--> Gill Blog: Face Time Shmace Time

Gill Blog

Friday, May 20, 2005

Face Time Shmace Time

Workplace continuity is the major theme of this forum. For those who may be a little unsure here's the basic gist: tecnology, demographic shifts, lifestyle considerations and risk will force organizations to change the basic configuration and management structures of thier respective workplaces. Through presentations and research, we have strenuously argued that new methods need to devised to measure the performance and productivity of workers - traditional methods such as 'time at desk' and charisma are measures that are relics of a bygone era, and just won't hold water in a contemporary workplace. In fact, this was a major theme we focussed on when we spoke at last year's W4 Conference in Washington D.C.

I've been a big believer that knowledge work doesn't align with the traditional notion of 9-5. It should be no suprise then, that when I stumbled upon this article published in Business Week last month, I smiled and felt as though the world was starting to understand me a little more:
Why do we insist on what, in the current vernacular, is known as "face time"? I define it as the love some managers have for the sight of workers sitting dutifully at their desks hour after hour. Face time made perfect sense for factory workers, who literally had to stay on the line to do their jobs. But today, many of the people who are encouraged, prodded, and shamed into staying at the office from sunup to sundown could work -- probably more productively -- from almost anywhere.

Why? Because the assembly line of ideas chugs on night and day. Knowledge work is 24/7/365, and proceeds whether any one worker is well or unwell, present or absent, alive or dead. In fact, one of the challenges of working in the knowledge economy is the difficulty of taking a vacation. You miss a couple of weeks of work, and you face catch-up frenzy upon return.

So, to hold knowledge workers to the same face-time requirements that Henry Ford used defies common sense. Although companies can use business results to evaluate sales managers, marketing gurus, telecommunications engineers, financial analysts, and most other office types, managers still love to ride herd on their work hours, too. And not just their work hours: Face-time addicts fixate on in-the-office work hours specifically. We all know that our employees jump back on their PCs after dinner at home, but somehow that doesn't count.

I was particularly amused by this section that describes some of the lengths employees will go in order to be physically counted:
One evening, I watched a young man meet the Chinese restaurant delivery person at the side entrance. He returned to his office, opened the container, stuck a fork in the chicken chow mein, turned up his desk radio, and arranged his jacket over the back of his chair. Then, leaving his light on, the dinner on his desk, and his office door ajar, he went to his car.

A carton of food wasted! Well, not in his mind: He had bought himself an extra hour or two of face time, because if a higher-up walked by that open door he'd be likely to think the employee was still working (just at the copier or in the men's room).

This struck a particularly familiar chord with me, simply because last summer, when I addressed the W4 Conference, I began my discussion by running a commercial that lampooned this phenomenon. To see this commercial in all of its glory, click here, and have a great weekend.