Why Are We Still Working To The Clock?

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200 hundred years ago, when most countries were largely agrarian societies, we woke up when the sun rose, tended to our animals and crops, did the odd jobs around our farms and then retired when the sun disappeared at the end of the day. We did the work that needed to be done, sold the produce we grew or raised and our work changed depending on the season we were in. We did not have to ‘clock in’ at a specific time, we did the work that needed doing, when it needed doing. There was no ‘clocking out time’. When we finished our day’s work, we finished and went to the pub to join our mates for a few beers and a good chat about life. (Well, that how I imagined it went. Maybe there were no pubs back in those days.)

Then came the industrial age. People moved to the towns to be near the factories that were paying much better money than we earned on our farms. The trade off for that money was working to a set a time. In the beginning we worked 10 to 12 hours a shift and got paid by the hour. It was important to have a person operating the machine or cranking out those widgets round the clock, so time was important. There was no brain power needed, no ‘creative thinking’, no emails to answer. It was just you, the factory floor and your machine or tool. As factories grew, we began working shifts. There was the early shift, the evening shift and the night shift. Clocking in and out was the way the factory owners could calculate how many hours we had worked and how much to pay us. All our work was done at the factory. We couldn’t take our work home with us and we didn’t. Once we left the factory gates we would go straight to the pub and have a few beers with our mates before heading home. (Well, that’s how I like to imagine it went.)

Then came the office worker. The office worker wasn’t paid by the hour, they were paid a salary (ok, I know some were paid by the hour, but today that would be extremely rare) The office worker had to use their brain to make decisions about what to do with some information. If they were off sick, it didn’t really matter as they could catch up with their work when they felt better. The office worker’s work could be taken home and worked on at home, and during busy periods, this is what many did. As office work complexity increased, and email became the primary communication tool, many of these office workers needed to be able to communicate outside the office. For this we got laptop computers and Blackberrys which soon became the ubiquitous smartphone. Now the office worker could work anywhere, any time. And for most office workers that is what they do today.

Today, the need for office workers to be working to the clock seems ridiculous. Most are checking their emails the moment they wake up, they are replying to emails on the commute to work and they are fielding telephone calls from their global offices at 10pm. The clock has become irrelevant as a way to gauge whether a worker is earning the money their company is paying them. Isn’t it time our companies started to find other ways to measure whether a worker is producing enough work?

Wouldn’t it be nice if companies realised that project based working is a much more efficient way to measure an employee’s performance? An employee has a given number of projects to work on each quarter and they are evaluated on whether they get those projects completed on time and with the required quality. It doesn’t matter if they decide not to go in to the office on a Monday, Wednesday or Friday. What matters is they show up to scheduled meetings on time, they reply to their emails in good time and they deliver a completed project when the project is due. It’s actually quite simple. Of course there needs be a cultural change and a mindset shift, but we are humans, we are very good at adapting to new ways of doing things, we’ve been doing it for thousands of years now. After all, we had no problems coming off the farms and moving in to the factories.

Companies that have adopted a project based working system are companies that are producing amazing products and services, have highly motivated employees and have extremely low staff turnover rates. Their staff suffer less stress, are more creative and actually love the work they are doing. Companies like Doist, the company behind the brilliant to do list manager, Todoist. Doist is a 100% remote company. The staff I have communicated with there are motivated and clearly love the work they are doing. Their turnover rate is very low and they get an awful lot of work done.

It is time for companies to change. Stop asking employees to be in the office by 9:00am and stay there until 5:30pm. The office is not a creative place to come up with the next blockbuster product. Let your employees be free, have trust in them to be brilliant and if they do shirk off, fire them and employ staff who want to work for you, who want to serve your customers and who want to be a part of something really special. We have the technology to be in constant contact, we have the tools to be incredibly creative. We do not need to be held prisoners 9 to 5 in an office environment that generates unnecessary levels of stress, boredom and a complete lack of creativity. Let your staff be free to be creative, energised and full of passion. You will very quickly see the results in your performance.

And really that is what it boils down to. Trust. Too many companies still do not trust their employees to do the required work. They want to supervise, micro-manage and watch over their staff the full 8 to 10 hours they are working. In today’s digital world, that it just plain stupid. If you want highly energised, motivated staff, let them free. Let your staff work from wherever they want, whenever they want. The increase in productivity will astound you and the creativity this simple change brings will amaze you. All it will take is you having a little trust in your employees.

Carl Pullein is the author of Your Digital Life: Everything you need to know to get your life organised and put technology to work for you, a book about how to get yourself organised in the twenty-first century

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