The buzz of open discussion, continuous foot traffic between gatherings, and routine brainstorming sessions becoming overrun with passion and excitement; that’s how life goes at an advertising agency in 1960s New York according to the popular TV series, Mad Men. And anyone familiar with this series will have noticed this: while productivity is in no short supply, there’s not a single computer or smart phone device in sight.
Although not having experienced the sixties himself, Jason Dooris, CEO of Sydney-based media agency, Atomic 212, feels strongly that computer dependence has sapped the energy right out of the modern workplace. So strongly, that he has shut down the internal email system for his 58 staff.
Jason said “when I started working in agencies, there used to be energy and excitement in the office, people would be talking on the phone or discussing ideas. It made the working day more interesting for staff. I think emails are the reason that that energy has disappeared.”
Jason points to a number of reasons for this. He said emails cause staff to deflect responsibilities: “they simply send an email assigning a task without actually discussing that task with their colleague. The natural response of their colleague is to simply bury the email at the bottom of their ‘to do’ list, and productivity suffers”
But perhaps most importantly, Jason believes emails are the bane of a healthy work-life balance, “keeping staff members tied to the office after work hours or on the weekend.”
By shutting down internal emails under the aptly named Talk First initiative, Jason hopes to re-invigorate collaborative working, faster decision-making and increase productivity in his Sydney, Melbourne and Auckland offices. But he asserts; “the decision was not made lightly.”
There are always views on both sides of the fence when making such a bald move in the name of workplace culture. Prior to implementing Talk First, Atomic 212 carried out a number comparative studies of other businesses which have undertaken similar initiatives – one of those being French IT company, Atos.
Founded upon an aspiration to encourage communication, improve personal relationships, morale and productivity, Jason said the objectives of the Talk First policy almost immediately became a reality.
“People began talking more. We have also started using tools such as Wunderlist, which in my view make staff more accountable than emails because everyone in a team can see which tasks are assigned to which person.
“Walk through the office at 6.30pm and nine times out of ten it will be a ghost town. We are hoping that by eliminating emails staff can disconnect themselves from the office when they leave for the evening or for the weekend. There’s nothing worse than getting an email on a Sunday morning.”
Turning their back on the ever expanding presence of technology in pursuit of some forgotten values, Atomic 212 has demonstrated that sometimes, forward thinking might involve a bit of backward thinking.