Last November I shared my interpretation of the 8 principles of Montessori education as seen through the eyes of a hacker. I have imagined how those would shape startups and workplaces in general. Today I would like to focus a bit more on one single question: how would a Montessori workplace look like in real life? What do you need in an office are first and foremost productivity tools to get your job done. To get the right setup let me borrow a page from David Allen’s influential Getting Things Done book.
He puts together a neat checklist of necessary items in order to be able to handle any sort of workload: from paper clips to rubber bands every office, however paperless, needs this type of basic toolkit. Further to a good supply of stationary and a great filing system I believe that no office can live without an efficient input/output system. This is constituted by:
- a telephone with a great handsfree speakerphone functionality
- a super fast internet
- a reliable scanner & printer all in one
- a set of letter briefs and stamps (yes stuff is still sent over mail)
You will probably need a computer in your office. It’s the multipurpose tool you will be using the most and you should have a good degree of confidence with it. I know that now the non-geeks will disagree. But one of the reasons why I am productive is that I am at peace (mostly) with the technology I use. I guess that your life will be miserable If you consider the computer an alien beast and spend 90% of your work time using one.
Familiarize yourself with your computer’s operating system and learn how to fix the most common issues. Study the software you use in depth and use the least amount of programs you can. Each program has a learning curve and you don’t want too much of your productive hours on such a curve, do you?
Disable all types of visual or sound notifications. Disable all of them, but especially chat and email notifications can be a killer. If you are connected to the net why don’t you just always assume that you have new mail and chat notifications and you will attend to them at the next possible occasion? By the way don’t cheat by disabling notifications on your computer only to focus on them on your phone.
Your phone should be also notification free. Calls, text are the only admissible sounds, but not all the time. We’ll discuss this later. Your computer can help you in being more productive. Try to to disconnect from the network if you want some super productive time. Or try to use full screen apps as much as possible: they are now supported not only on Mac but you can also find specific windows programs like WriteMonkey.
Lack of interruption is a great Montessori principle, but I think she would approve also of any tool that increases the possibility to concentrate for long stretches of time. Music can come to help and services like Focus at will are geared exactly towards creating the perfect musical background for prolonged productive stretches of time that will help you reach a state of “flow”.
How about colleagues? Can you really concentrate in an open space, while having to listen to colleagues interact. Should you be in contact with each other or be left alone? How about group work? Is it as beneficial for adults as it is for children? I don’t feel I can be an authoritative source on these themes, but I have anecdotally observed a rise in productivity since moving from traditional office space to a home office where I fully control the environment.
Many of us can’t alter the physical space around us. This is why there is another dimension to play with: time. You can decide to have a quiet time on a certain day where silence is enforced in certain areas of the office. Or have a couple of hours each day where external stimuli are limited to a minimum. You can’t? I am sure you can leave your phone with a colleague that will let you know if anything really urgent comes up. These techniques have been thoroughly documented by Basecamp (the company formerly known as 37 Signals) on their blog and on the book ReWork.
Cognition and the body are strictly intertwined: this is why I find that standing desks are also very much Montessori. In the video below I share my setup.
Montessori kids are allowed to move around freely in their productive space. Why should we fix our desks in our offices? Valve – the successful game maker – has office desks on wheels that can be moved around in order for members of the same team or pod to work in physical closeness.
Should our meeting rooms have chairs? Maybe standing desks could lead to standing meetings. And standing meetings could lead us to leave the office to have walking meetings in our neighborhood. Another great tool to increase productivity that is used in the Montessori classroom is the nap. A quiet time where the kids lay on a mat and enjoy some rest. This should be enforced as quickly as possible in all offices as it boosts your alertness and productivity noticeably.
You can use any of these ideas. The best value of those is that they help foster an internal culture of understanding by focusing on the individuals, while at the same time it creates the conditions to work better in groups. This type of culture is based on keeping in high regard each others time and space, it’s a culture of understanding and of respect. Thus it can only do good to your organization.
I believe that a Montessori workplace would be more caring for the individual, more productive for the company and also create the condition to attract the best talent. So, should you become a Montessori Taliban and enforce all those rules? No, wait a minute. You could start from one or two of them. You could start with experimenting with stretches of 2 hours of uninterrupted time and with providing more computer training to those who need it. But in case you want to go all the way and make your space fully Montessori get in touch and share your story in the comments.