The surprising side effects of working odd hours

These days most every workplace seems to be at least somewhat set up for you to work from home. Most places have a VPN where you can connect from outside the office, and flexible work hours are becoming more prevalent, especially for developers since they tend to spend less time in meetings and sometimes like to work at odd hours.

I am one of those people. I have young kids, which means that I tend to get in a little later than most people and I also leave a little earlier than most people. In order to pull this off and still have time to go to lunch occasionally, I have to work some at home, either at night or on the weekends.

Personally, I like this setup. It allows me to have more flexibility with how I spend my time, and if I need some guaranteed uninterrupted work time, I can get often get it at home. What I didn’t expect is the perception I gave people when I started doing this.

The new face time

It used to be that some workplaces would unfairly judge people by how much “face time” they put in it work (which I think is garbage, but that’s for another post). That seems to have lessened (at least at the places I’ve worked at), but now I have the capability to work pretty much anytime at home.

When I say I work at odd hours, I mean it. I’ve updated work items at 8:30pm, checked in code at 2am, sent emails at 6am, deployed stuff to test environments (which sends notification emails), etc.

The perception this gave people was that I worked all the time! People assumed that I was working 40ish hours a week at the office and then going home and working some more (and sometimes a lot more). This wasn’t true at all (I usually don’t work lots of extra hours), but I had multiple people say that they thought that I worked tons of hours.

What I do with my time is my business, so if I were one of those people who wanted to work 60 hours a week, I’d say that was fine because it’s my time and my choice. But it becomes a problem when my perceived work schedule affects the way people feel about how they spend their time.

The problem is that now other people on the team (particularly those who are new and want to make a good impression) feel like maybe they’re not doing enough if they’re not online doing work at all hours of the day. Maybe they feel like they need to put in more hours in order to be successful or even just fit in. They might start feeling guilty if they don’t log on on Saturday and respond to the email that I sent on Friday night.

This does not lead to a healthy work-life balance. I don’t want people to feel guilty about leaving work at work, or not taking their laptop home on the weekend. I want them to feel good about the time they spend at work as well as the time they spend at home. I want them to know that their hard work is valued, but that they don’t need to work loads of hours in order to be appreciated.

What I’m doing about it

I’m still going to work odd hours. It works really well for me. But in order to not give the wrong impression, I’ve started doing things differently.

  • I almost never send emails on the weekend or at night, unless it’s responding to some kind of production issue or something that really needs my attention, or unless I’m sending it to someone who knows me and my work schedule. I especially avoid send emails to large groups of people at odd hours. I might write up an email, but I’ll leave it just leave it sitting there so that I can hit Send on Monday morning.
  • If I want to check in code, I’ll commit it locally but not actually push it up to the server until I go into work. (This also saves me from breaking the build on the weekend and then having to fix it when would rather be doing something else.) Of course, you need a distributed source control system like Git to do this (sorry TFS users), but if you’re stuck with TFS, you can achieve this with git-tfs. You really should use Git anyway because it’s awesome, and you get huge benefits for something that’s fairly easy to learn.
  • I try not and talk about working at odd hours when lots of other people are around. They might not know why I’m doing it, and it might give the wrong impressions about expectations. Too often it comes across as boasting that I’m in some way better for being willing to give up my free time (when in reality, I’m not giving up any more free time than they are, I just do it at a different hour).

Working at home is great, it can lead to some bad misconceptions and unhealthy team dynamics, so just be cognizant of how people might be interpreting your actions.