Command and control: Sucking the fun from work

Being a WordPress Agency.

The rise of the flexible workplace, both socially and legally is rewriting not just working hours but how we approach work.

It’s a shockingly recent notion that work and play should be mutually exclusive things, but prior to the rise of the industrial revolution it was the norm.

Most companies are stuck in the (recent) past, the classic command and control structure simply doesn’t cut the mustard anymore. Heirarchy, process, bosses and top-down management under the false pretense that when everyone carries out the work of one glorious leader then success is guaranteed. Absolute bollocks.

The old-style of management might have suited production lines, or building cars (thanks Henry Ford) but don’t suit the fast-changing modern world. As a result, companies go out of business very quickly indeed – in fact the average life of a corporation has dropped from over 50 years to less than 15.

Some of this failure is down to the bloat and demotivation that occurs as companies get larger, and therefore slower. This is the exact opposite to what happens when cities get larger – they benefit from size and become more engaging and fun places to be.

So if cities can benefit by getting larger, why then do companies struggle? A lot seems to do with the power of the city community and their ability to choose what they want to do. Conversely, a depressingly large percentage of working people don’t like the job they do, and mitigate continued compliance on the basis of “servicing debt” (mortgage, loans, car payments, credit cards).

But it doesn’t have to be this way. If you have choices, and understand what they are, then you’re likely to be happier, so a rigid structure is more likely to generate unhappy people.

Millenials seem to have a better grasp of this, but it seems that fun and work are still uncomfortable bed-fellows for anyone over the age of 25. This is quite depressing.

The Real World

Over the last 20 years we’ve tried lots of variations on flexible working. In the early days this was as much a function of the cost of covering our client territory as it was an employee-centric benefit.

Luckily, we never created a formal “command and control” structure but, all the same, we had expectations of staffers: 35hr working week, broad coverage from 10am till 4pm and a formal holiday policy. Looking back, this was an informal command and control structure.

So, to compensate for the dispersed nature of our team we introduced (partially forced) fun into the organisation. Everything from “Pizza Fridays” and “Unlimited Bar Tabs” were used at huge costs to the business on the incorrect premise that it will increase output. How much fun was it, really?

However, once we had established financial security we drifted into a more formal (read: office-based) working model. We had headed off in the wrong direction as we had become richer – which now seems counter-intuitive.

It took a dramtatic turn of events in 2012 to trigger a realisation that we needed to go back to being a more flexible and transitory structure.

What’s this to do with fun?

In almost every case, a more flexible organisation is a more fun place to work. In almost every case, less “command and control” creates happier folks. And very few folks lay on their death-bed wishing they had worked more. As a result we work fewer hours, oddly without losing productivity.

The simple answer is to drop the outdated working practices, organise yourself in ad-hoc project teams and work when you feel like it. We now have no structure whatsoever, folks do what they want and whenever they choose.

Worried that work won’t get done? Skilled staffers aren’t children, in a freer environment you cannot make them work if they don’t enjoy what they are doing – they will naturally de-couple from their teams and wander off somewhere else. Problem sorted.