Executives, especially in Silicon Valley, have been on a concerted campaign to force their remote workers to return to the office. A few academic and/or journalist writers have tried to provide support by pointing to “studies” that show that when people work together they are more productive. On the other hand, there are studies (see links below) that show the opposite.

I recently listened to an interview with a Silicon Valley entrepreneur who wants employees in the office three days per week. The reason—meetings. He thinks meetings are great. And looking at the “Brady Bunch” gallery of faces unsettles him. He needs to focus on one face at a time.

I have always found meetings inherently unproductive wastes of time. Maybe if everyone is in the office impromptu one-on-one meetings have some value. But, those also interrupt one or both people from the thought work they need to be doing.

I also listen to Jason Fried and David Heinemeier-Hansson of 37 Signals and Michael Sliwinski of Nozbe and recently game developer Justin Gary. All run thriving companies with no office. Fried and Sliwinski have written books on the success of remote work.

The purpose of this recent movement is really control. Managers who do not know how to lead rely on control mechanisms to keep track of employees. I had a boss once whom I informed that I was going to spend more time working from home. “Well, as long as you’re working,” he replied.

How would you even calculate most knowledge worker productivity? Number of reports per week? Number of quotes sent per day? Projects per month?

People making things must be where the things are being made. And the number of cars or barrels or bottles can be counted. But reports? For the most part, who cares? Who reads them?

Productivity is nonsense in the knowledge worker domain. More important are impact and effectiveness. Peter Drucker saw this 40 years ago.

Questions for us:

What impact have you had on the success of the business or organization today?

How effective was your latest initiative for improving workflow?

These unfortunately cannot always be easily measured with a number. But everyone knows your impact and effectiveness. And for most, that doesn’t being chained to a cubicle. After all, how many CEOs are in the office every day? And how many are flying around the globe every week?

A good article from Forbes on the myths of productivity.

A study on knowledge worker productivity.

Measuring and Improving Productivity

Harvard Business Review, Knowledge Workers More Productive from Home

From Microsoft, new performance equation in the age of AI

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