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On hammocks, work naps and why Homer Simpson is an OK boss

An ode to workplace siestas.
An ode to workplace siestas.

After much discussion in the Juggle office, we’ve almost finalised where to put Antoine’s hammock.

Some context. Our office is quiet. The talent team use the separate meeting spaces for their phone calls, and the meetings themselves mostly happen in those rooms (or on the occasional West Wing-style power-walk around Exmouth Market) rather than at desks. Somebody’s music is playing most of the day, but it tends to either be lo-fi hip-hop (picture the world’s coolest elevator) or driving synth 80s electro (picture a Rocky montage where everyone just types really fast instead of racing up stairs or doing pull-ups). 

The team lunches together a couple of times a week and tend to all eat at the same time even on non-team-lunch days. During those meals (and in the pub) we have dissected whether working in such a quiet office is a “bad thing”. The collective attitude right now is “nah.” It’s quiet enough – and distraction-free enough, which doesn’t always amount to the same thing – to simply get on with things. The quiet’s not enforced: there’s plenty of spaces and opportunities to collaborate or chinwag. So far, it’s working well. And, most importantly, it allows for workplace naps once we finally get the hammock.

 

No snooze? You lose

Workplace naps are another much-explored topic among Juggle staff. Partly because we’re aware that some staff have an unavoidable sleep-deficit (blame the kids). The negative – and sorta terrifying – effects of sleep-deficit have been in the news frequently, so how to address them seems like a genuinely worthwhile topic.

Workplace naps also fit neatly into one of our favourite things to talk about as a group: identifying and skewering useless workplace conventions, then suggesting better ones.

If being tired makes you less efficient, and being tired is sometimes unavoidable, and naps are a solution to being tired, why shouldn’t you nap at work? Swap an hour of total downtime for an afternoon of increased productivity. Plenty of hugely successful people swear by them.

We like discussing workplace naps because in many ways they’re a microcosm of what we’re trying to do at Juggle: look at aspects of work culture that are too rigid to be efficient and trying to correct them with flexible solutions. They’re also fun to talk about because they’re an “extreme” example. Naps are associated with being lazy (we’re trying and failing to find any actual evidence to back this up, it seems to be down largely to personal anecdotes, fairy tales and Garfield the Cat). The idea of a business having a “napping policy” would have been ludicrous only a few years ago. Now it sounds… well, it sounds plausible, at least.

 

The Hammock District

Any discussion of workplace hammocks will, inevitably, reference this scene from the classic Simpson’s episode “You Only Move Twice.” Homer Simpson lucks into a much better job, one that requires upping and moving his family from Springfield. The rest of the Simpson family hates their new town, but Homer is surprisingly good at his new role. He’s tasked with motivating and increasing the productivity of a team of engineers and does so through some methods that seem unorthodox – getting them all hammocks, for example – but prove effective.

Because this is the Simpsons we’re talking about, Homer is a good boss basically by accident; the show still presents him as an idiot, albeit a well-meaning one. But if you look at it with no preconceptions about what a boss ought to be like, his strategy – accidental or not – makes a lot of sense. Homer:

  • Checks (very briefly) to see if his team are working. 
  • Asks them to self-assess their workload and take on extra work if they can manage it. 
  • Fosters an open, trust-based relationship. 
  • Tries various strategies to motivate his team (Tom Landry’s hat is ineffective, but his heart’s in the right place).
  • Listens to his team to discover what their productivity issues are.
  • Takes their issues seriously and tries to solve them on their behalf, without simply demanding that they change their behaviour.

 

A boss like Homer

If you’re someone’s boss and their sleep-deficit is rendering them unproductive, how much of that is your problem? It’s a barrier between them and productivity, and their productivity is part of your responsibility as manager. If they can’t address the issue themselves, isn’t it incumbent on you to try and do so? So what if the solution is unorthodox; a problem solved is a problem solved.   

Unorthodox solutions are always worth examining, not necessarily because of the solutions themselves, but more for what they say about the status quo. Why is the orthodoxy the way it is? Technology has had a huge effect in not only changing what’s possible at work, but also revealing that the “standard” way of working has little data or thoughtfulness behind it. We’ve talked about this before – it’s a system that’s designed itself, and in many cases that design stemmed from faulty knowledge or individual ideology, not rigorous thought or testing.

A bespoke solution will always be better than a one-size-fits all method. And the dividends a bespoke solution brings often outweigh the increased cost and labour required to devise and implement. In the workplace there’s often the assumption that because the orthodoxy is cheaper and less labour-intensive it’s better. Rigidity is cheaper and simpler than flexibility, so that’s how we’ve organised ourselves for nearly a century.

Homer has no idea about any of that received wisdom. He just finds the best solution to the problem right in front of him.

 

“Can we work outside today?”

When you break it down this way, the debate is really a discussion of boundaries. For example, the idea of mandated music in an office sounds ridiculous. And demanding that employees work in deathly hush is rigidity extreme enough to be foolish. When it comes to office space, providing the resources so that everyone can create their own bespoke solution just seems… right. Practical. 

All we really want at Juggle is to push the boundaries of what’s considered possible at work (simple, right?) We think the data speaks for itself by now – a flexible solution will always be more efficient than a rigid one. Allowing employees flexibility will make them more productive in almost every case. The idea that we should shy away from flexibility because it’s difficult to implement seems (aside from a little heartless) a poor attitude for anyone in a management position to take.

Homer Simpson is a good boss because, whether he thinks about it or not, he trusts the people who work for him. Trusts them to understand their own needs, evaluate their own productivity, identify problems and want to solve them. He accepts their needs at face value, and trusts that they want to work hard and do a good job. 

Flexible working requires similar trust. And it’s easy to understand why – flexible solutions do give employees the chance to be lazy, to shirk tasks or duck responsibilities. (We personally believe that rigid systems also do this and are simply less obvious about it, but that’s beside the point.) Bespoke solutions require that you trust the person to make the most of the opportunity, to make the solution’s benefit outweigh the cost. But when you DO trust people, in our experience they reward that trust.

So here’s to naps at work, in hammocks or otherwise. Any weird and wonderful workplace solutions to productivity problems. Because at the end of the day, an employer that’s prepared to entertain an unorthodox solution is an employer that’s prepared to trust. And the more trust there is in the workplace, the better all our lives will be. 

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