29 Nov 2010

Working at work

You should watch this TEDx talk by Jason Fried on improving productivity at work. From an individual point of view, I agree with most of the things he says. Yes, you can’t expect everyone to be equally productive at the same time of the day. Yes, meetings and managers often get in the way and reduce your overall throughput. However, for larger teams, I am pretty convinced that working completely remotely will bring with it a whole new set of problems.

There have been plenty of instances in recent times, when I have just felt like screaming out loud while trying to explain a (complicated) concept to someone over the chat or on the phone. Emails, IMs, and voice conferences are painful for conducting group discussions too – probably the same time sucking meetings that Jason refers to, but let’s face it. To say something like “Chuck your next meeting, things will go just fine”, seems a little over the top for me. If meetings are spearheaded properly, a face-to-face discussion is really much quicker and effective than exchanging thoughts over text channels.

Another issue with working remotely and at your own convenient timing is that if you need clarifications, you are pretty much on your own if the person you need the information from is not available at that time of the day. You might just be able to pick up something else to work on in the mean time, but on some days, this could be a show stopper.

We can probably reach some kind of middle ground by being flexible with some of our practices to improve productivity. For example, we could timebox our meetings/discussions to keep them short, and have “do not disturb” working hours in place to reduce interruptions. Perhaps working remotely, like how 37signals functions, is better suited for start-ups and small, focussed teams, but for the most part – we cannot (yet?) substitute physical interaction with online variants.

Could it be possible that whenever I have had the chance to work via this modus operandi, I perhaps did not use the right tools? Maybe, but I doubt that.

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