“It takes time to get through to the hidden wishes that motivate clients, but you have to know these to do the best job for them.” These days, his initial meetings last up to two hours, during which he develops a thorough grasp of the client’s personality, circumstances, values, aims and fears. As a result, Heller, a lively 56-year-old with a goatee and a mischievous grin, works more efficiently, and his business is booming. “Clients are always telling me that with other lawyers you get five minutes to explain what you need, you hand over the papers and you’re out the door,” he says. “Though it may seem very slow and old-fashioned, listening is the best policy. The worst thing is to rush into action.”
Many companies are now trying to strike a balance between fast and slow at work. Often this means recognizing the limits of technology. Email, for all its speed, cannot capture irony, nuance or body language, and this leads to misunderstandings and mistakes. Slower methods of communication—walking across the office and actually talking to someone face-to-face, for instance—can save time and money, and build esprit de corps, in the long run. That is one reason that companies have started urging staff to think hard before they hit the send button. In 2001, Nestlé Rowntree became the first of many UK firms to introduce email-free Fridays. A year later, British Airways ran a series of TV comm-ercials with a “slower is better” theme. In one, a group of businessmen think they’ve won an order from a US firm by faxing across a proposal. Their rivals end up stealing the deal by taking the time to fly over and make the pitch face-to-face.
Companies are also moving to make work less of a 24/7 treadmill. The accountancy firm Ernst and Young recently told its US employees that it was okay not to check email and voice mail over the weekend. In a similar vein, stressed-out executives are taking the heretical step of turning off their cell phones outside the office. Jill Hancock, a go-getting investment banker in London, used to take her chic, chrome-plated Nokia everywhere, and even answered calls on vacation or in the middle of a romantic dinner. She paid the price, though, in depression and chronic fatigue. When a psychologist diagnosed “mobile phone addiction” and urged her to switch off from time to time, Hancock was appalled. But eventually she gave it a try, first silencing the Nokia during her lunch break, and later on evenings and weekend when an urgent call was unlikely. Within two months, she was off the antidepressants, her skin had cleared up and she was getting more work done in less time. At the bank, her colleagues accept that Hancock is no longer reachable around the clock. A few have even followed her example. “I didn’t realize it at the time, but the fact that I was always available, always on, was grinding me down,” she says. “We all need time to ourselves.” Decelerating at work also prompted Hancock to make more room for Slow pursuits in the rest of her life. She has taken up yoga and now cooks a real supper, instead of a microwaved meal, at least two evenings a week.
To avoid burnout, and to promote creative thinking, business gurus, therapists and psychologists increasingly prescribe doses of slowness for the workplace. In his best-selling 2002 book, How to Succeed in Business Without Working So Damn Hard, Robert Kriegel suggested taking regular 15- to 20-minute time-outs during the day. Dr. Donald Hensrud, director of the Mayo Clinic Executive Health Program, advises, “Try shutting your office door and closing your eyes for 15 minutes. Lean back and breathe deeply.”
Even in high-speed, high-pressure industries, companies are taking steps to help their staff slow down. Some grant sabbaticals in hopes that an extended period away from the office will refresh employees and stir their creative juices. Others offer on-the-job yoga, aromatherapy and massage, or encourage workers to eat lunch away from their desks. Some firms have installed chill-out rooms. At the Tokyo office of Oracle, the software giant, the staff has access to a soundproof meditation room with a wooden floor bordered by smooth pebbles and Oriental objets d’art.
The room’s lighting is soft, and a hint of incense hangs in the air. At the flick of a switch, the soothing sounds of a babbling brook tinkle from the stereo system.
Takeshi Sato is a big fan of the eighth-floor sanctuary. As manager of the CEO’s office, he works a 12-hour day, juggling emails, meetings, phone calls and budget reports. When the pace becomes too frenetic, he leaves his desk to spend ten minutes in the meditation room. “At times in the day, I suddenly feel like I need to be slow, to relax, to let my mind become still and quiet,” he tells me. “Some people might think of that as ten minutes of lost time, but I see it as ten minutes well invested. It’s very important for performance to be able to switch on and off, between fast and slow. After I have been in the meditation room, my mind is sharper and calmer, which helps me make good decisions.”
Other people are taking deceleration to its ultimate conclusion and actually catching 40 winks during the working day. Though sleeping on the job is the ultimate taboo, research has shown that a short “power nap”—around 20 minutes is ideal—can boost energy and productivity. A recent study by NASA concluded that 24 minutes of shut-eye did wonders for a pilot’s alertness and performance. Many of the most vigorous and successful figures in history were inveterate nappers: John F. Kennedy, Thomas Edison, Napoleon Bonaparte, John D. Rockefeller, Johannes Brahms. Winston Churchill delivered the most eloquent defense of the afternoon snooze: “Don’t think you will be doing less work because you sleep during the day. That’s a foolish notion helped by people who have no imagination. You will be able to accomplish more. You get two days in one—well, at least one and a half.”
Napping can be especially helpful nowadays, when so many of us are not sleeping enough at night. Backed by pro-sleep groups such as the World Napping Organization to the Portuguese Association of Friends of the Siesta, snoozing in the middle of the workday is enjoying a renaissance. At its six factories in the US, Yarde Metals encourages staff to doze during breaks. The company has built special “nap rooms” and once a year holds a collective napping session complete with buffet lunch and silly costumes. Vechta, a small city in northern Germany, urges its civil servants to take a postprandial snooze in their office chairs or at home. From the American factory floor to the German town hall, the results are the same: happier staff, better morale, higher productivity. More on-the-job napping may be in the pipeline. In 2001, Sedus, a leading European manufacturer of office furniture, unveiled a new chair that opens up to a horizontal position to allow people to catch a few ZZZs at their desks.
In Spain, meanwhile, the siesta is coming back with a modern twist. Since most Spaniards no longer have time to go home at lunch for a big meal and a nap, Masajes a 1000 (Massages for 1000), a nationwide network of “siesta salons” now offers everyone from bankers to bartenders the chance to grab 20 minutes of sleep for four euros.
At the branch in Barcelona’s Mallorca Street, every detail is designed to relax. The walls are painted a soothing shade of peach, and the rooms are warm and softly lit. New Age music whispers from hidden speakers. Fully clothed and kneeling facedown in ergonomically designed chairs, the customers enjoy head, neck and back massages. Once customers drift off to sleep, the masseur drapes a thick woolen blanket over them and moves on. As I settle into my chair, at least three people in the room are snoring gently. A couple of minutes later, I join them.
Afterward, on the sidewalk outside, I fall into conversation with a young salesman called Luis, who is straightening his tie after a 15-minute snooze. He looks as refreshed as I feel. “This is so much better than going to the gym,” he says, snapping his briefcase shut. “I feel totally energized. I feel ready for anything.”
Read our interview with Carl Honoré here.
Copyright © 2004 by Carl Honoré. Reprinted by permission of HarperOne, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers. From the book In Praise of Slowness: How A Worldwide Movement Is Challenging the Cult of Speed by Carl Honoré.
Production Lottie at Darling Creative
Photographer’s Assistant Adam Lang
Digital Operator Oli Geir
Hair and Makeup Lyz Marsden
Model Harry Uzoka at Premier Model Management