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Input versus output — A modern workplace dilemma

Input versus output. A modern workplace dilemma.

It’s been a long Tuesday morning at the office, and you’re hanging for lunch. Time has dragged, and it’s just one of those days when you’re feeling “meh”. You don’t have any meetings in the afternoon, you’ve spent the morning mooching around and not achieving much, and you keep thinking how you’d love to take the afternoon off and go see that new movie everyone is raving about.

Sadly your employment contract forbids this — you know, the bit on page 8 that says “office hours are 8.30 am to 5.30 pm with a one hour break for lunch”. Not that you are literally required to ‘clock-in’ and ‘clock-out’ of work like a factory worker — unless you are a factory worker. These days the 8.30-5.30pm rule is more self-policed, and should you have the audacity to take off at 4.45pm you’ll get incredulous looks from your co-workers as you make your way to the elevator with your bag over your shoulder. Plus a few “bring your sandwiches and make a full day of it tomorrow” comments.

Input in the workplace

My point is that the whole emphasis in workplaces is on input, quantity, and the number of hours worked. I get that in an industrial workplace that’s kind of important. People who work in a factory doing the same task over and over will get more done if they work 8 hours than if they work 4 hours.

What about thinkers? What about designers? What about creators? What about a person who’s output is in no way related to the number of hours they work? They are still working in a place that has industrial rules, and that is both misplaced and restrictive.

Output in the workplace

Let’s focus for a moment on output. Output has nothing to do with time whatsoever because the goalposts have shifted. I don’t care how or where the people who work for me spend their time. I just care about their output. If their output is awesome, and it took them less time, then good on them. And if seeing a movie on a Tuesday afternoon gets your creative juices flowing a little more, and improve your output, then go see a movie.

The immediate problem that arises here is that of time sheets. Most service providers, especially companies who work in the advertising and marketing sector, charge their clients by the hour. That’s how they make money. And that’s the BIG problem. Clients need to pay thinkers and creators for the value of their ideas, not for their time — for their output, not their input.

The “Just Do It” campaign allowed Nike to increase its share of the North American domestic sport-shoe business from 18% to 43% from 1988 to 1998. In dollar terms their business grew from $877 million to $9.2 billion in worldwide sales. Now I don’t know who came up with the tagline, “Just Do It”, and I don’t know how long it took them either. But I bet Wieden+Kennedy didn’t charge Nike by the hour.

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