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Alternative work schedules

Joel,

What are your thoughts on alternative work schedules? Our team is trying to convince our manager to try out a 9-9s schedule (work 9 hours a day for 9 days and take the 10th day off).

I know this falls under the category of "any intelligent manager should allow flexible work arrangements" but asking more along the lines of have you tried it? Of course, I realize that as a software developer, you are probably asking, "You're complaining about working 8 hour days?" We've had our sprint sessions (60-70 hrs) for the last six months of '03 and now we are in 40 hour work weeks for the foreseeable future.

Matt
Thursday, April 08, 2004

The whole 9x9 thing would be great if your job was screwing caps on toothpaste tubes ... let's see, that works out to 81 hours every two weeks so that's even better than 8x5. I'll get 1.25% more work out of you. Right?

With programming, though, it doesn't quite work that way. There are a million reasons why number of hours spent sitting in a chair does not correspond to the amount and quality of code that gets generated.

If I had a programmer working for me who did twice as much work as anyone else, even though they read the web all day and rarely made an appearance on Fridays, they would still be much more valuable and productive than a programmer that worked 8am - 8pm five days a week and never really made progress.

I once heard a story of someone who was fired from a programming job. His boss told him: "Look, you're allowed to be the first person to go home every day... somebody has to be first. That's not a problem. And you can be the least productive programmer. Somebody has to be the least productive. That's not a problem either. You just can't be both."

Joel Spolsky
Fog Creek Software
Monday, April 12, 2004

That quote is from "High Stakes, no prisoners", one of your book recommendations.  Great book btw, and the quote is spot on.  Too bad most managers for thought-centric jobs don't have this enlightened attitude.

Crimson
Monday, April 12, 2004

Matt,

Read Slack by Tom DeMarco.

Prakash S
Monday, April 12, 2004

If my position didn't require me to be at work during "office hours" (them customers like to be able to speak to me during the day for some reason, imagine that?) I would rather just have a condition of "40 hours in any 7day period" rather than being forced by my coleagues to a 9 hour day.

This way I could work 12 hours one day if I felt like it, 6 another, have a day off, 10 the next, 4 the next, then a "normal" 8 hour day and then another day off. Of course it would also be great if some of those days I could telecommute.

Even better than that I wouldn't mind just working 8 hours M-F but from 4pm to midnight - I used to love my night shift factory jobs because you have the whole day to do what you want, and I don't think I am the only programmer who has the most creative moments at 11.30 PM when at home - all this creativity gets used on my own project rather than my employers, their loss.

How about 18 hour days for 4 months then 8 months off?

But of course I am sure the reason your boss might not like your 9x9 idea (or my 8month holiday idea) is that they like to be able to "be there when your there" or at least be able to predict when you are going to be there, which your 9x9 idea seems to cover the predictability point.

Chris
Tuesday, April 13, 2004

9 hours a day for 9 days on the trot is supposed to be an improvement? What have they got you working now? 12 hours per day, 7 days a week, forever? There comes a point where it's just not worth it. I worked 7 days a week for about a year straight on the project from hell, and by the end of it I had heart palpitations and post-traumatic stress disorder.

I work 8 hours per day (well, given that I take an hour for lunch I actually work 7 hours per day) for five days, and then get two days off. Yes, sometimes I have to work a little extra to get the job done, but the rule is if it's my problem I fix it no matter how long it takes; if it's someone else's, they fix it - I don't work extra hours to make up for the project manager's schedule promises.

Now I know that in some companies that would get you fired, but thankfully in the EU we've got laws about that sort of thing.

About the only thing I would like that I don't currently have is flexible hours; getting in at 9am on the dot every day is harder than you might think given the shambles that is London's public transport system.

Neil Hewitt
Tuesday, April 13, 2004

I'm pretty sure the original poster didn't mean 9 days in a row. ... I think 9x9 means 9 hours a day, M-F, with every other friday off.

Joel Spolsky
Fog Creek Software
Tuesday, April 13, 2004

Matt, would you clarify the 9x9 schedule? Iunderstood you to mean 2956 hrs / yr, a reduction from the 3640 hrs/yr you were previously working. Is it this or what Joel thought?

Dennis Atkins
Tuesday, April 13, 2004

9x9, in a working hours context, means you work 5 days of 9 hours each in week 1, 4 days of 9 hours in week 2, rinse and repeat. This adds up to 81 hours every two weeks, instead of the usual 80; I'm not sure how most companies account for that difference. (Possibilities include working 8 hours on Friday of week 1, or having a few extra days off per year.)

Martha
Tuesday, April 13, 2004

(Dennis, I have no idea where you came up with your interpretation. I can't make 2956 out of any reasonable combination of hours per day x weeks per year.)

Martha
Tuesday, April 13, 2004

This also depends on your jurisdiction, and whether you are paid hourly or are salaried.

For instance, in California, you pay overtime for hourly work in excess of 8 hours in day. In Texas, you pay overtime for hours in excess of 40 in a week. (IIRC--I could be wrong on this, of course.)

Ham Fisted
Tuesday, April 13, 2004

I've seen both types of overtime in California.

I vaguely recall a rules change a few years ago that was specifically intended to allow flex time, i.e. it did away with the 'more than 8 hours per day always means overtime' rule. I think that currently, a company can choose how it wants to account for overtime, but once it chooses, it has to follow that choice (including all the rules and regulations for that type of overtime).

Martha
Tuesday, April 13, 2004

Ah - that makes more sense, then :-)

If I were a manager (I used to be, but then I bought my soul back from Satan), I don't think I'd go for that. Having your staff in to talk to customers, and just be visible, on each work day is valuable. Even if the day off varies per staff member so you always have, say, 4/5 of your team in every day, the managerial gut instinct will always be to homogenise and say no.

One bad thing about the working culture in IT in the EU (or more specifically, the UK - I can't comment for other EU countries here) is that overtime is largely unheard of. Not entirely unheard of, but mostly; most coders are salaried and expected to work x hours per week plus whatever may be necessary to get the job done, unpaid.

Neil Hewitt
Wednesday, April 14, 2004

Hi Martha,

I thought it was 9 days on, one day off.
So 81 hrs every 10 days is 81/10*365 = 2956.5 hrs/yr

Dennis Atkins
Wednesday, April 14, 2004

Neil,

I reallly appreciate the view out of the US too. I was asking an Australian friend about working weekends and he said "After Friday, my time is my own! I'm not their slave, if they even asked any one of us to work on a weekend we'd burn the building down!"

Very refreshing compared to the weirrd US culture where programmers brag about their incredible skills on chat rooms and then when asked to work crazy hours they say 'yes mr boss sir i do not want to lose my job mr boss sir may i lick your bootstraps please sir'.

Dennis Atkins
Wednesday, April 14, 2004

I work a "6x6"

That's 6 hours a day, 6 days a week.

It's less stress and more productive.

JD
Wednesday, April 14, 2004

I agree with the other aussie comment.

I might work late on a Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday night, and I will come in early on any weekday morning.

But 5pm Friday is when my weekend starts and you won't get me back in the doors unless you are paying me.

I think that is fair, regardless of anything else, or any 'go team' feelings. I have to have a life, spend time with my family and forget about the office, and I want to live my life today, not as a workaholic with a dream of one day having a good holiday.

Aussie Chick
Wednesday, April 14, 2004

>> Very refreshing compared to the weirrd US culture where programmers brag about their incredible skills on chat rooms and then when asked to work crazy hours they say 'yes mr boss sir i do not want to lose my job mr boss sir may i lick your bootstraps please sir'. <<

Cute.  I am a United Statesian, and I just left a job because of the work-hander-not-smarter culture that prevailed.  After 1.5 months.  There are a great many people in my country who choose not to do the same.  Some of them make this choice because they enjoy work more than their home (e.g., Microsoft?).  Most make this choice because they do not value their leisure time more than the costs associated with leaving.  (I, for example, had to take a cut of about $5k/year and 1 week vacation to make my switch.)

American "sweatshop" programmers are neither stupid nor gutless.  (Well, I suppose some are, but bear with me.)  They are making choices, just like most everyone else.

Lucas
Thursday, April 15, 2004

---" American "sweatshop" programmers are neither stupid nor gutless.  (Well, I suppose some are, but bear with me.)  They are making choices, just like most everyone else. "----

But the point other people are making is that enough of them refused to work stupid hours they wouldn't have to make the choice.

Stephen Jones
Friday, April 16, 2004

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