Jobs and the Future of Work

Here's what a 'no talking' day might do to your productivity


Banishing talking or implementing work from home days could create better productivity in the workplace. Image: REUTERS/Aly Song

Meik Wiking
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The following is an excerpt from 'The Little Book of Lykke' by Meik Wiking:

Imagine having a full day when you are by yourself at work. There are no meetings. You won't find yourself in a conference room with eight colleagues listening to only two of those people discussing what the right solution is to some issue or other. Your boss is not going to call you and ask for a progress report on the IT project, and no emails are ticking in with 'URGENT' in the subject line.

It is a nice dream, isn't it?

Imagine what you could do with that level of freedom. Imagine how much work you would get done that day. Profound work, work that needs your full attention and concentration. Work which you have chosen to do and enjoy doing.

Broadly speaking, there are three things that take away our freedom at work: meetings, managers and mails. A lot of us try to fill in the ten-or-twenty-minute holes between meetings with work that requires concentration and long uninterrupted periods of time to be done properly.

According to Jason Fried, serial entrepreneur and author of Remote: Office Not Required, meetings and managers undermine our productivity.

In short, meetings are employees talking about work that they have done or work that they are going to do, and managers are people whose job it is to interrupt people. Both are killing our productivity.

Have 'Not allowed to talk at work' days

As a solution, Fried suggests that, instead of casual Fridays, 'no-talk Thursdays' should be introduced. These should be days when your team is not allowed to talk at work. Pick a Thursday — say, the first or last of every month — and make it the rule that nobody in the office can talk to each other that day. No interruptions. No phone calls. No meetings. Just silence. Now work on whatever you need to work on.

We tried it at the Happiness Research Institute. For us, it didn't work to have a full day, or even an afternoon, when we couldn't talk to each other, so we modified it and introduced daily 'creative zones'. Two hours of uninterrupted time to get stuff that needed full concentration done.

Later, I discovered that Intel had experimented with a similar 'do-not-disturb sign on the door' model: Tuesday-morning quiet time. On two US sites, three hundred engineers and managers agreed to minimize interruptions on Tuesday mornings. No meetings were scheduled, phone calls went to voicemail, emails and IM were shut down. The aim was to ensure four hours of 'thinking time' — and to measure the effect this had. The pilot lasted seven months, 71 per cent of the participants recommended extending it to other departments and Intel found that the trial had been 'successful in improving employee effectiveness, efficiency and quality of life for numerous employees in diverse job roles'.

Like Intel, I found having uninterrupted time useful and productive but, like the Happiness Research Institute, your workplace might need a different modification again. For some people, no-talk Thursdays or quiet Tuesday mornings are similar in concept to working from home. No meetings, no interruptions.

In Denmark, there is a high level of autonomy and flexibility in the workplace and people are often allowed to carry out a proportion of their work at home. This is part of the reason why 94 per cent of Danes say they are happy with their working conditions, at least according to the Eurobarometer, which has been measuring public opinion on behalf of the European Commission since 1973. However, I think a bigger reason for this happiness is that 58 per cent of Danes (according to YouGov) say they would continue to work even if they no longer had to for financial reasons — say, if they won 10 million kroner in the lottery.

Work can — and should — be a source of happiness; and the proper design and functioning of the workplace can push more of us closer to this. And one part of this proper design is to provide people with an element of freedom: free time without interruptions. This may also entail not showing up at the office.

Have you read?

Happiness tip: do-not-disturb initiatives

Try out initiatives like Tuesday-morning quiet time which may improve your sense of freedom at work. Start a conversation at work about the ways in which flexibility and autonomy might improve employee satisfaction and productivity. Could you or your boss introduce concepts like quiet Tuesday mornings — carve out two or three hours every Tuesday morning in which no meetings are scheduled, no phone calls made or emails sent? Convince them to have a trial period of a month or two, and then evaluate it in terms of employee satisfaction and productivity. Or you could suggest work-from-home Wednesdays. If an employee saves two hours driving to work, they might even put in an extra hour for the company — and still gain an hour of free time.

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The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

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