Happiness and the end of the working week

Nick Cernis — №1 with David Allen

Pounding their way along 16.2 miles of pavement, train track, or gridlocked tarmac to arrive at their Official Place of Work, most will sit down, throw six triple-espressos into throats scorched by artificial air, and rub eyes zapped by fluorescent death rays from above.

Those who succeed in wrenching themselves into what passes for the mortal realm are then forced to hunt down jobs to fill their day, an eight-hour stretch of meaningless meetings, the constant shrill of telephones, and having to listen to Suzie from Sales tell Sally that story about Sarah seducing Simon’s sister. Again.

Welcome to Crazytown. Population: you

Despite all the obvious warnings, like the cubicle stress that ends in Godzilla-style office rampages, all of this is somehow considered normal. Commuting is a fact of life, isn’t it? Or perhaps, like me, you find a dark humor in wasting our lives by physically travelling to work in the Internet age. If it wasn’t so sad it might be funny.

I blame the accountants

So what went wrong? Many years ago, Earth’s Universal Accountant got sloppy updating the monthly work-life balance sheet, forgot to carry a zero, and ended up with a half-eaten nuclear hot dog and a basket full of toenail clippings from his mother-in-law. Oh well, he thought. I’ll just brush it all under the carpet. Who’ll know? Then he rushed home to Cloud 17b to forget about the whole nasty affair, and we’ve been practically pissing overtime ever since.

But let’s not blame him. Celestial accountants make mistakes too. Our problem remains: this business we call business is broken. So how do we fix it? And what’s the big problem, anyway?

The problem with problems

…is that they often come in threes. Business became so broken, in fact, that it needed two friends just to prop it up at the end of a long day. Here’s how the terrible triplets shape up:

  1. We’re championing profits instead of people

    Business is a numbers game. It’s optimized for the bottom line. More often than not, people come second. Most businesses are not providing us with an environment that’s fit to stable us for our working lives.

    The problem lies in the question that drives them, often: “how can we make an extra $10m this year?” My answer: who cares? The question should be this: “how can we create a company that people will fight to be a part of?” Solve that first and you’ll fill your company with smart, smiling faces who actually give a damn about making your business a success. Then your profit will come. Want proof? Just look at Zappos.

  2. We’re commuting instead of computing

    The daily commute is killing us. It’s also putting a drain on the planet which is, at worst, throttling it slowly and, at best, terribly inconsiderate of us all.

    The truth is, if businesses made some simple, cost-effective changes to the way they operate, the vast majority of us could work remotely from home on our own schedules using simple technology that already exists. (Don’t worry, I’m about to tell you how to make it happen.)

  3. We’re selling hours instead of output

    The base unit of work is wrong. For years, we’ve been trading the hours from nine to five for cash, whether we’ve actually got any work to do in them or not. The result is a series of invented chores, the clickedyclick of the inbox refresh button, and the clock watching committees that feature so heavily in office life.

    What’s worse, we’ve gotten so used to having to fill that prescribed time with mostly meaningless twitchery that, when handed that golden rolling pin called retirement and told to cook whatever we please, many go crazy with boredom. Then we acquire the world’s largest kitchen tin and simply bake ourselves into a fruitcakelined grave: an icing-topped end to an otherwise bittersweet life.

The solution is simple: work smarter

Doom and gloom take a back seat from here on. It’s time for some positive thinking! We need a simple change in our working habits that’s easy to implement and optimized for people, health, families, communities and the environment. A change that takes advantage of the Internet age while enhancing our quality of life and without affecting our bottom lines. Too much to ask for? I think not. Here are my simple solutions:

The solution for employers

Want your employees to be passionate about their jobs? Want to make your life easier too? Then start optimizing for happiness today by rolling out my easy four-phase plan to a healthier, happier business:

Phase 1: Change the working environment

The first thing to do is to create a working environment to be proud of. Building an enjoyable office environment is cheaper than you think. I’ll be running some fun ideas on how to create a great office at work or at home soon.

Phase 2: End the working week

Forget about 9-5. Stop buying your employees’ lives and buy their ideas and output instead. Trust them to manage their own workload in the hours they choose, regardless of whether it fills the day or not. Do the same yourself! It’ll do wonders for your health and your sanity. (N.B. If you currently bill by the hour, billing by the task instead will help make this work better.)

Phase 3: Have a work from home day

Test out working from home for one day a week for a month. Make sure you give people everything they need to work from home (including you!). Hire laptops if you have to. Tell employees that, if the trial works, you’ll make it permanent. Tell them that if it doesn’t, you’ll be going back to a regular five-day week. The results will surprise you. People will be happier and more will get done.

Phase 4: Offer an option to work from home full time

Reward those who’ve shown that they can be more productive from home with the option to do it full time. (If you can’t trust any of your staff to do that, why the hell did you hire them in the first place?) And, whatever you do, don’t cut their pay.

Be bold. Be successful. Be respected. Optimize for happiness in your business today.

The solution for employees

Phase 1: Get people talking

Send people this magazine and show them this article. Make people aware that there’s a very real and obtainable alternative to the daily commute and 9-5 slog. When you go to phase 2, you want people to be aware of the options.

Phase 2: Push for a work from home day

Call a quick, informal meeting with your boss, set a short agenda with a simple goal (one work from home day a month, staggered across the company if needs be?), come out with some actionable results (like a calendar date for the first trial day, and the name of the person who’s responsible for spreading the word). Then follow-up in two weeks to make sure things are moving.

Phase 3: Prove you can be trusted

When given the chance to work from home for a day, for goodness’ sake, don’t screw it up. This is what you’ve been fighting for. Yes, it’s possible to work less and still get the same done (that was the whole point), but don’t piss this chance away. Prove you can be trusted.

Phase 4: Have a get out plan

I will warn you now. Being the one to suggest flexible working hours and championing the work-from-home lifestyle could backfire. It takes a brave heart and a keen mind to make it work, but it’s worth it. I recommend that you have a get-out plan. If your boss proves too stubborn to be flexible, or your colleagues misconstrue working smarter for slacking off, it helps to have a plan B elsewhere.

To avoid these kind of problems, I suggest two things: a) champion the work from home lifestyle for everyone (and not just yourself) and b) take Tim Ferriss’ advice — present home-working as a solution to the problem of low morale, high stress and dwindling productivity.

Exceptions to the rule

Naturally, remote working isn’t for everyone. And it’s not for every business, if only because a three-course candlelit dinner with wine isn’t as satisfying once it’s been through your fax machine, and brain surgery isn’t much fun when you’re forced to self-operate from instructions sent by email.

The difference between an exception and an excuse is simple: deep down, you always know when you’re lying to yourself. If you think of yourself as an exception just because it’s easier not to take action, perhaps it’s time to fight to make a positive change in your life or company.

Take action today!

The future is yesterday, folks. The cruise ship to a happier, smarter working life is already sailing for tens of market-leading companies filled with the smiling faces of people who love their jobs. Why not jump on board?

Photo: © Sylvain Bourdos / Flickr.com CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Nick cernis

Nick Cernis

Nick Cernis is a writer and web developer from the UK with a passion for paper productivity. He writes at „Put Things Off ”.

Visit Nicks’s blog – Put Things Off