Dale Dauten, author of the Corporate Curmudgeon column, offers some empirical (real-world) proof of something I’ve known for a very long time: working alone substantially, measurably increases productivity. You can read a copy at the Arizona Daily Star (http://azstarnet.com/business/article_d636ff2d-b4b2-5ad7-93fb-c212397478a8.html). Here’s the Executive Summary:
“The best employees” have always been aware that their own efficiency makes them targets of resentment. What are their choices, assuming they want to fit into that kind of culture? Work slower – which is totally against their inclinations – or work dutifully for some percentage of time at work, and use the rest of their time for something they’d rather do. Google recognizes this, and explicitly allows their employees about the equivalent of a day per week for their own projects. Some of those projects, by way of no surprise, turn into huge money-makers. 3M does the same, and think about some of the results (I challenge you to name one hugely popular product that came from this policy).
Dauten’s conclusion, at least on the surface, is that “Many companies could use less management face-time and more back-time.” People work more quickly, with fewer errors, when they work alone.
The Albuquerque Journal ran this column in their Business Outlook insert, with the headline “More freedom, privacy yield more work done.” The Arizona Star headlined it “Cut back on close supervision – and see what great things evolve.” I think both of these miss the point. It’s not that ALL people work better with less supervision. I’ve done my time in management, and I know that a substantial percentage of employees I’ve managed will do little or nothing unless specifically directed, which has always been a disappointment to me. It’s been a delight, over the decades, to run into that occasional individual who displays enough initiative simply to be left alone.
But Dauten seems to understand the point. “Give employees more freedom, look the other way, and the best of them will do more than is expected, not less.” The critical phrase here is, “the best of them.”
Considering the critical nature of our work, fellow ITstas, we can’t afford to be anything other than the best of them. I know I’ve failed, in some past positions, to make it clear that I can’t effectively do highly complex work (like coding software modules) in a crowded setting; in fact I think very few people can. That’s why I work as a consultant: I can devote undivided concentration to my task, and frequently accomplish more in two hours than I could in two days in a bullpen. And bill accordingly.