Nose, Spite, Face, Whatever, Just Show Up On Time

According to an O2 survey, employers think they are more flexible with work scheduling than employees do:

O2 says that 75% of employees say they are most productive when they can change when and where they work, and 11% even rate this as more important their holiday allowance and salary.

But only 19% say their company encourages them to work flexibly, even though 77% of employers claim that flexible working is actively encouraged.

Several elements of the survey show that employers and staff have different perceptions of how well business is supporting flexible working. For example, 56% of companies say they have a clear policy on the issue, but just 30% of employees agree.

On whether staff are given the tools to work remotely, 54% of employers say this is the case, but only a third of employees agree. Also, 70% of managers say they set an example by frequently working from home or changing working hours, but only 18% of staff agree.

There are, of course, some jobs where strict hours are required. If your job is to be there to answer phones, then working at a specific time is rather crucial. Other times, though, it doesn’t matter. Other times still, it’s advantageous for employers to be flexible not just for employee morale, but because they need someone there on atypical hours.

When I worked at Soyokaze, a Japanese electronics company, I had a coworker named Pat. Pat was… not a morning person at all. This drove our Japanese supervisor batty. It was a broader cultural disconnect that when the Japanese said X, they were far more likely to mean X than if an employer says it. And they are used to people understanding that they mean it. So when Pat was told “be at work at 8” he was genuinely baffled when she repeatedly didn’t. But he’d read books on Americans and knew that we had to be coddled to at least some extent. He never liked it, but he did put up with it.

It was, ironically, after he moved on and the supervisor was an American that she was fired for excessive tardiness.

What drove me crazy about all of this is how unnecessary the time requirements were and how utterly counterproductive the firing was. Pat had more seniority than anyone in the department. Half of the department’s tribal knowledge left with her. She was not really promotable for reasons other than her tardiness, so she was a fantastic resource in a department with a lot of churn. She was also unlikely to get a job elsewhere. But she was a fantastic worker. It’s not easy to have employees that are willing to do monotonous jobs without demands for promotion and without constant flirtation with other jobs. A desire to shift hours a couple hours later due to an inability to get up in the morning is, in my view, a miniscule price to pay.

And that was if there weren’t institutional advantages to having someone work late. Our job was deadline-based. So it was not uncommon at all for them to have to ask one of us to stay late in order to get something out the door. They’d have to pay us overtime. But an employee working from 10-7 mitigates the need for that. It would have actually saved them money, if they could just get their heads around letting someone always be “late.”

The job I had before that had a similar situation, though the firing never occurred. We had a team member that struggled in the mornings. My boss Willard shrugged it off and let him start an hour late. At some point, management got wind of it and the project had to shut down. As I said, there was no firing. Instead, we had a half-asleep team member who would spend the two hours of his day staring half-asleep at his monitor before he would finally wake up. Management’s attitude actually meant 2 less productive hours than before, plus he didn’t actually start working until an hour after he was when he was just allowed to sleep in a bit.

It’s because of all of this that I am somewhat skeptical of the telecommuting revolution. It just requires that the employer give up more control than they are willing to. Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo!, made news by destroying Yahoo’s work-at-home culture. Others are suggesting that this move was warranted because the whole project had spun out of control and that this was a way to bring it back under control as well as layoffs-without-layoffs for those who quit.

All of this is quite a shame. With commuter congestion and a desire to reduce energy consumption, both telecommuniting and hours-shifting are both things it would be better to be working towards. Sometimes, it represents a significant cost to the employer and it’s hard to blame the employer for not going along. I question, though, the extent to which it will be resisted for other reasons.

Will Truman

Will Truman is the Editor-in-Chief of Ordinary Times. He is also on Twitter.


  1. I suppose I’ll get in trouble again when I say that this kind of behavior is irrational.

  2. I profoundly sympathize with Pat, wherever she might be today.

  3. When I was promoted to my last position I was promised an eventual opportunity to work from home. I was so excited that when we bought out new home we bout a 4-bedroom so we would have office space. Four years later it never materialized. The problem was that my company, like many others, has trust issues.

    The way we are organized all non-management employees (including me) are paid hourly. All management employees are paid salaries. The hourly employees work traditional 8 hour shifts and then go home. If there is a backlog of work and they stay over, they receive OT for the extra time. On the flip side our management are usually expected to work a 50-hour week but those 50 hours are sort of on the honor system. In actuality, some weeks they work 60 hours, some weeks they work 35. Their days can also go long sometimes with commitments to evening phone calls to other countries, etc.

    My company simply doesn’t trust non-management employees to work our minimum 40 hours. They are less interested in completing our assigned workload as they are in getting those 40 hours. In the office, if you get done with your work in 30 hours, the watchful eyes of your coworkers mean you will ask for more work to do rather than surf the web and chat with your Aunt Matilda on the phone for an hour.

    I love the idea of working from home myself and have several friends that do it. One is allowed to work from home one day per week (she chose Wednesday0 and she said it has increased her happiness level immensely. I’ve also heard that most workers believe they are far more productive at home. I hope the trend continues, especially with regards to knowledge workers that really don’t need a physical location to do their job well.

  4. I haven’t had a job where I have to get up every morning and drive into work at the same time each day since ’98.

    I don’t miss it a bit. I still live by the clock but every day is different and I don’t even really have a boss in the traditional sense.

  5. Like you said, it’s about management control.

    I used to work in a company that only recently developed a work from home policy. I mentioned it to my boss once and she said “we’ve done WFH for years, we just never told the CEO. Coders don’t need to work in the office all the time”. True.

    Fortunately, I’ve been under folks who took the position that getting your work done was more important than the hours you put in, I’m salaried, so as long as I’ve got 40 hrs averaged over a pay period, they didn’t really care. I used to work semi regularly from home, because an hour commute each way isn’t fun, and frankly, I could get up at my same time, power up the laptop and bang out and extra hour of work before anyone showed up in the office, hell, before most folks were up, and I could quite at 2pm in the afternoon and “be home” instantly.

    Sadly, the place I now work doesn’t run like that, so it’s back to the one hour commute each way. I’ve never really understood most management’s mind. The points you made about over time and folks on different time clocks and institutional knowledge are FAR more relevant to the success of the business than some piss ant control issues or having everyone in the office at 9AM.

  6. This is interesting, in part because it reminds me of a conversation we had over on Russell’s sub about aesthetic norms and the people who flout them. A strong case was made by many that flouting certain norms (e.g., excessive visible tattoos, unnatural hair color, large piercings) was often reason enough to not hire someone, even if they otherwise had the requisite skills. Not only was it possible that they would poorly represent the company, but their disdain for norms indicated a broader sense that they were not part of a larger collective. I wonder if the same argument will be made against Pat… someone who may have been wholly capable of the job but for whatever reason refused to meet an explicit, stated requirement, even if the requirement didn’t actually impact her capability. Should we view excessive but ultimately harmless tardiness different than we view purple hair?

  7. Flexibility with time, schedule and location can be a great or a terrible thing. The nature of the job, the culture of the organization and the type of people one has hired are all huge factors. Flex hours with one organization can lead to significant gains in productivity, but in another it can lead to abuse, resentment and turnover.

    All week long I’ve been hearing people on the radio who have never worked for Yahoo and know nothing about working there say definitively that Yahoo is right/wrong about their decision to bring employees on site. The truth is none of those people have any idea if its a good idea or not. not all organizations are the same.

    • the culture of the organization

      This is important, and perhaps overlooked by advocates of telecommuting. Folks who do bureaucratic and organizational studies emphasize that organizational culture is really important–it’s not so much “what” the culture is, so long as its functional, but that it gives everyone in the org some sense of common purpose and identity. That could be a lot harder to do with telecommuting.

      That’s not to argue that telecommuting can’t work (I do a lot of my work outside my office, as do most of my colleagues), but just to say that there are firms where the effect on organizational culture of not having the people around each other regularly could be very detrimental. But I’m sure it’s possible that there are firms–although I would expect it to be very few–where telecommuting is a constructive and valuable part of their organizational identity and culture.

      • Another item I would mention along the same lines is mentoring. Since my bosses all telecommuted and lived out of state, there was a lot of work that they did that I was not exposed to where I could have probably learned a lot. In other positions where my boss was right there in the office with me I learned things from them both directly and indirectly through simply being around them and seeing how they worked. Plus, being in the same room means you have people’s (mostly) full attention in meetings. Working remotely means a lot of ‘multitasking’ goes on in the background. I’ve been on calls where someone forgot to mute their line and you can hear them taking another call in the background or typing an email on their computer. Then there are also the basic problems of using email more often while working remotely, or phone calls for communication and missing facial cues and whatnot. I’ve had remote managers who, when given two ways to perceive an email, will always assume the one that is more negative and paints the sender in a more negative light.

        So to agree with James, company culture is important and sometimes working in the same physical space helps promote that.

        • Ecch… if you’re running over a manly operating system, which Windows is not, you can ssh into someone else’s box and take a look at what’s going on in someone else’s code. Chat allows you to cut ‘n paste and do all sorts of useful things.

          Going to someone else’s cube is an anti-pattern. All you’re doing is enabling their bad habits.

        • (Full disclosure: I’m cutting and pasting this from a comment I made at Lawyers, Guns and Money.)

          I used to lead a team of software developers that was widely distributed geographically: both coasts of the US, Europe, and South America. It’s horribly inefficient and frustrating compared to being able to get everybody (or the right subset of everybody) around a table or in front of a whiteboard to solve a problem that’s just come up. Skype and video-conferences are cool, but they’re not the same.

          This is not just my opinion. Several times I had the opportunity to ask people who teach software development methodology how best to organize a distributed team, and the answer was invariably “don’t do that”. Distributing multiple teams geographically? Here’s how to streamline inter-team communication. Having people who need to communicate with each other constantly remote? Doesn’t work.

          Now, the fact that even with the group being scattered all over hell, my management wanted me in the office instead of at home? We can definitely talk about power games.

          • “It’s horribly inefficient and frustrating compared to being able to get everybody (or the right subset of everybody) around a table or in front of a whiteboard to solve a problem that’s just come up.”

            Amen to that! I can’t tell you how many times I have spent 30 minutes on a phone call and said in frustration, “We could have done this in 3 minutes if we were in the same room with a whiteboard.”

          • Old thinking. I can put five people on the same Google Doc in a few minutes. I do software development methodology. I don’t want to see people. I want to see code. I want to read the log file created by a meaningful regression test harness.

            I do not need, nor do I want to see coders. I want to see code.

          • There are definitely good tools out there that would make things easier. For example, the Google Hangouts we use for Leaguecasts. My company is a dinosaur when it comes to adopting that kind of stuff. We DO use LiveMeeting though which helps slightly.

          • I write regularly that one of the great disappointments in my technical career is that multi-party multimedia conferencing has not become trivially routine. It’s a few months short of 20 years back that I was writing prototype conference software that let everyone share a work surface, paste whatever onto it, move the pointer around, mark things up whiteboard style, audio, video. Trivially record an entire session into a file so that later, when you wondered, “What exactly did Sue say when she drew that little line-and-box bit?” you could jump to that point and play it back. Other than the video, the bandwidth and processing requirements are small. But when the focus of the conference is on the work surface, video is a luxury rather than a necessity. Various test situations indicated that most people used it as a body-language signaling channel more than anything else: I’m bored, I’m excited, I have something to say but I’m too polite to just interrupt the moron who’s droning on…

          • Old thinking.

            Yeah, that was back in 2012, and Google+ is sooooooo much better than Skype.

            And I want to see people, and talk to them. The idea that architecture and design are always so well-defined and immutable that people can go off and code without any further discussion — well, I’ve never seen it happen.

          • But when the focus of the conference is on the work surface, video is a luxury rather than a necessity. Various test situations indicated that most people used it as a body-language signaling channel more than anything else: I’m bored, I’m excited, I have something to say but I’m too polite to just interrupt the moron who’s droning on…

            And that stuff is incredibly useful to having a conversation that moves forward and solves problems. Videoconferencing is great for “we go around the table and everyone gives status”, but not so much for active problem-solving.

          • Partially. LeagueFest is also a good way for us to give back to the community that has given us so much, by relieving it of its excess stocks of gin.

          • “I’m going to the bar to meet the guys for some active-problem-solving.”

          • The idea that architecture and design are always so well-defined and immutable that people can go off and code without any further discussion — well, I’ve never seen it happen.

            Neither have I. But that’s exactly why I don’t want to see people. Some jackasses completely dominate the conversation. Bad things happen when they do. Some people simply can’t do well putting their opinions forward in meetings but they do just fine in documents.

            A white boarding produces bad thinking. It becomes so many badly drawn boxes and arrows. Someone ends up taking a picture of the white board with their cell phone and that’s the one artifact you get out of the process. A Google Drawing works great. It can be messed with by multiple people. Versions can be saved.

            I use Dia. Does more things and better than Visio.

          • If I always hired the wrong people, I wouldn’t want to talk to them either 🙂

          • The stupidest people I know get through the HR Catberts like shit through a goose. Ringknockers, MBA types, Golden Boys, etc. All of them useless as breasts on a boar hog.

            Sitting around a dreary li’l conference room, babbling about this ‘n that. Give me a break. I hate it all. I hate office coffee. I hate the fluorescent lights. I hate office politics. I hate driving down streets designed for the 1700s in the year of our lord 2013, driving my truck up thirteen stories of parking garage so I can park. I have better things to do with my time.

  8. Yahoo wouldn’t be getting half the bitching if they made sure most programmers only worked 40hour weeks. It’s when you’re working from 8am to midnight, and your boss just said “an hour commute” on top that you hear about it.

  9. The easiest way to manage programmers is to probe the version control system.

    When I run a project, the rule is: you check your code in every night. It has to compile at that point. I don’t care if it runs, you check it in every night. That way I can see what you’re doing, where you’re doing it and if you’ve made any progress.

    Thus, I can manage coders half a world away. If you’re not making progress, I can see it in the version control system. If you’re stuck, I can tell. I can intervene at that point, get you back on track. With novice coders, I tell ’em straight up, everyone gets stuck, no matter how much experience you have. Don’t waste time, get another pair of eyes looking at it.

    You will always write a test case for your code. I can tell more about your code from your test case than the code itself. I can tell if the spec made some unwarranted assumptions: it’s not your fault if you wrote to the spec and kinda missed the point. I can live with that. But your test case is your explainer to the world, proof of your code’s robustness.

    I prefer working with remote coders. I hate working in a cube. It’s the worst place to code. Either you can manage your time or you can’t and putting you in a cube will not make you a better manager of your time.

    The Office used to be over the Store. An office without a store under it is a waste of space.

    • When I was contracting at BART, the boss used to run metrics to see who the most productive coders were. I was writing parsers in YACC, which expands about ten to one when translated to C, so I won every week.

      • Larry Wall: And it goes against the grain of building small tools.
        Innocent, Your Honor. Perl users build small tools all day long.

      • Oh god, that’s the 1000s lines of code idiocy from IBM. That was known to be dumb decades ago.

        Easy to pad your metrics though!

        • A thousand lines of code a day from anyone is dangerous. I’ve been writing — lessee, find . -name ‘*.*’ | xargs wc -l produces 2572 total and it’s taken me a week for us to write that much and a good deal of that was refactored, so two people have produced about a thousand lines a week, coding our asses off.

          • IIRC, IBM used what they called k-lines as a monthly (not daily) metric back in the day — we’re talking 80s, not late 90s.

            As you can expect, in practice this did not work as intended.

          • Bill found the same algorithm used repeatedly in the product, and refactored each one into a single call to a library function. This reduced the codebase by hundreds of lines.

            We had no choice but to let him go.

          • An understandable sentiment, Mike. I’m currently refactoring three big classes. I always wait until I’ve got three of the same before I start refactoring.

            Writing PHP again. It’s like kink. First it’s horrible, then it’s fascinatingly horrible. Then it’s merely fascinating.

  10. I am of a few minds about this and have some sympathy towards management and other stuff. Keep in mind that law is not necessarily a job that can be done at home (confidentiality issues) and other stuff like depositions, meetings with the partners and associates to discuss case strat, etc. Meetings with clients. But here are my thoughts against working from home (all the time) and people claim not to be morning people. This might be one of the few areas I am a bit more pro-employer.

    1. Working from home is a privilege, not a right. I think it can and should be an option when available but people who use it should be mindful of those who cannot.

    2. There are some people who do abuse the privilege and with something like work-from-home that is going to hurt.

    3. Energy efficiency and bills. Suppose I have an office of 20 people. 18 of them are able to work traditional daylight hours. 2 loudly claim that they are not morning people and would prefer to work the graveyard shift. What if an employer has no pressing need for having people work that late and even good/productive employees would mean too much in extra energy costs. Night light use is a serious environmental issue.

    4. Being up in the morning is just one of those things adults should be able to do without complaint. If it is important to you to be up in the afternoon or evenings, find a job that let’s you take that shift. Not the other way around.

    • 4) Employers should pay employees to work during their least productive times of day… because ???

      • A worker might be more productive during the wee hours but the energy costs might still exceed that productivity. Depending on the kind of work, a person might be productive but because everyone else is at home and in bed, they are not going to have much to do.

        You can’t have it both ways and not all work is apporachable to 24/7 scheduling.

        • *nods* I LOVE flextime. But my rules for flextime (back when I had an awesome boss) were thus: If you had a meeting, you were there for the meeting. If you had an experiment (or other scheduled “at work sharp” thing), you were there then. Otherwise, he didn’t care.

          (and what energy costs? that’s part of the benefit of work from home… you don’t have to pay energy costs…)

          • And I said that does not always work in some fields. Some stuff needs to stay in the office for various legitimate reasons.

          • Yes. Some fields are different than others. Some people are better fits for certain fields than others. CS grads expect some amount of flextime, in return for 80 hour weeks.

  11. Teaching is an interesting field.

    In some ways… there is NO flexibility. School runs from 8:15 to 4:00, or whatever your school’s hours are, but pretty much everyone is expected to be there for those hours, if not slightly beyond them.

    But in others… there is a ton. I have report-writing coming up. They are due by a certain date and time. But when and where I choose to do them is entirely up to me. In fact, we moved to a web-based program so that folks could work remotely: you can now do reports from your classroom desk or from a beach.

    Ultimately, as others have pointed out, it varies. But I do think you risk real issues with your employees if it seems as if rules are not enforced equally/equitably (whatever the situation demands). Flexible scheduling is one thing; repeatedly showing up late is another. We have issues in my school with the perception that different rules apply to different people. One defense of this might be that the administration is attempting to be flexible and accommodating, but when it seems as if such efforts are reserved for a privileged few and are not attained via a formal protocol that is available to all, morale suffers. That is more an issue with leadership than with flexibility, but I think the two overlap a great deal.

  12. Another issue is that this is good for some families instead of being good for all families.

    Maybe I underestimate the number of jobs that can be done but at the end of the day, working from home just feels like it is going to become another benefit for the upper-middle class at the expensive of other/working families.

    My preferred policies are better and universal programs for paid sick and family leave (stronger FEMA), universal pre-K, etc

      • Yup.

        Though stronger FEMA would allow people to return to work quickly after natural disasters!

        In with the save

  13. At my old job, managers were more willing to manage people half a world away from the office than manage them 3-20 miles away from the office.

    The stock price has been quartered. This makes me smile.

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