I’m writing this article working from home (at 9:28am on a Thursday morning). I chose to do this due to the increased concentration afforded by the solitude of my apartment. It’s amazing how productive I can be when I have a little space for myself; I’ve been trying to write this piece for three days in the office to no avail. For all my colleagues know, right now I could be sipping a latte somewhere or sleeping in… but at least I know that when I do get into the office in a couple of hours time I won’t be hit by any sludge.

Hang on, what’s sludge?

Sludge is one of the most ingrained cultural challenges facing an organisation which is transitioning to an agile work environment. As we said in our recent blog, We’re Curious because Slade Group is embarking on the exciting prospect of Hot Desking. As we move towards a Results Only Work Environment (ROWE), we need to be aware of some of the pitfalls.

Sludge according to Cali Ressler and Jody Thompson (the designers of the ROWE management strategy) is “Any negative comment we make that serves to reinforce old ideas about how work gets done. Another way of looking at sludge is a kind of code for the status quo. We can’t come out and say what we want to say, so we talk around it.”

Here are some examples used in their book Why Work Sucks and How to Fix It (Portfolio, 2008).

Someone says, “Eleven o’clock and you’re just getting in?” because they can’t say, “That’s not fair! I got in at eight like everyone else.” Or someone says, “I can’t believe Toby got that promotion. He’s never here!” because they can’t say, “I don’t get it. I turn out the lights at this place every night, so why am I being passed over?”

What do we gain from treating each other like this? And how did it manage to get so bad that we now even start to anticipate receiving sludge and make up elaborate stories to avoid it?

Imagine you are running a few minutes late for work. Immediately you ponder what you can say to avoid judgement from your colleagues when you arrive into the office. “There was a flock of geese sitting on the tracks, so the train was delayed, they cancelled it half way into the city and I then had to catch a bus, the bus driver got lost… oh poor me what a big drama to get into the office.”   I’ve seen this happen many times and on reflection, I have participated in sludge anticipation a few times myself.

So how do we go about removing sludge from our lives? Ressler and Thompson suggest each person needs to reflect on their existing biases, whether it be acting as a clock watcher, silently keeping track of their team members hours of work or making the assumption that if someone isn’t contributing in a meeting, they aren’t listening. Once we all understand these biases, we can work on eradicating them from our daily lives so we can then focus our attention on important things like actually doing our work and striving towards that all important end result. Because that is after all how we are measured.

Have you been sludged? Tell us about it.