Sam Radford

January 26, 2022

Assume people are focused on their own work

Jason Fried, founder and CEO of Basecamp, wrote a great article on his blog this week entitled ‘The Presence Prison’. It was about the trend via apps like Teams and Slack to always showcase our presence at work—whether we’re available, busy, in a meeting, or away. He’s not a fan:

Truth is, there are hardly any good reasons to know if someone’s available or away at any given moment. If you truly need something from someone, ask them. If they respond, then you have what you needed. If they don’t, it’s not because they’re ignoring you — it’s because they’re busy. Respect that! Assume people are focused on their own work.

I switched off my status on Teams a while back. A few people have asked questions saying that don’t know whether they can call me or not. 

What happens? They send a message asking if I’m free for a call. When I see it, if I am, I say yes, we have a call. If I haven’t seen the notification until later, I reply, we arrange a call, we have a call.

This is how it should be!

But here’s what doesn’t happen. If I’m in the middle of something, focussing hard, I’m not pulled out of that headspace by an unplanned call. This is also why I don’t have notifications switched on except for calendar appointments. Work is too important to have my head pulled from one thing to the next on the whim of others. 

Am I still available to my colleagues? Yes. It might not always be instantaneously, but the negatives triggered by constant presence are too great. It’s not a price I’m willing to pay. 

We need to foster working environments where, as Fried says, we assume people are focussed on their own work. And so we are respectful in how we message people, call people, and ask for time from them. We help people do deep work by not constantly demanding for immediate responses or engagement.

Of course, there’s always going to be emergencies now and then. Those demands for an instant response or engagement should be rare though.

—Sam

Got some thoughts on this? I’d love to hear from you—do hit reply or drop me a note.

@samradford | samradford.com