3 Ways People Pretend to Work—at Home or the Office

bigstock-The-words-Time-to-Organize-on--36389578Marissa Mayer’s decision to halt employee telecommuting at Yahoo has unleashed a torrent of controversy around telework, remote work, collaboration, and productivity.

For those of us who work at home or remotely, or even in an office, it’s a great time to refocus on what we do—consciously or subconsciously—that looks like work but often isn’t.

Here are three ways that people pretend to work.

Attend meetings

Our egos tell us that it is critical to stay fully informed on any project that has the potential to even slightly impact us. Even though meetings are largely ineffective, attending lots of them keeps you very busy. When you attend lots of meetings your calendar stays full—and yet you accomplish very little. This is perhaps the best way to pretend to work without really working.

Be hyper-responsive on emails and phone calls

Don’t read or think too much about each email, just respond quickly. In fact, responding to emails while passively attending a meeting can ensure that neither activity is truly productive. When you keep your email up all day and respond immediately, you can feel a great sense of “pretend” accomplishment. Since sending emails results in receiving more emails, you can honestly say, “I got 150+ emails today. I am exhausted!” This is probably very true.

Focus on speed and quantity, not quality, of communication

The accepted best practice around emails is this: If the third email hasn’t clarified the issue—pick up the phone. Ignoring this rule means you can have long strings of emails that show activity without really accomplishing work. Make sure you have an email trail that recaps every action taken. This ensures that you can always justify your lack of productivity by pointing to a flaw in someone else’s email.

Have you been caught by any of these strategies? Although I don’t know anyone who deliberately uses these strategies to avoid work, I suspect we have all had extremely busy days when we questioned our productivity and accomplishments.

Just in case you want to be very productive (which you do), here are some tips:

  • Carefully choose which meetings, and how much of each meeting, you will attend.
  • Focus on the quality of your communication, including reflecting or researching before you respond.
  • Let others know your priority to set aside times for focused concentration, professional development, process improvement, and idea generation. Let people know when you will and won’t be available to respond quickly.

Using these strategies will require less energy, less activity, and fewer emails, and therefore will result in higher productivity.

Well, okay … you can still pretend to be tired, even if you‘re not!

About the author

Carmela Sperlazza Southers is a senior consulting partner with The Ken Blanchard Companies. Her posts on increasing organizational, team, and leader effectiveness in the virtual work world appear on the fourth Monday of every month.

4 thoughts on “3 Ways People Pretend to Work—at Home or the Office

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