The Office as Idea Bubbler

This is NOT an idea bubbler.

One of the dumbest reasons for returning to the office is the notion of the office as an idea bubbler (boldface mine):

The engineers reminded him of their commutes. The working parents reminded him of school pickup times. Mr. Medina replied with arguments he has delineated so often that they have come to feel like personal mantras: Being near each other makes the work better. Mr. Medina approached three years of mushy remote-plus-office work as an experiment. His takeaway was that ideas bubble up more organically in the clamor of the office.

“You can interrupt each other without being rude when you’re in person,” said Mr. Medina, whose company, Outreach, is now in the office on a hybrid basis. “In a Zoom conversation, you have to let somebody finish their thought.”

Only a boss would be upset that you have to let someone finish their thought. But the idea bubbler is, on the whole stupid. The one thing I get out of working in the office (I’m essentially one day per week in the office) is the ability to sit in someone’s office (or go to their desk) and make sure I’m getting what I need from them. That is, I’m more of an effective pain in the ass in person. The idea bubbling works fine remotely–and the ability to not be bothered by people (like me) asking for stuff makes me more productive.

This is a far more accurate description of the typical office:

Instead of being a productivity wonderland, the office is more like a productivity black hole, where collaboration, socializing, mentoring, and on-the-job training thrive, but focused work gets sucked into oblivion. In fact, research shows that the office is detrimental to productivity…

While productivity is harmed by in-office presence, mentoring is boosted. However, you have to be intentional about mentoring. The unspoken belief in many organizations is that if you pack employees into an office like sardines, mentoring will magically happen. However, office-based mentoring, especially full-time, is often inconsistent, inefficient, and dependent on factors like proximity, office politics, and personal dynamics, which can limit its reach and impact.

While the idea bubbler isn’t as fucking stupid as the ‘people aren’t getting enough exercise working from home‘ argument*, it’s still pretty dumb. But it does make sense (of a sort) if your job consists largely of meetings. Lots of people, especially those higher up in organizations, spend most of their time meeting with people, as opposed to actually doing stuff. For the ‘meeters’, remote work is a nightmare, and it might even make them think they’re not that essential. Which I’m sure has nothing to do with their desire to return to the office.

*I get more sleep too, on days I work from home. Most people need a lot more sleep than they realize, especially if they’re worried about ‘being productive.’

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1 Response to The Office as Idea Bubbler

  1. JDM says:

    My dad worked for IBM til the mid-80s. Meetings were, in his opinion, the very least productive and most time-wasteful parts of working at an office. Since he had flex time he would wake up very early and get in by 7am, and he said from 7-8am he’d get almost as much (or more sometimes) work done than he would the rest of the day.

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