How would you like it if your employees started hanging "Do Not Disturb" signs outside their cubes? Many entrepreneurs would be all for it. In fact, some cutting-edge business owners have begun enforcing rules that provide days of peace and quiet for their employees.
Such days come with all kinds of names-alone days, free days, focus days, buffer days, thinking days-but whatever the moniker, they each seem to have the same effect. "The benefits are huge," says Richard Rhodes, 40, CEO of Rhodes, Ragen & Smith, a Seattle-based supplier of building products. "We have specific days when you put the sign up on your door, shut off your phone and really wrap your head around a problem. The goal is to take time to work on the business instead of in it. Some people call it 'taking time to sharpen the ax.'"
Entrepreneurs like Rhodes are finding that giving their employees days to use as they wish, or in some cases for a specific reason, also helps the staff's overall performance. While they often set aside days just for brainstorming, thinking or catching-up sessions, some companies take the concept to the extreme, like designating a certain day each week when nothing but alone time is allowed.
"Under no circumstances are meetings allowed on Fridays, even with clients," says Bill Zurynetz, 39, who co-founded The Lost Boys Consortium, an Englewood, New Jersey-based PR and marketing firm. The anti-meeting Zurynetz admits that the first time his staff used the company's new conference room was to watch the season finale of The Sopranos-two months after moving into the building.
"On [meeting-free] days, we even encourage employees to use the 'Do Not Disturb' feature on their phones and only respond to calls of an emergency nature," says Zurynetz. "We find it gives people a better focus, and we get better, more logical work when there are no meetings and no phones to interrupt [people]."