How to Improve Productivity in the Office: Don't Have One

By Special Guest
Cristian Rennella
June 07, 2016

Yes, you read that right. If you want to increase efficiency in your company, the best decision that you can make right now is to eliminate your office.

Unfortunately, the vicious cycle in which you live, which you think is the only true path to follow is this:

a) Put forth effort to hire and pay people to do a good job for your company.

b) Then rent a physical space in order to set up an office.

c) Fill it with useful things (desks, computers, etc.) and even interesting things (video games, stunning decor as in Google’s example and lots of other stuff).

d) Await anxiously for the workers to go to the office every day in order to provide their best work.

But if you are honest with yourself and ask the question: “When I must do a job (such as programming a new functionality for my website, design a new landing page, or even write a proposal for a client), where do I go in order to accomplish this task on time and in an orderly fashion, in the most efficient way possible?”

I have studied this problem for the past eight years and I have found the following places as answers which were given repeatedly:

1) In an extra room in the house which no one uses and is quiet.

2) In the kitchen after the kids and my spouse have left home for the day.

3) In the train to and from work. Even when on a business trip, the best place to do productive work is on the plane.

It is truly saddening that “the office” does not appear on the list as a viable option. The few times that the office was mentioned to me as an answer was when they were able to get to work very early, before the rest of the personnel arrived or at the end of the work day after everyone else had already gone home.

However, you, like the great majority of other companies, continue to put money into rent, decorating, cleaning, and maintaining the office when in reality no one is doing their work there. You should also consider into the equation the time and effort it takes for your employees to make the trip of going to and from the office to their homes.

It must be understood that the root of the problem and inconvenience of using an office clearly lies in the interruptions that you will have there.

You end up changing your “days” of work for “moments” of work.

Instead of working three to four hours continuously, you spend 20 minutes working until unexpectedly you are interrupted by a co-worker who passes by to say hi and tell you about what happened over the weekend. After this, you work another 15 minutes when suddenly your boss calls you into a meeting. Returning to your desk, you work another 45 minutes and you realize that it is time to go for lunch. In the afternoon, this cycle of interruptions repeats itself again. In the end, you realize that your work day is over and you didn't do anything.

This is the reality of life for you and everyone else who works in a physical space known as “the office.” It is even worse as the size of the office gets bigger!

If you want your employees to be productive and carry out the best work possible for your business, don’t buy a ping-pong table or a video game console in order to make it look like they are working at the best place in the world, the best gift that you can give them is three to four uninterrupted hours of work in the morning and another three to four hours without interruptions in the afternoon.

If your employees are creative such as writers, programmers, designers, engineers, investigators, etc., they will not develop an idea and be able to implement it in 15 minutes, they need to be able to focus for several hours continuously on the problem assigned to them in order to solve it with success. As a reference point, as shown by a study done by George Mason University, the people that are interrupted while they are writing end up producing writings of lesser quality compared to those who worked with no interruptions.

I invite you to see this from yet another angle. Work is much like going to see a movie. Let’s suppose the following happens:

- It starts and after 20minutes the film stops due to technical problems and then after 10 minutes it starts again.

- Thirty minutes later your child asks you to take them to the bathroom, which takes you five minutes.

- Then after another 25 minutes someone behind you drops their drink, producing all kinds of noise that distracts you.

In the end, the chances of being able to enjoy the film by focusing and absorbing yourself into the movie will be much less if all of these things didn’t happen.

The same thing happens when you sleep. If you are able to sleep 8 continuous hours it is not the same as if you slept two hours, then you were woken up for five minutes, then after one more hour someone bothers you again, then again after a couple more hours, and finally once more during the last few hours of sleep until your alarm sounds.

Work falls into the same category as the last two examples. The more time you give your employees to perform their duties without interruptions, the better your results will be, as shown by this study by CubeSmart, which also generates less stress as an extra bonus.

In our company, when we started out 8 years ago, we did not have the resources needed in order to rent out an office, and so each of us worked from home during the first year. When we began to generate revenue and grow, we had the opportunity to have our own office (like every other company) and obviously this is what we did.

But what most struck our attention was that our productivity decreased. We spent 2 years analyzing why we could not achieve the amount of efficiency and growth that we had before until finally we decided to close the office and returned to working remotely. Since then our productivity has increased 204 percent with a team made up of 34 people.

Surely you ask, “But how do you make sure that your employees working from home are not on Facebook, watching television, reading the newspaper, or doing something on the computer which is not work related?”

Today, getting on Facebook is like it was before to take a cigarette break, it is something that takes 15 minutes and allows you to clear your mind in order to go back to work refreshed.

The difference is that these interruptions are voluntary and you can manage them freely.

The true inconvenience comes from involuntary interruptions, if your boss calls you into a meeting, this is something that you cannot accommodate to your liking, most definitely taking away your concentration and your ability to make progress efficiently. After the meeting, you will not be able to recuperate the level of focus that you had before, you will lose a good deal of time having to re-concentrate.

You need to understand that the problem is not in the social networks, television, video games, etc., the biggest interruptions are bosses and their famous meetings.

It may seem untrue, but if you think about it, you will come to understand that managers are paid to interrupt you, because at the end of the day, it is not them who carries out the real work to be done. Meetings are not useful, just try cancelling them and you will see that nothing changed as a result.

Working without an office allows you to disconnect from your boss simply by closing Skype and Gmail while you are focused on your work so that later you can open them and receive interruptions without causing any problems.

This asynchronous communication will allow you to be more productive, eliminating all possible interruptions during the times when they are least desired and postpone them until you can truly give an adequate response.

Without having to go far, as shown in Psychology Today, an interruption as small as just a few seconds is enough to double the chances of error simply because that person loses their train of thought.

Conclusion:

There is something that you should know, beyond the fact of whether you are in favor of getting rid of the office or not: if you do not do it, your competition will. And here we are talking about productivity. If you are more efficient, you will beat out your competition. If not, they will beat you.

Cristian Ángel Rennella is the founder of Préstamos Online. An engineer for the Universidad Católica en Argentina (Catholic University in Argentina), Rennella  is fond of company culture and the development of new business in Latin America. 




Edited by Stefania Viscusi
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