Fixing Work

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I somehow dislike the concept of New Year’s resolutions since a new year is just as good a time for trying to change something or venturing into something new as any other time. New Year’s resolutions also tend to be forgotten ever so quickly.

It just so happens that I’ve been nurturing a few thoughts as of lately that I’d like to turn into something real right now.

My point is that the way software development work (or any engineering / technical / white-collar / knowledge kind of work for that matter) is organized in most companies is completely broken!

I’m not talking things like development methodology here. I’m talking about fundamental issues of work organization and management:

What is described as work today in many cases is just cargo cult from the Industrial Age. We’re using computers and the Internet, yet work is still organized as if we were standing at an assembly line working piece rate.

Workers are paid for the time they waste while sitting at a desk where rather they should be paid for actual work accomplished. Many companies value the enforcement of ridiculous 9 to 5 schedules and the requirement of working on site higher than the work that’s actually done. Not only do workers waste significant amounts of time while sitting in an office but many people waste even more time due to the well-known joys of commuting. Worse still, commuting not only increases stress levels and hence is detrimental to people’s health but also severely affects the environment.

Hence, if they want to hire and retain talented developers companies will have to realize they need to forego some control in exchange for more flexible work environments. Or as 37signals’ DHH succinctly puts it: Stop whining and start hiring remote workers!

What we need are work environments which are independent of time and place. Technology-wise this isn’t a problem – after all remote working technology has been around for quite some time now. It just shouldn’t matter where and when work is done as long as it yields the desired results. As it seems, the current, traditional way of work organization is less and less capable of doing so. There are many persistent misconceptions as to what efficient work actually means. We’re commonly misled to believe that:

  • activity equals progress
  • long-winded meetings equal progress
  • sitting at a desk equals industriousness

Work is perceived to be something that has to be cumbersome and awful in order to be real work. If it doesn’t suck it can’t be work, can it?

Well, as you’ve probably guessed by now I fervidly disagree and fortunately, so do others, too. There are seminal books like Four Hour Work Week and Rework that envision different kinds of work and work environments. There are companies like Kodesk and Coffee & Power which are on the right track towards saner and more flexible work environments.

So – coming to the New Year’s resolution-ey part – I’ll try to push these ideas of a saner work environment and I’ll explore ways of implementing such environments.

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  1. Pingback: Why Hyperloop’s awesome and still the wrong idea | Björn Wilmsmann

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