The other day I came around an interesting article by Steve Blakeman, through LinkedIn about stupid office rules. The piece was titled "6 Stupid Office Rules That Should Be Banned", so of course I started reading it, only to discover, to my dismay, why some of them wouldn't be banned. Mr. Blakeman did his article on the footsteps of another article listing more stupid rules, so this little post could almost become the post-post-post of the topic, though let's be honest, ever since the begining of times, many office rules have been considered stupid and people have been complaining about them since complains have been invented. Anyway, the six stupid rules are the following:
1. Banning the Use of Social Media
2. Inflexible Working Hours
3. Excruciating e-mail Policies
4. Stopping the Use of Smartphones
5. Draconian Dress Code
6. "One Size Fits All" Performance Evaluations
Now, you look at the rules... and I wonder which of these are applied at your workplaces. A my job we have the #2, some offices have the #1 and there's a measure of #5... and I think that's it. I'm yet to see a place that applies #4, other than Intel, where I know that phones that can take photos are banned from the production area. The #3 used to be enforced, but not the way described by the article, and, well, #6 only applies to bosses. So, let me tackle these the best I can.
Fighting Social Networks
The problem with social networks is that they consume a lot of time from people. Mostly the younger employees who get completely engrossed with their phones and they also happen to be paying more attention to their screens that to the meeting they are attending. Now, on one side, that's a modern phenomenon, something these kids have grown into as their parents, from early age, found it easier to sit them down before the TV to keep them quiet and out of the way rather than find them something to do or spend time with them. Well, this is what you get. However, there's something else here in play. First, you can't close out your employees from the social networks during office hours because these platforms are in their phones, so they'll have access to them 24/7, whether you like it or not. Second, has anyone thought about the quality of the job asked from the employee or what the employee actually has to do? Sadly, a lot of place hardly ever take advantage of the employees full potential, and more than once either keep them idle at the office or load them with some sort of unimaginative, mechanic work, that forces their brains to escape to more amusing occupations.
Same happens with meetings. A lot of people loath going to meetings because often it becomes a plaform for some people to extend on talking about nothing, or the topics are not involving or open for discussion. Indeed, there are people that like big gatherings and invite a lot of people for meetings where they have nothing to add to the discussion. Those people will get bothered, and if they have a phone or a computer close, they'll try and get some sort of amusement to pass the time. You could ban social networks or smartphones, but people will still go on distracting themselves with something else. Banning all distractions isn't the solution, for you should attack the root, the lack of involvement of your employees, not what they do to avoid falling asleep.
Should these really be banned? The thing goes as follows: you have a schedule when you start working, and in some places you need to stick to that schedule more than at others. If you work in shifts, you need to keep your workhours. At offices, maybe you could argue that you don't need workhours, but think of the following: often at the office, you have some tasks assigned, but then, out of the blue, you could be called to attend a meeting where you need to explain something you did, or assist at something you know about. A set schedule isn't only about the time during which youdo the job or tasks you are required to do, but also signals the period through which you are available for your company for other jo related tasks.
I've seen people often complain about stiff workhours, and though I agree it's a pety thing to go on counting minutes, I wonder if those bitching would actually be able to perform on a task-based working system. I mean, think of your working year: it usually has ups and downs, right? Some months are heavier, others are slower. If you assume that your working schedule would be based on it, on heavy months you would have to spend 13 hours or more at the office, while on slow months you'd spend 4 hours per day. For the same payment? Well, it sounds unfair to be paid the same for 4 hours or 13, right? So that may have to change. Paid less for 4 hours, more for 13.
If this goes on, your could end up being hired only for projects, not always by the same company. Now, this sounds good for some, but do think about the forces of the market playing here. As you grow old, do you think you'd be able to work and find work just like the younger generations? Some people would think they could and that their experience will be their advantage... well, more power to them. Specially in a world where "experience" is being quickly replaced by "actualized knowledge". But far be it from me to burst your bubble.
Set workhours are not an evil, and if you pay attention, they could also work in your favor. If you don't have a set schedule, then you could get to the office at 8 am, and work until 5 pm, expecting to leave for your classes, pick up the kids or something, but thenm if your boss showed for work at 11 am, they might expect you to attend to a meeting at 6.30 pm, with no extra hours paid for it.
The real problem at offices with set schedules is when they are set only for a some people, and let loose for others. This, again, isn't a problem with the rules, but a problem that the management can solve.
Back in the day people were fond of sending forwards. Back in the day, the capacity of servers was also much more limited, so in that sense it may have made sense. I guess people can have some leeway with their work e-mails though not much is needed as people's personal e-mail accounts are already at their fingertips on their phones. Keeping work e-mails for work makes sense, actually, and also makes sense from the personal side of it. All e-mails sent and received to a work address belong to the company, so do you really want your company to have hold of your love letters, your gossip and your check balances?
Ban The Smartphone
Really? There are places like that?
Now, this depends entirely on the given dress code and how it is applied. A dress code isn't only about the corporative image you'll project, but also a way to help people fit it. Now, some might be stupid, like stipulating the allowed lenght of skirts, but others that might seem stupid may actually be smart. I used to work at a bank where you couldn't wear boots nor white pants or white skirts. The reason was that you could hide money in your boots, so that avoided the humiliating search, and since you were around lots of printed paper and money, white pants and skirts would get dirty soon. A white shirt could be covered with a blazer and still look elegant, but what do you do with a stain on a pant?
Then, there's the case of the people who don't have the same framework we do about what's proper work clothing and what's not. Though jeans might be a fringe case (and I love jeans, though I can only wear them on Fridays when I'm working), there are others that are not. It's not uncommon the case of the assistant or secretary who actually believes she can come to work in skimpy, tight and whorish clothing. I've seen in some places that some lady coworkers come dressed like they just came back from partying all night, or like they are planning on compensating their paycheck by "walking the street" right after work. There's one secretary I saw once that was so vulgar I actually thought "damned, so companies do hire whores to entertain important clients/providers". This sort of dressing issue isn't exclusive of females with whorish-dressing tendencies, but also of males who either want to be surfers or hobos or think that the office is the place to express how much they love hard metal music, or even to show off their allegedly super-sexy physiques.
The thing about the dress code is to put people in a similar environment ruled by a similar attitude towards work: work isn't a place where you come to hang out with friends to chat about your likes, nor is it a place to hook up. Work is a place where you... well... work.
As long as a dress code isn't about a particular style, but about a guideline, it's ok. You can be asked to wear a suit everyday, but you shouldn't be asked to wear an Armani suit everyday.
This is more of a Human Resources thing, and in a way, I agree that all employees should be evaluated on certain similar basis, such as if you've completed all of your assigned tasks, and if they were completed to satisfaction and so on. In here the matter is also about the previous work the office should do to regulate your workload and the qualification of it, and that's the part that doesn't happen. It's not the same if you are assigned to a huge task and can't finish it in a year because it depends on other people and not everybody completed their part while someone else got 10 easy tasks, like sending follow up messages.
A performance evaluation should come within a set of clear rules and standards, as well as the proper commitment from your superiors about assigning you tasks in a constant, planned manner, valuating them and so on. Making yearly work plans might help if they don't stay only on paper, which sadly often happen as well.
Well, from my previous little "dissecting" of the rules, it might come through that the evil isn't in the rules themselves but how often are they enforced. When rules are set because "rules need to be set" but they are not properly enforced, or are sadly applied in places where the management expect the employees to do all the legwork and them only to enjoy the success, well, they won't work and only generate discomfort. Office rules are much like the laws of a country: they worth nothing and are only a nuissance if you don't set as well the proper framework for them to funtion.