Thursday, March 07, 2013

Special Days

I was inspired recently in hearing about a Canadian software company that regularly has periods it calls “4 hours silence.” The idea is that during these times no one is allowed to interrupt anyone else – the intent being to promote periods of unfettered concentration. It’s a well known time management wisdom that interruption causes inefficiency, and it was interesting to see a company actually institutionalise this idea.

It led me to think of what other workplace practices could be challenged by introducing experimental days. People regularly complain about email overuse, ineffective meetings and many other habitual working habits. By introducing specific experiment days or weeks, it may help to focus attention and at least challenge some of what have become norms.  

So how about an internal email free day, encouraging people to pick up phone or even walk to see their colleague rather than relying on the ubiquitous email - which can socially isolate people who sit next to each other or in the next office.

Or an internal meeting free week. Many people suffer a surfeit of ineffective meetings. In some organisations that overdo meetings I’ve even come across professional meeting attendees – people who seem to do nothing other than go to internal meetings. By not holding internal meetings for a period it will help to reassess their value and discover what’s necessary and what really isn’t.

An answer the phone within 3 rings day is another idea I’ve seen work well – and it’s very appreciated by customers and suppliers in particular. All too often you try and contact people by landline or mobile only to be re-routed to voicemail. It’s all too easy to get the impression in some organisations that no one is in – or maybe they’re all attending one of those internal meetings! Voicemail is just too easy to abuse, so why not have periods of no voicemail and encourage real-time communication.

On a different tack what about a periodic dress-up day. Dress down has become a permanent feature in some organisations, not just an occasional liberation. How about instituting the very opposite, a day when everyone comes to the office in super smart work attire. It would certainly provide a talking point and you never know – a sharp suit might just sharpen the mind for some important decisions.

Of course there are many offices that are like ghost companies these days. Everyone seems to be out or working at home. In these cases I’m not sure these experimental days would make much difference. So my last suggestion is a turn-up day. Too much working at home can also isolate people. A day where absolutely everyone comes in would create a real buzz – hopefully about more than which hot desk to sit at, particularly as many companies don’t have enough desks for everyone anymore! 

Bad workplace habits can set in all too easily. Introducing some radically different days or periods will at least encourage debate and ideas about what effective working practices really mean, and it will keep everyone on their toes.

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