How (and why) we experimented with working smarter—not harder.
The headlines are screaming, and it sounds like they’re screaming at us: a serious and dedicated but nevertheless fun-loving collection of 28 creative personalities who assemble each weekday in the wide-open workplace that is April Six San Francisco.
- Why open offices are bad for us —BBC, January, 2017
- Open-Plan Offices Are the Worst —Slate, May, 2016
- The Open-Office Concept Is Dead —Fortune, May, 2016
Our full-service agency is rapidly approaching the end of our second decade, but we’re relatively new in the U.S.—just 3 years old. We’re growing fast, which is naturally a good thing. And we’re experiencing growing pains, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
We’re also committed to fulfilling our global vision: “To be the world’s most respected and inspired technology marketing agency for our people and our clients.”
Is constant collaboration absolutely necessary in a creative workplace, or does it actually hinder productivity and efficiency?
Pressure makes perfect
The pressure’s on to be great in so many ways—strategically, creatively, operationally. That’s good. We thrive on pressure, and we’re striving to realize our vision by acting (and reacting) in every way possible.
But how do we do that in our modern, industry-standard, wide-open, wonderfully dog-friendly office space, which simultaneously breeds conversation, collaboration, and unavoidable, frequent, work-interrupting distractions? There’s even a growing body of research that confirms how incredibly disruptive those kinds of distractions can be.
"Eighty-two percent of all interrupted work is resumed on the same day. But here's the bad news—it takes an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to get back to the task."
— Kermit Pattison, “Worker Interrupted: The Cost of Task Switching,” Fast Company
Inspired by an innovative idea
April Six U.S. Managing Director Jill Melchionda was motivated to experiment after hearing a podcast featuring an interview with Jason Fried, the CEO of communication/collaboration tool Basecamp. Fried is something of an iconoclast among technology executives, and in the interview, he admits to “always” having been annoyed with the way businesses work.
“I think there’s actually an epidemic of over-collaboration and over-communication,” he said. “But real creative work, especially, is usually done quietly, solitary sort of work, where people are in a flow or in a focus mode where they’re able to just focus on the stuff and not be distracted and interrupted. It’s very hard to do really good work when you’re constantly being interrupted every 15 minutes, every five minutes, every 20 minutes, every 30 minutes.”
That struck a nerve with Jill.
“Wherever I’ve worked, including at April Six, there’s always been a feeling among the majority of employees that we have too many meetings, too many interruptions, and too much noise,” Jill said. “So, what if we collaborated less? “What if we removed collaboration from one of the world’s most collaborative industries? What if we implemented processes that could help our staff focus more to get more done?”
“I think there’s actually an epidemic of over-collaboration and over-communication.”
— Jason Fried, CEO, Basecamp
Testing the hypothesis
Jill continued: “I thought, ‘Let’s do an experiment. Let’s test the hypothesis that there may in fact be ‘an epidemic of over-collaboration and over-communication’ and see what the outcome is.”
And so, a series of internal projects was born.
We devised three experiments around a set of hypotheses and conducted them separately over the course of three months during the spring and summer of 2017:
Experiment #1: Quiet time
Description: (there are two parts to this experiment)
Creative-office hours: No interruptions, including in-person and electronic, between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m.
Library hours: No talking in the office between 12 p.m. and 2 p.m. on pre-selected days, with the exception of closed-door conference rooms.
Hypothesis: Do “creatives” (designers, writers, and editors) require periods of uninterrupted work to be more productive and creative? Can electronic collaboration (via email, messaging, and texting) substitute for face-to-face interactions?
Experiment #2: No meetings
Description: Banning all internal and external meetings on pre-selected days.
Hypothesis: Many meetings, especially regularly scheduled ones, are not imperative, often interrupt creative work, and, in fact, hinder productivity.
Experiment #3: Work-from-home days
Description: Periodically scheduled work-from-home days.
Hypothesis: In an era of widespread telecommunication technologies and remote workforces, can more and better work be done out of the office?
The experiments have concluded. Did we confirm the hypotheses or uncover unexpected insights? Over the next few weeks we’ll let you know what we learned, and whether we’ll be formally integrating the experiments into our ongoing processes. In the meantime, let us know if your business has attempted—and succeeded at—any innovative methods to increase collaboration and productivity in the workplace and beyond.