‘Work is Not a Place’ is one of my favorite catch-phrases these days. I use it to talk about how people can work anywhere, why telecommuting makes sense, why commercial construction may be affected by a trend towards working away from offices. I believe it too. Still, no matter the benefits of allowing people to work by themselves, I also believe there are some benefits from interaction and that companies need to find a way to get people together on occasion, Evidence on the importance of this comes from a new study detailed in this month’s Harvard Business Review.
The study was actually meant to measure the productivity of those working in an IT center rather than at home. The conclusions are relevant however, given that the point was to measure individual achievement when looking at workers who configured IT server systems. Going in, the researchers conjectured that the ‘best’ workers would presumably be the ones who got the most servers configured in a day.
What the researchers found, however, was that workers could get things done quicker by speaking with ‘informal experts’. That is, there were identifiable people who almost everyone would approach to ask for help with on their tasks. Obviously, those ‘helpers’ ended up getting somewhat less done in a day than otherwise. However, their help made a measurable difference in what others accomplished. ‘Give those helpers a raise!’ was the conclusion of the researchers, and of course they deserve one.
To me, the researchers also hit upon another point: a little interaction can go a long way towards getting things done. It is a challenge that any of us who spend time working solo can identify with when we need systems help and realize that there is no systems department to call. Companies who allow workers to work off-site presumably provide that kind of support, but perhaps they need to go further.
Given the proven benefits of employee interaction, it is clear that even when people are not working together they should be able to connect with each other and ask for help and opinions when needed. Maybe that gets done through regularly skyping with colleagues, or through social media or even old-fashioned phone calls. Workers, even if they do not work together day to day, also need to ‘know’ each other through actual, in-person interactions from time to time so that they can call on each other when needed.
Work if not a place, and a lot can get done by those working solo. Still, it makes sense to remember that the end product can be more than the sum of the parts if a few extra steps are taken.