Does That Falling Tree Make Any Noise When No-one is There to Hear it?


We may also ask, if there is no-one in an office, can you believe they are working?

I’m sure you’ve all heard the philosophical question of whether a falling tree makes a sound if there’s no-one nearby to hear it. The mild conundrum was first voiced, rather remarkably by George Berkely in the mid 18th century. George’s riddle developed into the further fascinating phrase of “to be is to be perceived”.

Since the 18th century, our physicists have helped our philosophers by proving that a falling tree would emit a sound, as sound is a mechanical wave of pressure and displacement through a medium such as air or water.

So – there’s our answer and let us retain that knowledge to help us answer the issues that the second question posed and is probably one that many managers and business owners have some concern over.

In these days of a much-increased working from home environment, how do we know that our employees and staff are putting in a full shift, working the hours they are paid for, and contributing to the businesses objectives?

Adapting the tree comparison “Does observation affect outcome?”

There have been many good articles on working from home, or WFH, as we now affectionately call it – or aka, and please delete where appropriate creche/noise/kitchen/bedroom/library. This article isn’t about the detail of this “new normal”, but more about the sentiment and philosophy we should adopt. However, it’s worth bearing in mind a few principles:

  1. Make communication a priority.
    Nothing beats face-to-face personal contact, but in its absence, we must gently over-compensate, and ensure our communication is not only timely and regular, but clear and sensitive.
  2. Educate and inform everyone
    Don’t assume anything here, and ensure you have good policies created or adapted.
  3. Ask for staff perspectives
    You do not know everything, and especially nowadays you do not need to pretend that you do.
  4. Assess and re-evaluate your WFH policy
    We are living in an odd world, and a very much changing one, so it’s important to re-assess all aspects, and tweak and improve as better practices develop.
  5. Trust people
    This is the key issue here.


Do you recall that other question? “Why do we bother training our people so well, when they will just leave?”

The answer is of course “What happens if we don’t train them and they stay?”

Trust is vital here. You have recruited and trained and nurtured all of your team, and therefore you must believe they have the interest of their role at heart.

You do not now need to micro-manage them, nor check that every previously normal working minute is filled with sixty seconds of distance run (to mildly misquote Rudyard Kipling). It is certainly outcomes that are key here, and if your staff deliver what you expect via a slightly different route that is a good outcome.

Trust is vital – and it’s a two-way thing, of course.

So don’t worry that you can’t hear that tree falling, just have trust and faith that it is has fallen, and is being cut into good timber, and put to very good use.

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