Monday, June 29, 2009

Office Heat Engine

The dictionary has it that an office is a "place of business where professional or clerical duties are performed". Do you work in an office or is it just a place you appear busy (place of business)? Scott Adams, Dilbert and probably you as well might disagree, but work actually gets done in an office environment...sometimes! :)

Even though it might seem like you have done nothing, you are exhausted by the end of a day in office, aren't you? The law of conservation of energy has it that your exhaustion means there is an expenditure of energy, and spent energy is equivalent to work done!!!

An office, if considered as an entity, can be viewed as a place where energy is expended and work is done. Thus we can draw a direct parallel to a heat engine. Terms like burnout, efficiency, exhaust etc do not seem to be merely coincidental! :)

From Wikipedia: A heat engine is a physical or theoretical device that converts thermal energy (called heat) to mechanical output (called work) .

The energy input for the office comes from the employees; they provide the heat-source for the office heat engine. The mechanical output (work) of the office may not often be directly measurable or tangible but it is sure to be there (where could it go? :)! The administrative machinery could be viewed as the valves, the rewards (monetary and other kinds) could be considered as lubricants, leave is maintenance and so on!

Now, the process of energy-release from an employee is fraught with inefficiency, as any HR functionary would readily attest. The expenditure of energy or employee-combustion :) does not guarantee that work will be done - lack of concentration, time-wastage, necessary social interactions are all degrading factors as far as the efficiency of the office is concerned. There is a definite factor of probability involved.

Hence, an office is a probabilistic heat engine!

- Thomas Jay Cubb

*Factories and production-houses are different from offices; here, the work done is more accurately and easily measurable
*Do the other laws of thermodynamics apply?


  1. I would agree to this in a larger org perspective where everyone seems to be doing something when no one is doing anything (pretty much). In smaller organizations everyone knows what the other is doing and there is a high incentive mechanism to ensure rewards for those that report the person not doing anything (saves lots of money to the company).

    In general though, I see Newton's laws being applied in all orgs:
    1. Inertia: If an employee is in a state of actually working, he/she will remain in that state and contribute to the org. Those that are in the state of idleness will remain in that state. These states can be changed by external forces like loan repayment and extreme boredom crossing inertial thresholds.
    2. F=ma: Force applied is directly proportional to lathargical mass and the acceleration (deceleration?) of the economy.
    3. For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Those reporting idle/non-contributing folks, get their asses kicked in the first round of layoffs. Those working hard get their asses kicked in the second round of layoffs. Those that get laid off, do eventually get jobs or well, at least have time to get laid...

  2. i guess that's you rivas :)

    i disagree with the smaller organization bit. first of all, the incentive mechanism is not a given. And there is always information loss, regardless of size.