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Is 9-5 Office Life a Thing of the Past?

Woman working at home

Dolly Parton’s days of working 9-5 will pretty soon be a thing of the past, it seems. Working remotely is already pretty popular in the likes of NY, Berlin and San Francisco, where tech savvy millennials no longer feel the need to chain their staff to desks in order to get them to work. Sounds ideal, right? What we’re wondering, though, is how soon it will be before this business model takes hold in Ireland, or whether it will at all.

Are we ready to self direct? Do we really want to spend more time alone, working from home or from Starbucks? Sure, the idea of working with hours that you can tailor to suit your own life – whether you have kids or live in obscure corners of the country – sounds ideal, but don’t we Irish thrive on a bit of structure? And what about the company, the water-cooler banter, the office gossip; wouldn’t we go mad without it? Is our work ethic really so strong that our productivity wouldn’t dip as we move from bed to couch to cafe, donning our sweats and dining on dim sum?

Reading what Automattic CEO Matt Mullenweg has to say about the greatest office perk of all being the freedom to work whenever and wherever you want, I suspect I’m stuck in a time warp. As per Quartz, what employees value more than anything these days is autonomy, as opposed to a particularly Irish trend of micro-management. Which do you prefer?

Challenging the supposed ridiculousness of our standard operations, Mullenweg was quoted at an event last year as saying:
“We have this factory model, and we think someone’s working if they show up in the morning and they’re not drunk, they don’t sleep at their desks, they leave at the right time. But that has so little to do with what you create. And we all know people who create a lot without fitting into those norms.”

(President Obama, enjoying a Google Hang Out)

Recently, he explained in the Harvard Business Review how they then have the opportunity to recruit the best in the business from all over the world:

“Many of our workers were self-employed or freelance at some point in their careers, which helps them understand how to be self-directed.”

Meanwhile, Mullenweg’s team leader Scott Berkun tells Quartz: “We have this belief that most work is not distributed, that it’s local. But people are spending most of their time looking at screens. If you are looking at screens, you could be anywhere.”

But can you really problem solve or make progress as a team without being in each other’s physical company? Apparently so.

Where enthusiastic bosses elsewhere will invest lots of money in creating a really cool, inspiring office space, complete with foosball table and Red Bull mini fridge, Mullenweg invests in the odd blow-out group event, keeping things ticking over with Google Hang Outs and an online communications system that renders the now seemingly archaic notion of email redundant.

Quartz references the research done that backs up the notion that working in an office is actually almost bad for us.

“Around 70% of Americans work in open-plan offices, and research shows that the open spaces actually have a negative impact on productivity and overall happiness. In his paper “The Transparency Paradox,” Harvard assistant professor Ethan Bernstein measured the effect of privacy on employee productivity, and concluded that there is a cost to too much transparency. “Privacy is just as important for performance,” he writes in an upcoming issue of Harvard Business Review.” – Quartz.com

Would you trust yourself to work well in this scenario? Equally, would you trust your employees to deliver the goods?

Caroline Foran @CarolineForan

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