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Business English Conversation Lessons: Why Work Doesn’t Happen at Work

In this conversation lesson, students watch a TED talk about limiting distractions in the workplace to increase productivity. Students then discuss the speaker’s ideas. Do the warm-up with students, teach the vocabulary, show the video, and then have students do the conversation questions in small groups.


Warm up

Put students in pairs and tell them to discuss the following:

What are some distractions people commonly have to deal with in an office? What things do companies do to minimize these distractions?

Give them a few minutes to discuss the questions and then meet as a class. Get some quick feedback from students about the above questions.


Vocabulary and TED Talk

Tell students they are going to watch a video by Jason Friede, a software engineer with some revolutionary ideas about how to create a more productive work environment.

Before playing the video, define some of the challenging vocabulary Friede uses in the video.

burst/to burst 
to ban
collaboration/to collaborate
to lease 
to shred 
stretch of time 
to bump 
instant messaging/IM 

Play the video. To ensure comprehension, tell students to listen for the answers to the following questions:

        According to Jason Fried, where do people normally go when they really need to get something done?

        What does he say are the two biggest distractions at work?

        What are his three recommendations for creating a more productive workplace?

As a class, review the answers to the three comprehension questions.

Conversation Questions

1. Where do you go when you really need to get something done? Do you do your best work at the office or somewhere else? Tell your group about it.

2. Does your company allow people to work from home? Do you ever work from home? Do you think people are more productive or less productive when they work from home? Why?

3. Do you think people need long stretches of uninterrupted time to be creative?

4. Does your job require creative thinking? Does your work environment provide uninterrupted time to be creative? In general, are you more creative at the office or outside the office?

5. What do you think of company policies that ban Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and other  websites? Do these policies help people be more productive? Does your company ban certain websites at the office?

6. What are the pros and cons of meetings? Do you think companies spend too much time on meetings? Why or why not? Do you think managers should try to limit meetings? Are meetings necessary for certain companies but unnecessary for others?

7. What are the pros and cons of having a “no-talk Thursday” at the office? Would you like to have a “no-talk Thursday” at work? Why or why not?

8. Do you think collaborative forms of communication such as email and instant messaging should be used instead of face-to-face communication at work? Do you think this would help people be more productive? Would you like to use more collaborative communication at your current position? Why or why not?

Also see these business English conversation lessons.