Why are we working industrial hours in the digital era?

I was reading an article the other day about companies with ‘great benefits’ now allowing their employees to take three months off or more… But there’s a catch: they have to log in and check their emails frequently, sometimes they even have to join the occasional meeting.

I am not sure what to make of it, but somehow it sounds wrong. I think we are doing it all wrong. It’s impressive how much we (humans) have evolved, all the technologies we came up with, supposedly to make our lives easier, but that are in fact only trapping us into crazy lifestyles.

And the craziest thing is we’ve created all this stuff but somehow we’re sticking to archaic systems like 9-to-5 and five-day weeks, which make no sense in current times. And in reality it’s 9-to-5 plus and five-day week plus, because we’re ‘always connected’.

Time is precious, you know?
We give away our time, as if it is nothing, when it is our most precious gift. If you are always logged in, then when do you log off? When are you free for yourself? As one of my favorite people, Ricardo Semler, says:

“We’ve all learned how to answer emails on Sunday, but none of us has learned to go to the movies Monday afternoon. Until we learn that, we are email slaves…”

This is what I don’t get, what I have never gotten, and why I know for sure I will never ‘be successful’ or ‘climb the ladder’ in the corporate world.
Exhibit A: I don’t want to;
Exhibit B: I have learned early on that if I work on a Sunday I should go to the movies on Monday, because I love me and my time is precious.

Being both an extremely productive and lazy person (yes, it is possible) I learned early on that the quickest I’d do my chores, the quickest I could go have fun. And I always did my chores impeccably, after all if you do it well at first, you don’t have to come back to it, and you’ll have more free time. And it works: I was always a good student, I wasn’t the best but I had good grades. However I never spent too much time studying. How? I didn’t like to procrastinate. Still don’t. I’d do all the homework, studying, etc., in just a few hours – I’d honestly set myself a time to do it –  so I could go watch TV, play with my sister or the neighbours, do the ‘procrastinating stuff’ but without the guilt (ain’t that a concept!). At some point, as I got older, I even stopped doing homework. I just didn’t see the point: as long as I paid attention in class, that should be enough right? (It did get me into trouble a couple of times; I guess some teachers didn’t believe their teaching skills were enough?…)

Freedom increases productivity
As I went to Uni my grades got even better because I had so much freedom: I was in charge of my own time. As long as I’d plan properly, I could do all the studying, writing, group projects, dissertations, etc., and I’d still have plenty of time to go to the beach and all the parties. When I started working part-time for an events’ company, I kept this up. Get the job done – properly (never had any complaints about my work, ever!) – and then get out of there and go do my own stuff.

Because I was responsible and accountable for my own work and my own time, I’d always give my best to deliver the best in the best possible timing. Because then I’d be free to be lazy, have fun or just do whatever I wanted. Even if all I wanted to do was nothing (I love me some ‘nothing’ time).

Enter corporate world…

The problem started when I reached the ‘real’ workplace. See, you can’t fit this kind of productivity into a 9-to-5 job, it simply doesn’t work that way. You can’t box-in creativity and productivity like that.

Fact is, we can get loads done some days, some days we’re busier, we’ll even log in when we get home at night and power trough, and other days there’s not that much to do or we’re just not that inspired. But to my surprise,  I realised that – oh the horror – we’re not supposed to leave when that happens! Even if you have nothing to do, you’re meant to stay and stare at your screen until five o’clock (probably at least six if you want to impress the bosses)!

If you are running a company and you believe that keeping your employees tied to fixed hours increases productivity I have to say my friend, you are utterly wrong. In a wonderful article about Digital Nomads (here) Jacob Laukaitis, a digital nomad himself, says:

It’s become increasingly clear that time spent in the office and productivity aren’t necessarily related. What one employee can achieve in four hours may take another one eight. Some are more efficient in the morning, and others work better in the evening; some like working in an office, while others don’t.

But it doesn’t have to be this way
Ricardo Semler, a man who has grown his company from 4 million US dollars in 1982 to 212 million US dollars in 2003 (that’s $208 million in 21 years, 9.9 millions/year BTW), strongly believes this. Not only does he believe it, he applied this philosophy at his company, amongst other ‘radical’ ideas that would scare the shit of many CEO’s out there.  He lets his own employees decide on their working hours (and their wages for that matter, which are all out in the open for all employees to see). Depending on their roles, they can work from home, or say, if they have delivered/achieved the weekly target by Wednesday, then off you go, enjoy your spare time, see you next week. They don’t have gyms, slides, or any of that stuff, they have something much better: empowerment. Oh, you know what else they have? Factories.
Their employees are treated like people, you know, adults, who can take responsibility, whose ideas are worth listening to, who can be accountable for their own work. Who can say ‘I will deliver’ and they do. And why wouldn’t you, when the incentive is free time?

I know a lot of people would thoroughly dislike this. Truth is a lot of people love to procrastinate: book meetings for the sake of seeing other people, send endless emails with much ado about nothing just to show they’re busy, pretend to type angrily, or look very seriously at their screens, even if they’re watching cat videos… But part of me wonders, if it it’s because they’re being boxed in and so they just play the part?… After all they never really get a say in things…

I can’t cope with this, it’s not for me. To make me stay at the office, for the sake of staying, because those are the ‘official working hours’, literally sucks my soul away.
I just can’t put my head around it… I honestly do not get it.

Why choose unproductive?
Why? Why, why why would you rather have your employees sitting at the office from 4pm to 5.30pm doing their online shopping or checking Facebook, rather than let them go home if they’ve delivered the work?  Or maybe they haven’t but they’re tired and there’s no way they’ll be productive now. Why? Can you not see how unproductive this is? Not to mention unreasonable if you’re thinking of asking them to log in ‘later’ or ‘tomorrow really early’ for a conference call.

See, this is where I have a problem. And I understand it’s a big one. I am, quite literally, not cut out for it. But then again, I do not wish to have a ‘career’. I don’t even like the word. I just want to keep learning new things, different things, to be useful, and if possible, help others while at it.

In that respect I am not worried though, the productive side of me comes up with so many projects for myself that the lazy side gets angry sometimes. Not to worry, I always save time for leisure, or to do absolutely nothing. I just find it too important to leave it out.

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