I once had an assistant working on my team, who would call each team member daily, sometimes multiple times, for an update.
First, he would send an email. Then, one of my other colleagues would remark, “Did you see that email?” Finally, the assistant would call me 15 minutes later to check if I received the same email.
My colleague was constantly interrupting my most important work, often to focus on something significantly less important.
In one case, I had a proposal ready to present to one of my clients. My assistant phoned to ask if I presented our proposal and I explained I could not, until a set date in 2 weeks time, when my client would return from holidays. For the next 2 weeks, that same assistant called me every day to ask the same question.
Talk about 50 First Dates! It was like meeting for the first time, every day… but this was just one of many questions. Multiply that for every client and conversations happening between every colleague. You will soon realise the problem is more than an inconvenience.
50 First Dates is a comedy about a woman named Lucy, (Drew Barrymore) who gets amnesia as the result of an accident, so her partner Henry (Adam Sandler) has to go through the same routine every day to remind her what happened in the days before. I felt like Henry, when I had to repeat myself every day.
Back to my office. Wait, not my office. Every modern day office. Hives of busyness, not productivity. Spaces where we continue to perpetuate myths like multi-tasking and open plan offices.
Managers often feel like their teams are productive because they can see it. They’re tapping away on keyboards, answering calls, interrupting each other’s work with a quick glance or, “Are you busy?”, to prompt someone to start thinking about what they need to do next. Often this detracts attention from the task at hand, resulting in mistakes or substandard work output.
Each of us need to pause and ask, “Is what I am about to do the most valuable use of my time?”. We need to return our offices to productive calm in preference to chaotic environments of mixed productivity.
Managers need to stop protecting these silly trends that proved ineffective, sometimes decades ago. Stop advertising for multi-taskers to fill every role. Offices need to be re-designed. Teams need to work smarter together and leaders need to address the complexities of a modern, flexible and evolving workforce.
What can you do in your workspace today, so your team is more effective? Regardless of whether you’re a manager or one of the team, you can possibly see smarter ways to work, meet, communicate and collaborate. Keep asking yourself and your team, “Is there a smarter way to do this?”.
We live in one of the most competitive ages in history. Extreme focus of resources and energy will set some businesses apart and indeed, may very well be essential for business survival in the coming years.