Paul Graham on the traditional office

“To me the most demoralizing aspect of the traditional office is that you’re supposed to be there at certain times. There are usually a few people in a company who really have to, but the reason most employees work fixed hours is that the company can’t measure their productivity.

The basic idea behind office hours is that if you can’t make people work, you can at least prevent them from having fun. If employees have to be in the building a certain number of hours a day, and are forbidden to do non-work things while there, then they must be working. In theory. In practice they spend a lot of their time in a no-man’s land, where they’re neither working nor having fun.

If you could measure how much work people did, many companies wouldn’t need any fixed workday. You could just say: this is what you have to do. Do it whenever you like, wherever you like. If your work requires you to talk to other people in the company, then you may need to be here a certain amount. Otherwise we don’t care.

That may seem utopian, but it’s what we told people who came to work for our company. There were no fixed office hours. I never showed up before 11 in the morning. But we weren’t saying this to be benevolent. We were saying: if you work here we expect you to get a lot done. Don’t try to fool us just by being here a lot.”<

…and on management blunders…

“Many employees would like to build great things for the companies they work for, but more often than not management won’t let them. How many of us have heard stories of employees going to management and saying, please let us build this thing to make money for you– and the company saying no? The most famous example is probably Steve Wozniak, who originally wanted to build microcomputers for his then-employer, HP. And they turned him down. On the blunderometer, this episode ranks with IBM accepting a non-exclusive license for DOS. But I think this happens all the time. We just don’t hear about it usually, because to prove yourself right you have to quit and start your own company, like Wozniak did.”

from What business can learn from Open Source

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