knowledgeable. In fact, research shows that meetings are hardly the best way to communicate as often the best ideas don’t even get voiced.

Another problem with meetings is that they’re often poorly planned. It’s scary to note that 63% of meetings don’t even have agendas at all. Meetings also tend to last 30 or 60 minutes – because this is the perfect calendar slot. But who says your discussion fits in to this time? Sometimes we draw out meetings by wasting time, just so that they fit in to a thirty minute time frame.

Meeting room Double-Barrelled Travel

Time wasting room

And now to my other pet hate. Managers.

Seriously, they are just put in to an office to ‘manage’ you, when in fact, all they do is interrupt you. Managers are supposedly there to make the ‘big decisions’. But who has the most contact with the clients? Managers are normally so busy ‘managing’ that it tends to be the regular employees that spend more time one-on-one with clients, meaning they have a much better understanding of what the clients’ needs and wants are.

Most managing jobs could actually be made redundant. We are better at self-managing than we are with someone looking over our shoulder. This is one of the reasons why we’re better working from home – with more responsibility, we achieve more and work harder.

And don’t get me started on micro-managers… they are just the devil.

Micro managing Double-Barrelled Travel

What I feel like doing to managers…

There is such a thing as too much collaboration

Ok, so we should all work on our own, and in a quiet environment. But how, oh how, do we brainstorm without mixing with other people? I’m not saying that you should ditch collaborating altogether – it is often a good way to gather ideas.

But you should take note that there is such a thing as too much collaboration. There comes a point in a brainstorming meeting when people just want to be heard and will say anything – and often the best ideas don’t come from these types of collaborations.

One of the best ways to collaborate effectively is to get everyone involved to write down their ideas, before getting together. This way everyone can reflect on what they want to contribute and come up with unique ideas that aren’t influenced by others.Creative space Double-Barrelled Travel

Have a silent day at work

If you work in an office and are struggling to up your creativity, consider having a day of silence once a week. Tell everyone not to interrupt you during this day and not to schedule any meetings. Better yet, get everyone else to have a silent day with you.

Workplace meditation and the power of silence can have many benefits. The best entrepreneurs realise the power of silence.

Or another option is to ask to work from home one day a week. You’ll be surprised at how more productive you become, I guarantee it.

Do you have any productivity improvement tips? Or ways to make your office time more effective?