My manager popped into my cube and asked this seemingly harmless question. I must be honest and say that I was not doing my job. Im sure many developers have been asked questions during the work day like What are you up to? or What are you working on? and at that very moment were not focused on their assignment.
Maybe the correct question should be Are you goofing off?
I was doing just that, chatting with a coworker about our fantasy football teams. But is it realistic to expect that chit chat wont happen during the day? And why is it that managers have a sixth sense about dropping by when chit chat is in full progress?
Of course, today, chatting has taken on a life of its own with instant messaging. Back in the day (yes Im a dinosaur) we had to actually go to the water cooler to make conversation. Now at a touch of a button, you can have chit chat explosion. Not to mention the World Wide Web is at your fingertips in most places of work, so distractions are just a click away.
I found one developer I managed that had over 30 chat windows open when I popped into his cube. Thirty! And most of them were flashing so Im assuming active conversations were taking place during the work day.
You might be thinking: what does it matter if work is getting done?
I understand the reasoning of managing by results, but there are important questions to be considered. What if the results could be better? What if a project could be completed faster? What if quality could be improved?
And heres a big one: If overtime was required to finish a project, was it really necessary?
I didnt always think this way. My management philosophy was to let my teams be professionals and manage their time. Id ask for project estimates and generally not question the time projected to complete coding.
And for the most part, the teams have performed well and received very good performance reviews. Overall, if you would have asked me at any given time in the past if I was satisfied with any of my past teams performance, my answer would have been a resounding yes.
Here is what changed my perspective. Recently I was talking to one of my former developers (well call him Trevor) who was working on a startup while doing his day job. I asked, So how is your nighttime startup work impacting your full time job?
Channeling John McCain he quipped, My friend, I get most of my startup work done during the day. I asked Trevor, Are they happy with your work? thinking that he must be getting some grief from his current manager. No, no, no they LOVE me there. They think I walk on water.
I always thought this guy was a very productive coder. This got me thinking and my mind wandered back a few years when Trevor worked for me.
I asked, When you were working for me way back when, you werent doing any of this dilly dallying, right? He smiled. Yeah, right. Seriously, you didnt know I was doing other stuff during the day back then? Man I thought you knew and just let it slide.
Ok, so Im a chump.
Here was one of the best developers who ever worked for me telling me they goofed off during the work day. Yet, this same developer received outstanding reviews and great praise from his peers, other managers and even customers.
He was now telling me he worked about five hours a day on average. Certainly there were the late nights and weekends during various crunch periods, but for the most part he was skating by.