The end of time

Time as a metric to evaluate work and production might have been justified during the industrial period following the introduction of the production line by Ford. When the machines and not the workers decide of the rhythm, it might make sense to pay workers by the hour.

When that doesn’t happen though, when the added value is intellectual and not manual, using time as the metric to evaluate individual production drags productivity, and happiness, to the bottom.

Put several people in a room, with similar qualifications, skills, salary, and role. Force them to sit at their desk for 8 hours every day, no matter how much work they get done, and very soon, either they’ll align their output on the slowest member of the group, or dissatisfaction will increase.

Even worse, because you pay them a given amount of money for a given amount of time, you need guarantees that they’ll reach a certain level of productivity, so you’ll add the classic and unfortunate requirement for X years of experience, making it soon impossible for anyone to get such experience, you know, chickens, eggs…

The habit is so anchored in our culture that we even bill by the hour when this represent a conflict of interests, take lawyers for instance, now picture a world where they wouldn’t charge by the hour, but only based on result. I realize that’s almost as hard as visualizing in your mind the diameter of the Milky Way, but you get my point, right?

Now forget time for a moment.

Say we start evaluating work by their quantity, and quality, not time spent doing it. Say being first to arrive in the morning and last to leave in the evening aren’t anymore defining characteristic for the employee of the month contest.

Suddenly everything is much simpler: no need for tools to track presence, no need to bring everybody in the same room, no reason for productivity to align on the smallest figure, no reason for dissatisfaction. No reason for minimal experience requirements either, junior, motivated staff members can put a bit more time while they learn, compared to their more experienced team mates.

Think about the time spared not commuting, the freedom of organizing one’s own life, the quality of personal and family life, when going get the kids at school at 3pm is not a problem anymore.

When you really need schedules, to guarantee coverage in a support team for instance, provide the tools to self define them.

Of course, there’s a catch…

As a team lead, you must be able to evaluate the quality of the production, you won’t be able to hide behind a clock, entering a room and counting heads won’t be a management method anymore.

Even more important: you need to trust your team.

Photo: ‘The Old Town Astronomical Clock’ by flungabunga used under CC BY-NC-SA

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