Is the office the best place to get things done?

There's a reason why we're seeing more and more remote workers: It can be impossible to get things done at the office. Here's how you can fix that

Is the office the best place to get things done?

Business Strategy


by Justin Reynolds

Traditional thinking tells us that the office is the best place to get things done. Why else would employers spend so much money building offices or leasing them?

But is the office really the most accommodating environment for work? According to Jason Fried, the cofounder of Basecamp, for many organizations the answer is a straightforward “no.”

In 2010, Fried gave a TED Talk focusing on the fact that, in his experience, workers don’t really tend to get the majority of their important work done at the office. (If you can’t watch the video, here’s the transcript.) This is primarily due to the fact that our workdays are filled up with a never-ending amount of distractions.

When is the last time you went to the office and had a meaningful block — say, five hours — of completely uninterrupted time? It’s probably been a while. This is part of the reason why remote workers are becoming more common at organizations around the globe.

While some organizations think that social media and the internet are the roots of the majority of work-related distractions, Fried blames managers and company cultures that encourage meetings upon meetings for making it harder to get things done at the office.

Despite their good intentions, “managers are basically people whose job it is to interrupt people,” Fried said in his TED Talk. “They don’t really do the work, so they make sure everyone else is doing the work, which is an interruption. They keep interrupting you at the wrong time, while you’re actually trying to do something they’re paying you to do, they tend to interrupt you.”

But there’s something even worse that managers do, Fried argues: schedule meetings.

“Meetings are just toxic, terrible, poisonous things during the day at work,” Fried said. “We all know this to be true, and you would never see a spontaneous meeting called by employees. The manager calls the meeting so the employees can all come together, and it’s an incredibly disruptive thing to do — to say ‘hey look, we’re going to bring 10 people together right now and have a meeting.’ What are the chances that all 10 people are ready to stop?”

Making matters worse, meetings “procreate,” Fried said. “One meeting tends to lead to another meeting, which tends to lead to another meeting. There’s often too many people in the meetings, and they’re very, very expensive to the organization.”

Fried offers three potential solutions to these problems that, if implemented, could help the office become the best place to get things done once more:

  • No-talk Thursdays: Once a month, forbid your workers from speaking (within reason) on a Thursday afternoon. See how much work gets done. “Giving them four hours of quiet time at the office is going to be incredibly valuable. If you try that, I think you’ll agree, and hopefully you can do it more often.”

  • Use passive collaboration: Instead of collaborating in person, try to use instant messages, email, and collaboration platforms to get the job done. You’re likely to find your team’s productivity shoots up because there will be fewer distractions. Remember, there’s a reason why remote workers are more productive. “There are very, very few things that are urgent, that need to happen, that need to be answered right this second.”

  • Cancel your next meeting: If you have the power to do so, cancel your next run-of-the-mill team meeting. “I don’t mean move it; I mean just erase it from memory. You’ll find out that everything will be just fine. People will have a more open morning. They can actually think.”

Is your team being held back by distractions, interruptions, and too many meetings? If so, it’s time for you to make some changes to your company culture. Reduce the number of meetings you have and let your employees work flexibly. Team productivity will likely skyrocket before you know it.


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