The industrial revolution is over, so why are we still working like it isn’t?

In the industrial revolution, your value to your employer was calculated by your contribution to the number of widgets you could produce in an hour. Today, factories have made way for offices where, frustratingly often, your value is still measured by your productivity.

The working methods of 19th Century Britain still plague today’s workplace – the 9 to 5, 40 hours per week, please come to one large room full of everyone in the company and try to be as productive as humanely possible. Yes, the working practices of the industrial revolution were bloody effective. But we’ve failed to recognise the major difference between a 19th century factory worker and a 21st century knowledge worker: that between physical labour and emotional labour.

We still expect a certain amount of work produced by a certain time. Often, way too much and much too soon, resulting in a lack of quality.

Unlike our 19th century ancestors, an extra hour of work doesn’t equal an extra hour of quality output. It often equals less.

So we have an overworked, miserable, stressed workforce producing a greater quantity of less quality work?! 

This has to change!

But what can we do?

In San Diego, California lives a company breaking all of our antiquated workplace rules. Tower Paddle Boards employees work 5-hours a day and are free to do whatever they want after 1pm.

Their CEO, Stephan Aarstol, says this change he made in 2015 hasn’t decreased their productivity at all. Now his employees can spend their afternoon’s active in the outdoor lifestyle the company promotes.

Like Henry Ford in 1914, capitalising on advances in technology, Aarstol has woken up to the productive and automated advances of the internet to create a working environment that better suits the wants and needs of today’s worker. People, from much larger companies, email him daily asking for a job. His recruitment costs are now basically zero.

But why is Tower Paddle Boards still one of only a few exceptions?

Change takes time. And businesses (especially corporations) are some of the slowest moving, conservative organisations on earth. Until a company the size of Ford makes the shift, it’ll be a while before we see this radical idea in the mainstream.

But for those of us who want to create a working environment that makes sense in 2020, what can we do?

I’m a fanatic of remote work. My first company, my social enterprise (Pilotfish) and my current project CreditStretcher were/are all built to be remote-first.

But remote isn’t an option for many businesses. So what can the traditional co-located business do to be more like Tower Paddle Boards?

How to make working less work

If your company still makes products in a factory, this method probably won’t work for you. But if you’re a team of knowledge workers I am confident it will produce better results and a happier workplace.

1- Focus on results

Stop measuring hours. Most knowledge workers are paid a salary but are measured by the amount of time they spend on a task. This doesn’t add up. Your employees best ideas will come to them when they’re out on a run or in the shower. The true source of their creativity can’t be measured.

Measure results instead. It doesn’t matter how long it takes to produce a result, so long as the result is a positive one for the company. As Bill Bernbach said – “creativity is the last legal unfair advantage we have over our competitors”. Creativity isn’t a zero-sum game. When fostered, and unlike physical labour, it has the ability to deliver multiple times the results for the effort put in.

From now on your team should be measured on what they produce, not on long it took them to produce it.

2- Autonomy and trust

In a company where results are measured by what we produce, not how long it takes to do a task, the traditional concept of management changes. You make employees responsible for their own work and they decide the best way to achieve it.

Basecamp call this ‘managers of one’. We’ve adopted the same principles at CreditStretcher, where every employee – no matter their seniority – sets their own schedule, decides what to work on, and they’ll do it.

It’s staggering what happens when people sense that you trust them. Even the people you don’t expect to be able to deliver great work, do deliver great work.

Set your team a directive of “this is the result we’d like” and then let them get on with it.

This approach questions the need for full-time managers because the employees are effectively managing themselves. The problem with full-time managers is that they can’t help but meddle in a project – because, let’s face it, what else do they have to do?

3- Make technology work for you

Ford used the moving assembly line (automation of the day) to improve output quality and workers lives. Today, we have the internet. At CreditStretcher, Basecamp helps us to communicate remotely, meaning we never have to be in the same place or even work on the same schedule (most of us don’t). And we use the Blockchain to automate safe financial transactions that have historically been carried out by a team of highly paid financial experts.

Once you decrease working hours, you have to get creative and use technology to assist you in producing the same output as before. For example, being available all day isn’t necessary. You and your team just communicate when and how you’re available.

Making a shift towards a workplace that works less, requires a change in mindset. Can you trust your team to deliver the work without meddling? Can five hours a day really produce the same results? 

And I get it, it’s unbelievably hard to grasp. But we may longer have a choice; with companies like Tower Paddle Boards, Basecamp, Automattic (WordPress), CreditStretcher, and many others adopting working practices for the 21st century. It’s a requirement to stop your best employees going out in search for a company that can deliver on the working environment they crave.

Now is the time to make that shift.

Joseph Pack

I’m an entrepreneur. Being blessed (occasionally cursed) with Asperger’s and ADHD means I view the world a little differently. If you found this article useful, subscribe to my weekly newsletter about creativity, persuasion, emotional intelligence and other essential soft skills.