5 Potentially Life-Changing Workplace Experiments, Tested by Team MR
02.06.20

Last October, The New York Post published a story titled, “How millennials have killed the Manhattan power lunch.” Naturally, it went viral. And as it often goes when an anti-millennial hot take is published, the rebuttals came soon after, reminding the power-lunchers of yore that most young people in New York are too broke, busy, and burnt out to be spending an afternoon schmoozing with associates (unless of course, that schmoozing is taking place at Sweetgreen.)

In the Man Repeller office, the Post story got us talking about work trends. Whether it’s a workday that’s split up by two elementary school-style breaks or a plea to return to desk cubicles, it feels like there’s constantly something new to be said about how we can improve the way we work. So we resolved to choose five of the most intriguing suggestions we could find and put them to the test. Every day for one week, our editorial team—Mallory, Haley, Harling, Amalie, and myself—tried a new way of working. I think they call this investigative journalism. After each trial, we held a post-mortem over Slack (which, no spoilers, felt incredibly ironic after one epically failed experiment) to discuss the results. Scroll down to see which ones lived up to the hype and which ones decidedly did not.


Day 1: We Power Lunch’d (and Hopefully Made Some Boomers Proud)

We decided to kick off the week with the alleged work habit that inspired this whole experiment: the power lunch. We blocked an hour and a half out in our calendars and headed to the newly opened and incredibly photogenic Soho Diner, where we ate the world’s best fries and came back to the office feeling equal parts full and exhausted with our eyes at half-mast. Our thoughts the next day…

Haley: Aren’t power lunches supposed to make you more focused because you took a proper break? Or is a power lunch not a proper break because you’re supposed to keep working?

Gyan: I feel like the purpose of them was to drink while schmoozing, then have a sleepy afternoon.

Harling: Yeah, like people would nap in their offices after (on their leather couches.)

Haley: I do think I could take a nap rn

Harling: *Carrie Bradshaw voice* I couldn’t help but wonder: Does a power lunch only work if it’s followed by a power nap? Also, I feel like power lunches are only suited to jobs where you need to shmooze. The concept doesn’t really apply to just eating a long lunch with your colleagues.

Mallory: Yeah, maybe we should have dined with people who were not on our team?

Amalie: It kind of felt more French in nature (they usually take 1–2 hour lunch breaks in the middle of the workday) and often will sit and chat with colleagues.

Harling: It’s also worth noting that technology is what’s really killing the power lunch. In the olden times you could lunch for two hours uninterrupted but now you’re getting slacks and emails, which is not only distracting but also stressful.

Gyan: That being said: I propose a monthly team lunch because I loved it!

Haley: Millennials never kill anything. I’m in.

Harling: Put it on the cal.

Day 2: We Took a Boss-Endorsed Afternoon Nap

Everyone from The New York Times, to Forbes, to The Guardian have promoted the weekday afternoon nap. The general consensus when talking about afternoon naps during the workday is that they increase productivity, increase memorization, and improve creative thinking—all great things. So, under the guise of becoming better Man Repeller employees, we visited The Dreamery by Casper, where we each took a strictly-phone-free 45-minute nap in our own “Casper nook” at precisely 2 p.m. on a Tuesday. Our nap post-mortem:

Gyan: I’m very curious to hear everyone’s take on the workday afternoon nap?

Haley: I have very mixed feelings!

Mallory: Well, first of all, I feel like The Dreamery set-up is so ideal, if this kind of thing were ever to work. When we first talked about this I imagined us all, like, laying on mats in the office with the lights out.

Haley: Yes. It was SO NICE. I expected a nap pod to be very creepy and weird but instead it was like the ideal clean hotel bed, perfectly imagined for sleep. So dark/quiet/luxurious.

Gyan: It was… a lot better than my actual bed/bedroom lol.

Haley: I felt like a rich person flying first class, but richer. Did everyone fall asleep? I 100% did.

Amalie: I think I fell too asleep.

Haley: I would like to state for the record that Amalie required an employee to get her out of bed.

Mallory: I did not fall asleep, which really surprised me. I stayed awake and worried about not waking up on time, a possible lost wallet, and my life in general. I did relax though… And would 10/10 do again.

Haley: I would too. The problem for me was afterward. I was so tired all afternoon. I feel like I entered REM…

Gyan: Maybe the trick is not actually sleeping, because I felt pretty good.

Mallory: Yeah, same.

Haley: Oh, interesting. So more like a comfy mid-day meditation? If so, I guess we can just do this in the in-office phone booths like Abie does…

Gyan: You can try that first, Haley.

Day 3: We Went Back in Time to the ’00s and Worked With Limited Tech

We’re fairly reliant on new technologies in the MR office. We don’t have desk phones or desktop computers (my computer doesn’t even have a USB port??), and only a handful of people write their daily to-do lists on actual paper. But is all this tech that’s supposed to increase our productivity and connectedness actually doing its job? We decided to find out by turning back the metaphorical tech-clock and cutting down on the tools we normally rely on. We all did this experiment a little differently, but limiting Slack and email was the main course of action—when we actually remembered that we were supposed to be off-tech ,that is. Below, some notes on how we failed:

Harling: This was most difficult experiment BY FAR. But I did love being forced to converse more with my colleagues throughout the day. It felt so much more human than a robotic Slack (the few times I successfully did it).

Mallory: I think this was the number one thing we tried that really depended on more people agreeing to do it for it to be truly functional.

Harling: Yeah especially with Slack. I couldn’t just ignore Slacks!

Mallory: And by “more people” I mean the entire world, not even just our office.

Is it concerning that checking email feels like a small reward I can give myself whenever I want?

Haley: The biggest takeaway for me was how much I check my email. Every time I was editing a tricky sentence my finger would search for my email tab and then not find it! I realized that checking my inbox is my main procrastination tactic.

Harling: Is it concerning that checking email feels like a small reward I can give myself whenever I want? It’s like a bath—or a cup of coffee.

Haley: No, I feel that too!

Amalie: I don’t have this relationship with email but I do have it with social, obviously.

Haley: Something interesting about our office is how seldom anyone is doing anything besides work. Other places I’ve worked people would be reading articles and online shopping and fucking around in general from time to time. But here everyone is so focused all day (def by necessity, but also because our jobs are engaging, I hope?). I think maybe that’s why email feels like a treat. It’s less intensive.

Gyan: 100000000%. Like I cannot stress how little everyone messes around on Slacks here compared to my last office.

Haley: Totally. MR is a more intense office than people would probably guess. Maybe that was why the tech diet didn’t really work? Nobody here is really wasting time. So removing something was more of a barrier than a time-save.

Gyan: Yeah I think so! It just kind of actually got in the way of productivity?!

Day 4: We Tried Fika, the Most Delicious Workday Treat Imaginable

According to the “official website of Sweden,” Swedes try to avoid translating the word fika at all costs because, to them, this tradition is so much more than just a “coffee and cake break.” Fika can happen at any time in the morning, afternoon, or evening; at home or work; with friends, family, or colleagues; but the point of this routine is taking time to sit with those around you to enjoy a lovely conversation and, hopefully, something sweet. On this day, we held fika in the office at 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. and used it as an excuse to get everyone’s favorite treats from Maman. We banned work talk, phones, and laptops. It was truly delightful, especially the afternoon session, which everyone favored over the morning get-together. Our post-fika thoughts:

Gyan: Did everyone love fika as much as I did?

Amalie: I loved fika. Fika is a lifestyle.

Harling: Wish I was fika-ing right now. Very proud of us for actually taking a break and not talking about work during the allotted time as instructed by Gyan’s “general merriment only” policy.

It had the feeling of ‘coming up for air.’

Mallory: I feel like fika had the highest quality conversation of our experiments so far. Do you guys think so? Maybe because it was more condensed than lunch but still a “sitting at a table with food/drink” kind of thing?

Harling: Yes, it had the feeling of “coming up for air.” And we could do it in the office without much disruption i.e. it didn’t require going anywhere.

Haley: I brought this up when we were doing it but at my old job we had a tradition of the whole office taking a snack break at 4 p.m. every day. If it was super disruptive to your work you didn’t have to do it, but largely everyone did and I looked forward to it every day! Our office manager would usually put out some kind of snack and coffee/tea and everyone would stand around and chat for like 15 minutes. It was great.

Amalie: I think that’s important for those who work later into the evening, too. Those last hours really feel like a slog.

Haley: For sure. Plus, everyone is hungry at 4 p.m.—that’s just true.

Harling: It’s actually crazy how much of a morale boost an afternoon snack can be. Even more so when it’s with a group or your team, but even a solo snack break can be effective.

Day 5: We Tried—Emphasis on Tried—the Five-Hour Workday

It seems like every few months a new article arises online about the CEOs that are revolutionizing the world with shorter work days, bookmarked by articles questioning whether America will ever be able to adopt the flexible work hours that are seen elsewhere. This was the only experiment we had to attempt twice. The first time we tried to limit out working hours to five-hours, the team was so collectively stressed we decided to call it a failure and try again the following Friday—which we did, (slightly) more successfully. Our five-hour workday post-mortem:

Gyan: Thoughts on the five-hour workday?

Harling: Beautiful in theory, challenging in practice. I really wanted it to work, but ultimately I’ll confess: I definitely worked more than five hours.

Mallory: I think it would only be possible long-term if we changed our actual workloads because we already work efficiently.

Haley: It helped that I had made an appointment for 3 p.m. that day so I HAD to leave by 2:30 p.m. as planned. But I think you’re right, Mallory, efficiency isn’t really our issue. So squeezing the day in isn’t exactly possible.

Amalie: The secret behind this cute, cool website is that we all work super hard.

Haley: Everybody don’t be mean to us in the comments!!!

Mallory: We are like the editorial equivalent of no-makeup makeup.

Harling: New company slogan.

Mallory: Or like, designer bedhead.

Gyan: I will say: We made summer fridays work? (Sometimes.)

Isn’t the five-hour workday supposed to be an everyday solution?

Harling: True, and the nice thing about summer fridays is that even if you have more work to do, you’re still free to leave the office, take a break, and return to your work later. On our experiment day I left around 3 p.m. to go work out in the middle of the day (!!) which did feel like a luxury. I ended up having to work for a few hours after, but I liked that I could exercise in the afternoon as a result of the experiment instead of squeezing it into the morning when I’m half-asleep. It lent my day more flexibility.

Gyan: I did something similar, Harling! Left work at 3 p.m., went for a run, got some groceries, then logged back on at EOD to button a few things up before the weekend. Maybe flexibility is the answer while we wait for the five-hour workday to hit the mainstream?

So, In Conclusion…

Mallory: Did anyone have a favorite experiment?

Haley: I think five-hour workday would be my favorite IN THEORY (i.e. I want to live in a world where that is possible). In practice it was probably fika.

Mallory: Interesting. I would say five-hour also in theory and then in reality: midday nap. If I have to be at work for a full eight hours, I’d like to be asleep for some of it!

Amalie: Reality: fika. In-theory: power lunch lol

Gyan: I’m with Haley! If I had to make one way of working universal it would be the five-hour workday, but fika was really fun for the day. I think we should… maybe move to Sweden? Fika and a ~30 hour work week.

Harling: Five hours = too short, but I loved being able to leave early. It made me think of our convo that we had another time about starting work earlier in the day, working the same # hours as usual, and leaving earlier in the day. I think that’s where I’m netting out in terms of what this experiment taught me.

Haley: Yes it seems like we enjoy breaking up the work day a bit.

Harling: Maybe that’s the answer. Enforced interruption!

Photos by Beth Sacca.

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