The end of time

Agency life, Productivity — By on September 9, 2011 8:20 am

We’re obsessed with time in our working lives. We trade our most productive hours for salary and benefits. We agree office hours, vacation time and PTO. We work overtime, we get days in lieu, we try to strike work/life balance.

But time is just an input. It’s not a deliverable. It has the advantage of being easy to measure, but time in front of our computer, on the phone or in a meeting isn’t an output. It doesn’t move the organization forward.

Equally, most of us don’t even take all the vacation we’re due. We triage our email at weekends and during vacation. That’s because we implicitly realize the contract is not for our time, but the results. Personally, we’re motivated to deliver results irrespective of the time requirements.

Forward-thinking organizations are now adopting a more relaxed attitude to office hours. It doesn’t matter when you come in or how long you stay, as long as you get the work done. This makes sense – the company wants the objectives of the role, and if the employee can deliver them quickly, then great.

Some firms, like Netflix, are taking this a stage further – doing away with vacation allowances, PTO, and public holiday schedules entirely. Let’s face it, you’re not going to keep your job if you don’t deliver. And in an age where leaders, such as politicians, routinely cut their holidays short, it’s clear the focus is on the output not the allowance.

There are many facets to working in an environment devoid of time demands. We need to adjust to the working habits of others, to establish norms where schedules can reliably overlap for collaboration, to measure the outputs of each role, to feel comfortable with people leaving early even. For some this actually increases stress, while others will no doubt take advantage of the ambiguity.

This approach should make us more productive and more in control. It should be a win-win for the staff and the organization.

In practice, that might not be the case. How do you feel about this? About managing your team without time requirements? About measuring their output? Is this for all levels, all roles and all cultures? Will it work if it isn’t?

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I write about digital communications and personal performance. Please feel free to follow me on Twitter at @morganm or subscribe to this blog here.

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