Photo by renatotarga
In the last few days I have been travelling with some friends north of Sydney to Brisbane. We went sightseeing, tasted some wines on hunter valley and more. On the way we discussed and debated on different subjects.
One of those debates started by me telling my friends about a certain law professor I know that uses his university office to conduct his private law business. It is a known fact because he consults a lot of celebrities that come into the university campus. The debate revolved around the question whether this behaviour is out of the ordinary and need to get the approval of the university or whether it is expected of him to use his office in this way.
My friends claimed that the university supplies him an office to do his work for the university. As a result, using it for his private business is a deviation from his job description and needs to be approved by university. They claimed that they are sure that he asked for permission and that it might even be mentioned in his contract.
I claimed that when an institution like a university (or any large organization for that matter), where there are skilled knowledge workers , hires such a worker and gives him an office, it is implied that he can use that for his own needs, as long as that does not interfere with his work for that organization. If in his free time, after he finished what he is supposed to do, he wants to use the office to conduct private meetings, why not let him?
But it is actually more than that. I think my friends represent an approach. An approach of control. When you work for me, I control you, your time and your thoughts. You must adhere to my rules, to my way of doing things and get permission from me to do anything that is not related to me. Like some of today’s jobs are modern forms of slavery. Many organizations think to themselves – if I don’t control all of his time he will use me and I will lose. So they try to make sure that the employee is occupied all the time and create system to supervise him and prevent him from doing things (like surfing to sites like facebook).
I think that organizations should do the opposite. Not only should they avoid setting rules and boundaries and rigid process, they should actually encourage people to find they own way to do whatever they want, as long as they deliver the results. In “first, break all the rules”, Marcus Buckingham claims that great managers never try to teach people how to do their job, they just set goals and outcomes and let each individual get to them, in his own way. If the employee is creating the needed outcomes, why should the organization care how he does it or how much time it takes? Letting go of the control will eventually only bring benefits.
This kind of thinking applies to doing conducting private business using recourses of the organization you work for. Organization should allow it and encourage it. I am not saying that they should encourage him to engage in competition with the organization or spend more of his time on his private business. But if this worker is doing his job, why not let him grow, develop and diversify using his office. I can assure you that there are many employees who would rather have this freedom than larger salaries or other benefits.