Mu Sigma tells staff to go quiet for an hour every day
For half an hour at 10:30am and for another half an hour at 3:30pm, the 3,500 Mu Sigma employees are encouraged to think about larger business problems
Bengaluru: A typical 10-hour workday is like being on a treadmill. Keeping up with phone calls, meetings, emails, and some more calls and before you know it, the day is done. Trying to solve for the exigencies in a fast-paced environment does not give any room for some quiet. To solve this, tech solution provider Mu Sigma Inc. has formalized a system where for one hour a day, everyone goes quiet.
“Overall there is a shortage of creativity in the country. People get distracted easily and there is no structured way of thinking and we end up constantly looking outwards for solutions,” said Dhiraj Rajaram, founder-chairman of the company.
As a company that helps clients come up with analytics and data science solutions, six months ago Rajaram said all employees will get one hour of “meet-me” time, where employees take time to meet themselves and be by themselves.
So for half an hour at 10:30am and for another half an hour at 3:30pm, the 3,500 employees are encouraged to switch off from whatever they are doing and use that time to think about larger business problems.
“We are in the thinking business. Though we are a collaborative organization, you do need some solitude to be creative,” said Sridhar Turaga, delivery head at Mu Sigma. “And we believe creativity can be engineered through some solitude,” he added.
The company has encouraged all its employees to not take calls unless it is of utmost importance and also not schedule meetings during that time. The company is also encouraging the team leaders to help the employees initially by helping them think in certain directions.
“We help circulate questions that will nudge them to think in a certain direction and make the most of this time,” said Turaga. From thinking about how to achieve a peak to the disruptive change that a customer is witnessing, employees are asked to ponder over some of these big questions.
But can all employees go into a creative zone at a particular time during the day?
Experts are skeptical.
“At work, one is charged up to deal with a crowded workday and it is difficult to suddenly unplug. For doing that kind of creative thinking, you need to be unwound, so it can be practically difficult to unplug suddenly in the middle of a chaotic day,” said Rajiv Krishnan, partner and leader (people and organization) at audit and consulting firm EY. Moreover, all employees are not the same, and some people may prefer to think in their own time. “Some may prefer to think over these larger issues in the morning or while travelling. Keeping aside the same time slot may not necessarily help all employees,” he said.
But the Mu Sigma management believes that by having a specific time in the day, employees can be tuned to using that time well. Moreover, it is voluntary.
“Only those who see value in it will do this. So even if 20% of the organization finds value in it, that means 20% of my organisation is trying to think creatively, and that is a big win for us,” said Rajaram.
The initial results have been encouraging, said Turaga. “From just 20% of employees using this time, now 70% of employees use this time to reflect,” he said.
The concept of quiet time was recommended by Harvard Business School professor Leslie Perlow, who found that in a department of stressed engineers, it was powerful to simply declare “quiet time” in the morning, three days a week, with no meetings or phone calls to colleagues, no interruptions, and no expectation for immediate responses to emails. She found that people were more productive and they also felt less stressed and more satisfied with their work.