This Company Eliminated E-mail…and Nothing Bad HappenedFebruary 16th, 2015 · 24 comments
Super Casual Friday
Last week, an article in the Washington Post caught my attention. It was titled, “At some start-ups, Friday is so casual that it’s not even a work day,” and it focused on an Oregon-based tech company called Treehouse.
This company, it turns out, offers an unusual perk to its employees: no work on Friday.
The idea of a four day week upset people in the tech world. Michael Arrington, for example, responded:
“As far as I’m concerned, working 32 hours a week is a part-time job…I look for founders who are really passionate. Who want to work all the time. That shows they care about what they’re doing, and they’re going to be successful.”
But here’s the thing: Treehouse is successful.
The company, which offers online courses, has enrolled over 100,000 students and raised over $13 million in funding. Last year saw 100% revenue growth, and, perhaps not surprisingly, they have near 100% employee retention.
A Deep Paradox
At first, this might seem like a paradox: Treehouse reduced working hours yet didn’t reduce its effectiveness. The solution comes later in the article when the company’s founder explains:
“That’s the key. Do what’s important for you. Then, when you have time, respond to things…I’ve definitely worked in environments where all I did was e-mail. Now, internally, there’s almost zero. That’s a huge, huge win for the company.”
He elaborates that he’s eliminated an e-mail-centric cult of connectivity at Treehouse. Employees communicate in forums dedicated to specific projects, and the expectation that you can and should receive instant answers to your electronic missives doesn’t exist.
The solution to our above paradox, in other words, is that the eight hours cut from Treehouse employees’ weekly schedule disproportionately affected shallow efforts (namely: preserving a culture of constant e-mail connectivity). The reason their company still thrives is that the deep efforts that matter most remained unmolested.
This interpretation, if true, provides another piece of evidence for a conclusion I’ve been pitching for a while here on Study Hacks: a lot of the busyness afflicting the burnt out knowledge work class isn’t actually producing much value.
If more companies (and individuals) followed Treehouse’s lead and actually tested the conventional wisdom that all of this distracting shallowness is vital, I suspect we’d suddenly see a lot more emphasis on deep work in our cultural conversation surrounding productivity and effectiveness.