Is Your Office Environment Hurting Your Company’s Productivity?

Jason Fried is fed up. With work. But not his actual job. Just his office.

In a Q&A with Big Think, Fried, co-founder and president of 37 Signals (a web-application company based in Chicago), rails against the modern office paradigm, contending offices are one of America’s top productivity killers.

Jason Fried: Yeah, my feeling is that the modern workplace is structured completely wrong. It’s really optimized for interruptions. And interruptions are the enemy of work. They are the enemy of productivity, they are the enemy of creativity, they are the enemy of everything. But that’s what the modern workplace is all about, it’s interruptions. Everyone’s calling meetings all the time, everyone’s screaming people’s names across the thing, there’s phones ringing all the time. People are walking around. It’s all about interruptions. And people go to work today, and then they end up doing most of their real work after work, or on the weekends. So, people are working longer hours, people are tired – I’m working 50-60 hours this week. It’s not that there’s 50 or 60 hours worth of work to do, it’s because you don’t work at work anymore. You go to work to get interrupted.

What happens is, is that you show up at work and you sit down and you don’t just immediately begin working, like you have to roll into work. You have to sort of get into a zone, just like you don’t just go to sleep, like you lay down and you go to sleep. You go to work too. But then you know, 45 minutes in, there’s a meeting. And so, now you don’t have a work day anymore, you have like this work moment that was only 45 minutes. And it’s not really 45 minutes, it’s more like 20 minutes, because it takes some time to get into it and then you’ve got to get out of it and you’ve got to go to a meeting.

Then when the meeting’s over, you’re probably pissed off anyway because it was a waste of time and then the meeting’s over and you don’t just go right back to work again, you got to kind of slowly get back into work. And then there’s a conference call, and then someone calls your name, “Hey, come a check this out. Come over here.” And like before you know it, it’s 4:00 and you’ve got nothing done today. And this is what’s happening all over corporate America right now. Everybody I know, I don’t care what business they’re in. Like when I talk to them about this, it’s like “Yeah, that’s my life.” Like, that is my life, and it’s wrong.

See this related post from back in April.

What do you think? Are these legit concerns about office life, or are the brains of today’s twenty- & thirty-somethings just way too fried from playing "Super Mario Bros." to concentrate properly?

Hoosier Leading Effort to Enhance Regional Identities

When asked, most Americans are likely to define themselves more as a product of their state or city. For example: "I’m from Indiana and I’m a Hoosier." "I’m from Brooklyn and I’m a New Yorker." "I’m from Boston and I’m a Bostonian." "I’m from Melmac and I eat cats." (That last one would be, of course, "Alf" — aka Gordon Shumway.)

But President Obama has enlisted his Asst. Secretary of Commerce for Economic Development (and former Bloomington Mayor) John Fernandez to get the nation to consider its regional identity and success (as opposed to that of states or cities) when competing for economic development projects.

Stateline asked Fernandez how hard it will be to persuade states, which are used to competing against each other, to think in terms of collaborating regions even when those regions cross state lines. He was realistic about the difficulty of changing the culture, both at his appearance before the group of legislators April 9 in Washington and in a  speech in Chicago in January.

“It’s a new way to keep score,” he says. “In the past, there was only one metric that mattered: the number of jobs created in my town [or state]. If you created a job, it had to be in your backyard to score points.”

“We need a new way to measure success,” he says. “If the city next door creates 1,000 jobs, it doesn’t mean you lost—it means the region won.  Jobs are not the only number. We need to rate our elected officials not just by the jobs they bring in today but by the jobs they make possible tomorrow.”

Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, Virginia Governor Robert McDonnell and Washington, D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty are keeping score the old way. The leaders of a region that overlaps three jurisdictions are demonstrating right in Obama’s backyard the difficulty of changing the one metric that matters, especially in an election year: job creation.

Northrop Grumman, the giant defense contractor, is planning to move its corporate headquarters from Los Angeles to the Washington area, and that has touched off a brawl among O’Malley and Fenty, both Democrats, and McDonnell, a Republican. Each jurisdiction wants Northrop Grumman’s high-paying jobs, and has offered the company millions of dollars in tax breaks so executives will choose them. O’Malley and Fenty are seeking re-election later this year; McDonnell was elected in November on a job-creation platform. (According to the Washington Post, Northrop Grumman has eliminated D.C. from contention.)

New Jersey to Public Workers: You Want Our Money? We Want Your Taxes

It sounds good on paper, but personally I’m not buying it. In this case, "it" is a New Jersey proposal that says if the state is going to give you your paycheck, you have to live within its borders.

With our capital’s geographic presence in the middle of the state, I can’t imagine too many are commuting from Ohio, Illinois, Kentucky or Michigan to Indy. But state workers are not confined to the big city. The New Jersey bill would impact teachers, police officers and firefighters as well as all city and county government employees.

There are strong Indiana connections to Cincinnati, Chicago and Louisville in addition to numerous other areas in the four neighboring locales. I grew up in Dearborn County, a lot closer to Cincy than Indy, and a tri-state ingredient seems to be active in all four corners of the state.

The full New Jersey article is here. Below is a quick summary:

State Sen. Donald Norcross (D., Camden), the sponsor of the bill, said, "It is very simple. If you want a paycheck from New Jersey taxpayers, you should have to live here, pay your taxes here and be part of your community."

Norcross, who also leads the 85,000-member South Jersey AFL-CIO Central Labor Council, said an estimated 10,000 public employees live out of state, costing the state about $22 million in income taxes.

"What really gets me is when I look at the mass exodus every night out of Trenton to Pennsylvania," Senate President Stephen Sweeney said. "If it’s good enough to work for the state, it should be good enough to live in the state of New Jersey," he added.

Public employee unions said that while relatively few of their members work out of state, they strongly oppose the measure for those who do.

"I think it’s a ridiculous proposal," said Bob Master, regional political director for the Communication Workers of America. "It will have no meaningful impact in the long run on the state’s budget problems and it will cause completely unnecessary hardship for our members."

Master said that if New Jersey’s neighboring states were to adopt similar tactics, the results would not be pretty.

Riding the Rails: Old Transportation to Remain Viable, Innovative in Indiana’s Future

Chris Rund, director of PR and communications for Indiana Rail Road Company, discusses innovation and technology in the world of rail. He explains the industry is making aggressive capital investments in projects across the country despite the lagging economy.

Expansion Now “Front Burner” Issue for Big Ten Conference

How can I justify putting this post on our blog? Hmm, well it’s sort of education-related … and it’s definitely profit-related.

The Big Ten athletic conference is looking seriously at expanding to 12 teams. The last team to join was Penn State in 1990. Schools reported as top candidates to fill the current void include Rutgers, Syracuse, Missouri, Cincinnati and Louisville.

Brian Kelly’s boys in South Bend remain doubtful. The Chicago Tribune explains the rationale behind expansion:

Jim Delany never will be a contestant on "Top Chef," but the Big Ten commissioner frequently has used a cooking analogy when asked about the prospects of Big Ten expansion.

"A back-burner issue," he has called it.

Not anymore. According to a league official, the Big Ten will release a statement Tuesday saying the matter has moved to the front burner.

The first sign of change came from former Wisconsin coach Barry Alvarez, who told Wisconsin’s athletic board on Friday that Delany "is going to take this year to really be more aggressive about it. I just think everybody feels [expansion] is the direction to go, coaches and administrators."

A league source on Monday cited a "growing groundswell" of support among athletic directors for expansion.

In 1990, the Big Ten became the Bigger 11 by adding Penn State. (The Nittany Lions had to wait until 1993 to vie for their first Rose Bowl.) In 1999, Notre Dame stiff-armed the league’s overtures, and that put the issue on ice.

Why is it being revisited now?

The biggest reason, as always, is the stuff that doesn’t grow on trees: money. If the league expands to 12 teams and two divisions — like the SEC, Big 12 and ACC — it would create a Big Ten title game that could be worth $5 million or more to the league. The Big Ten Network would love to televise it, and the conference has a 51 percent ownership stake in the network.

Personally, I must admit that I love the Big Ten Conference. So much so that even though I’m an Indiana man, I even root for Purdue against "outsiders." And I think the conference embodies the characteristics of many Midwesterners like myself — the competitiveness, the penchant for good sportsmanship, and the plight of being terrible at football.

So I have mixed feelings about this move (should it happen). The money would be nice, but I think mega conferences like the Big East can get so convoluted they lose their identity, so expansion should be treaded lightly. Your thoughts?

Catching the Bus Still a Priority

In today’s fast-paced, high-tech world, is bus transportation still important? Most major cities would answer a quick yes, as will some smaller communities. Take Valparaiso, the Indiana Chamber’s 2009 Community of the Year.

In an interview with city and community leaders (the story will be in BizVoice magazine and available online on November 10), Mayor Jon Costas explained a partnership with Valparaiso University that produced the V line. The city, with some financial support from the university, runs the service, which transports students and others requiring access to campus. Work is in progress to try and get the line extended eastward to the rapidly growing Ivy Tech Community College facility.

A commuter bus system to Chicago was also put into place earlier this year. Growth has been slow but steady, with a target of 100 daily riders within five years.

It’s all about working together and expanding opportunities for residents, Costas explains.

Valparaiso will be honored, along with the to-be-announced Business Leader of the Year and Government Leader of the Year, at the Chamber’s 20th Annual Awards Dinner on November 10.

The Big ‘E’ as in Evansville

Evansville is always an interesting locale. Residents there feel the disconnect from Central Indiana (it’s difficult to have a conversation without the Interstate 69 topic coming up, and I understand to some degree their frustration), but they don’t really have the big out-of-state neighbor (think Chicago, Cincinnati or Louisville) to turn to as an Indiana alternative.

I’ve had the opportunity to report on a number of intriguing stories out of the area known as the Pocket City, River City, Crescent City and probably a few other nicknames. I’m working on one for the next BizVoice magazine that focuses on plans for a new downtown arena and the economic development potential it brings.

Look for a major announcement on that project soon and some analysis in the upcoming BizVoice. Mayor Jonathan Weinzapfel, by the way, says that on its own scale this development will be every bit as important to his community as the Lucas Oil Stadiums and Conseco Fieldhouses are to Indianapolis.

We’ve also compiled community feature sections from Fort Wayne, South Bend and Terre Haute in 2009 editions of BizVoice. There is plenty going on in all corners of the state and in many cities and towns in between. We enjoy bringing you the stories, hope you enjoy reading them and welcome your ideas for future topics.

Could Chicago Olympics be Good as Gold for Northwest Indiana?

Inside Indiana Business asked Speros Batistatos, President/CEO of the South Shore Convention & Visitors Authority, about the impact an Olympiad in Chicago could have on "da region" and the state.

IIB reports:

Organizers with Chicago’s bid for the 2016 Olympic and Paralympic games will outline their plans today in northwest Indiana. South Shore Convention & Visitors Authority President and Chief Executive Officer Speros Batistatos says a formal study has not been commissioned, but he believes the global sporting event could pump "tens and tens of millions of dollars" into the region’s economy. He also says the Olympics would be the largest single event ever for northwest Indiana’s hospitality industry.

Listen to the audio clip here for more.

Know Your Red Gold Facts (No Rotten Tomatoes for this Elwood Company)

You’ve undoubtedly seen their ads. You’ve heard the name. But what you didn’t know about Red Gold, the Elwood-based tomato product producer, may surprise you. So here are some fun facts about Red Gold, a company we’re proud to say is part of the Indiana Chamber member family:

  • The company has over 1,100 employees, who work at facilities in four small Indiana towns — Orestes, Geneva, Alexandria and Elwood.
  • Red Gold began in 1942 when Grover Hutcherson and his daughter, Fran, rebuilt a Midwest cannery to provide fresh-tasting canned food products for the war effort. (The company remains a family-owned business.)
  • In Chicago, New York and 36 other major U.S. markets, Red Gold sells more canned tomato products than any other manufacturer.
  • Nearly one-third of all canned tomato products purchased in the U.S. are made by Red Gold.
  • Three out of every four consumers of retailer brand tomato juice drink Red Gold produced tomato juice.
  • The company attracts creative minds to develop some of the industry’s most advanced tomato growing and processing technology — although the Midwestern climate helps quite a bit, too.
  • Red Gold is the nation’s largest provider of retail private label tomato products (with ketchup leading the way).
  • Personal testimony: Their ketchup is really freaking good.

And just think, Super Bowl Sunday is only two days away. Salsa, anyone?

Not So Fast, Governor

So we have Our Man Mitch, a guy who’s changing government for the better and won re-election with overwhelming support even when the top of the ticket trended the other way, and our poor neighbors got stuck with this guy (not to mention George Ryan before him):

Illinois Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich and his Chief of Staff, John Harris, were arrested today by FBI agents on federal corruption charges alleging that they and others are engaging in ongoing criminal activity: conspiring to obtain personal financial benefits for Blagojevich by leveraging his sole authority to appoint a United States Senator; threatening to withhold substantial state assistance to the Tribune Company in connection with the sale of Wrigley Field to induce the firing of Chicago Tribune editorial board members sharply critical of Blagojevich; and to obtain campaign contributions in exchange for official actions – both historically and now in a push before a new state ethics law takes effect January 1, 2009.

Point Indiana. But please join me in wishing our Illinois neighbors the best so they can recover and get on track with some semblance of honest governance in the near future.

Illinois Fun Fact: According to Frugal Hoosiers, that means 4 of the last 7 Illinois governors in the past 50 years have gone to prison. (On the upside, 3 of their last 7 governors have not gone to prison.)