Give 40, Take 0

A manager’s job is to protect their team’s time and attention.

Companies love to protect. They protect their brand with trademarks, their data and trade secrets with rules and policies, and their money with budgets, CFOs, and investments.

Companies protect a lot of things, yet many of them are guilty of one glaring omission. Too often, there’s something they leave wide open and vulnerable: their employees’ time.

Companies spend their employees’ time and attention as if there were an infinite supply of both. As if they cost nothing. Yet workers’ time and attention are the most precious resources we have.

Employees are under siege for their time and attention. They are sliced up by an overabundance of meetings, physical distractions in open workspaces, virtual distractions on their phones, and the expectation they’re available to anyone, anytime, for anything that’s needed.

If companies spent money as recklessly as they spend time, they’d be going out of business. And you can bet they’d find a way to put an end to that. But where’s their responsibility when it comes to the clock?

Time and attention are best spent in large blocks — large bills, if you will, not spare coins and small change. Yet what filters down to staff are just scraps of time in which they’re expected to do a wonderful, thorough job. No wonder people are working longer hours, late nights, and weekends. Where else can they find the uninterrupted time?

Think about it: When was the last time you had four straight hours to yourself at work, four hours not chopped up by meetings or discussion or conversation? You probably can’t remember. Or, if you can, it was probably on a plane or that one time you accidentally left your phone on your nightstand.

Many CEOs think being an enlightened, competitive company means you’re always on. Available all the time, for anyone. I believe that’s a dangerous, frivolous mindset. It causes people to burn out and resent work. It can even lead to their leaving.

As a business owner, I’ve come to realize that protecting my employees’ time and attention is one of the most important things I can do.

For example, we don’t have status meetings at Basecamp. We all know these meetings — one person talks for a bit and shares some plans, and then the next person does the same thing. They’re a waste of time. Why? While it seems efficient to get everyone together at the same time, it isn’t: Eight people in a room for an hour doesn’t cost one hour; it costs eight hours.

Instead, we ask people to write updates daily or weekly on Basecamp for others to read when they have a free moment. This saves dozens of hours a week, and affords people larger blocks of uninterrupted time. Meetings tend to break time into “before” and “after.” Get rid of those meetings and people suddenly have a good stretch of time to immerse themselves in their work.

I believe 40 hours a week is plenty to get great work done if you actually give people 40 hours a week to do it. Having them come in for 40 but giving them only 12 to themselves is like stealing 28 hours a week from someone. At Basecamp, we’ve made significant strides toward making sure 40 hours means 40 hours.

Remember, when you hire someone, you don’t own that person. When you think about a workweek as “company time,” you’re turning it into something the company owns. But really, it’s not company time — it’s the employee’s, to do work for the company. The company is paying people for their time, not to borrow the company’s time. It may sound like semantics, but it actually requires a pretty radical shift in thinking.

This article appeared in the March 2017 issue of Inc. Magazine. If you like it please let me know by clicking the ❤️ button below!