Staying late at work is a sign of inefficiency rather than dedication
This short article was written in the following places: on the stairs of Opera Holland Park; by the carousel at Heathrow’s Terminal 5; at a themed house party; and at home while watching The Bridge.
Inspiration never comes when required. The moment I tidy up my desk and sit down with the noble intention of finishing a document, my thoughts turn to dinner, dry-cleaning and plans for Thursday night. Instead of focusing on my draft, I start browsing the internet or looking out of the window. Then I give up altogether and turn on Netflix. And as I watch detective Saga Norén’s green Porsche cross the bridge from Malmo to Copenhagen, something wonderful happens: an idea or two come along and enthusiasm for work returns. So I switch screens and write for a while.
Most firms would agree that this is how the creative process works: it is spontaneous, it does not last long, it needs periods of rest. Most firms would also say that all they care about is the result. But then why do so many still judge you by how many hours you spend in the office staring at your computer screen? Do they ever wonder how many of those hours are spent on proper work – rather than procrastinating, browsing Daily Mail Online, booking holidays? When I was in the office, I wrote short stories, listened to Arctic Monkeys, sent long and substantive letters to friends. And my fingers became extremely skilled at switching the screen from Youtube to some old presentation when my boss walked into the room.
My actual work was, nevertheless, fine, as I could focus when needed. And many of my colleagues were exactly the same. I only wish that we had the freedom to follow our natural working patterns.
Instead, we had to clock in at 9am every morning, although it made no difference what time we were there, and if someone was still at their desk late at night in a semi-lit office, pale and frustrated, it was invariably seen as a sign of dedication. Or was it, perhaps, inefficiency? Or the fact that they did not want to go home to their cat?
Don’t get me wrong: office experience is invaluable because of the energy you get from your colleagues and the skills you learn from them. But once our jobs become creative, constant presence in the office is counter-productive.
One of my closest friends is a partner in a revered management consultancy. He goes to the office once a month as he lives in a beautiful village 500 miles away. During the week, he flies around the world or he works from home. He is adamant that this is the only way to work. What about those who abuse flexible working hours? He says that you should question their effectiveness in the first place. If they treat flexible working as an invitation to take a day off, they would be equally unproductive in the office. And you should look at the result of their work – as in the end, this is all that matters.
If I were writing this article in the office, I would have had another few hours to kill before it was respectable to go home. Thank god I don’t have to do that anymore. I am happy with what I’ve written, and so I am done for the day. Now it is back to The Bridge and Saga Norén.
Elena Shalneva is a communications consultant and non-executive director.
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