Why The Office Is The Worst Place For Work

Not getting any work done? Get out of the office to get in the zone.

Despite the fact that many of us spend 40 hours or more a week in offices, it’s likely not the place where you’re most productive.

Jason Fried, author of Remote: Office Not Required says the majority of office workers don’t actually get their work done at the office. "Offices have become places where interruptions happen," he says. Fried claims offices, and especially those with open floor plans, offer chunks of work time—15 minutes here, a half hour there—between meetings, conference calls and other interruptions, but the real creative work, the type that requires concentration, happens during non-peak times or when employees are away from the office in an interruption-free zone.

"If you ask people where they go when they really need to get something done, very few people will ever say the office and if they do, they’ll say really early in the mornings or really late at night or on the weekends when no one’s around," says Fried. This, of course, cuts into people’s family and personal time.

Although it seems we’re working more, Fried says we’re putting in longer hours but accomplishing less because we’re not actually getting anything done at the office. Stepping away from the office, says Fried, is the best way to get meaningful work done. While for some, that place may be a coffee shop, for others it may be a library or a home office.

But a coffee shop can be noisy too, so why would it be better than working in an office?

Fried says the reason some people can work more effectively in a coffee shop than their office is because the type of noise is different. "If you’re in an office working on a project and other people around you are talking about the project, it’s very difficult to block that out, but if you’re in a coffee shop and there’s white noise and people are having conversations that don’t involve you at all and have nothing to do with the work you’re doing, it’s easy to block them out," he says.

The anonymity the coffee shop creates is also a draw. The constant buzz of activity generates a productivity-inducing energy, but since the activity has nothing to do with your own work and you aren’t concerned someone is going to come up to you and ask you to do something or pull you into a meeting, you’re better able to feed off that energy and get work done.

This doesn’t mean we should do away with the office entirely. Fried admits face-to-face time is still valuable. "There are benefits to social interaction at work, but most work is ultimately solo work," says Fried. While it makes sense to have a gathering place to brainstorm ideas every once and a while, once tasks have been delegated, everyone disperses to their own areas to do the real work.

Enlightened managers can help turn their office into productive work space in three stages:

1. Provide private areas for individuals to retreat to when they need the space to be creative and time to think.

2. Schedule silent time: an afternoon without meetings, conversations, knocking on doors, or emails, just employees working in a quiet environment on the tasks they’ve been assigned.

3. Offer the option to take work outside the office. Fried suggests starting slow, providing the option to work away from the office one day per month, advancing to twice a month, then once a week. "It may not work for everybody but most people will probably find they got a lot more work done the day they were away from the office," says Fried.

[Image: Flickr user Thomas Long]

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  • Andy Core

    I totally agree. Most of the time, working in the office feels like a string of meetings that give us no time for work and require us to do work from home. I'm not sure why some of the comments are so negative. It's different for every person, but creative work requires less distraction, and the office is full of them. http://andycore.com/more-energy-at-work/

  • Oh my goodness, such a unique idea.......grow up. The person in the coffee shop is producing jack squat. They live in between the giants of our economy (who prefer the office environment) and those that would lose their jobs if they headed off to a coffee shop to work. You should write about the downfall of working "out of the office" if you want to stay current.

  • Nobel prize winning physicist, Richard Feynman, used to do his best work in strip clubs. Seriously! Makes working in coffee shops kinda tame by comparison.

  • This article makes some good points, but I'd also say, that in my experience, some of the best brainstorming and the "aha" moments come in impromptu small-group discussions with co-workers. We riff off each others' ideas and new innovations emerge. There's also a place for lively, interactive, office environments. Trouble is, there are always co-workers who are gossipers, downers, complainers and naysayers. Those individual folks- not the office environment - are the productivity killers.

  • Great read. Working from home is definitely going to become more popular over the next few years, even for just a few days a week!

  • Carol Bryant

    Love this. I have been a telecommuter for years and could never go back. When I have to go into the office, I spend 2 days catching up when I get home. I am more efficient and effective working solo. I still travel and have remote conferences, but I am best when left to work on my own. Great piece.