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I was previously working in an office from 9-6 but my boss decided for us to work remotely due to various reasons.

When I was in an office setting, I had no choice but to stay in the office from 9-6 PM, no matter how many tasks I have for the day.

However, now that I work from home, I find it more productive if I work on a task-basis rather than on a time-basis. I just set 3 important tasks to finish for the day (+ a couple of minor tasks). Sometimes, I end at 4PM or 5PM (1-2 hours earlier than my office log-out time). After that, I usually do other things but I'm still logged into our IM up to 6PM (in case, something urgent needs to be fixed). (There are even days when there's absolutely nothing to do so I do other things.)

Is what I'm doing ethical? I feel that my current set-up is the right balance for me though -- something that I have the privilege of implementing because I don't need to be in an office space for X hours. As long as I get the job done as per schedule.

(Additional info asked in the comments: I am salaried. When I said there's absolutely nothing to do, I do let my boss know. I agree that I can use this time to do some cleaning up / other operational stuff.

The reason I don't start another task (sometimes) even if I have some hours left is if the next task requires a huge mental bandwidth. As a creative, this mental bandwidth is almost depleted around 4-5PM. I usually reserve afternoon for the easy tasks that don't require much thinking. This is how I maintain my optimal productivity.)

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closed as primarily opinion-based by Monica Cellio, Jim G., RWY, ReallyTiredOfThisGame, CMW Mar 25 at 16:48

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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****comments removed****: Please avoid using comments for extended discussion. Instead, please use The Workplace Chat. On Workplace SE, comments are intended to help improve a post. Please see What "comments" are not... for more details. –  jmort253 Mar 24 at 18:21
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@jmort253 I couldn't find the comments in chat. Where did they get moved to? –  tcrosley Mar 24 at 20:14

9 Answers 9

Is what I'm doing ethical?

(I'll purposely define ethics/morals loosely and interchangeably here, since that is the sense of what I read in your question. As others point out, the terms don't have the same textbook definition. But in casual conversations, it's not necessary to be so strict with the terms.)

Personal Ethics are always individual and contextual. What might fit my personal ethics may not fit your personal ethics. And what might be ethical in one circumstance, may not be ethical in another.

Here are some ways to examine the personal ethics of your choice.

Have you fully disclosed what you are doing to your boss? If not, then why not? If you suspect that your boss would disapprove, yet you are doing it anyway, many people would find that unethical.

Would you fully explain what you are doing during an interview with a potential employer? If not, then why not? If you are doing something that would reflect unfavorably on you in your career, many people would find that unethical.

If everyone else in your company did the same thing you are doing, would that be a good thing, or a bad thing? If you are taking advantage of your situation but wouldn't want others to do the same, many people would find that unethical.

Are you worried what would happen if you are "caught"? If you have concerns about what your boss (or upper management) would do if/when they find out, some people would find this approach unethical.

What would Mom think? The fact that you felt it important to post the question here makes me suspect that you are doing something you are not proud of. Many people would feel that doing activities for which you feel some shame is unethical.

Only you can determine if your actions meet your personal ethics. And how you feel is most important in answering "Is this ethical?" anyway.

Is it necessary to work 8 hours a day if I work from home?

That's for your boss and your company to decide (with your input as well) and has nothing to do with ethics. You really should have asked this question when your boss decided for various reasons that you could work remotely. Since you didn't, you really should ask them now.

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This is an excellent example of how to respond to an opinion-based question ("is it ethical?"). Instead of saying "yes" or "no" as if we could answer for the OP, this gives factors to consider in the evaluation. Well-done. –  Monica Cellio Mar 24 at 15:39
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Best answer that allows OP to consider his take, his boss' take, and his company's take. –  theGreenCabbage Mar 24 at 19:24
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I disagree with your first emboldened section; you're confusing ethics with morals. Morals are indeed personal, but ethics are agreed-upon standards, so it's not personal, it's the rules. –  TylerH Mar 24 at 20:56

Are you salaried or hourly?

For salaried employees, this is (usually) fine, with two caveats. Your company pays you a salary to complete your tasks, and you're completing them. If that takes less than 8 hours one day, that's fine, since other tasks other days will inevitably take more than 8 hours. Assuming your company is properly loading you (and you're working in good faith to help that happen), things will even out in the end.

Caveat one: Sometimes your task is "be available from 10 to 3 for meetings/phone calls/support". This can lead to the same sort of sitting around, but is a requirement of your job.

Caveat two: Some jobs are salaried, but then bill your "hours" directly to clients. In these sorts of companies you are essentially the product being sold, so working less hours means less billable hours... which is not good.

If you are hourly (or fall into caveat two), this is not fine. Since the rate you charge is based on time, you need to be accurate in your time accounting. If you only work 6 hours, then you better damn well be charging 6 hours. To do otherwise is clearly unethical.

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I would add a third caveat, that even salaried workers should let their bosses know they are out of tasks before just skating off to play. It is irresponsible not to ask for more work when you complete your tasks and the work day is still going on. There is a big difference between someone who takes some time off in the day when there is a backlog of tasks and when there isn't. –  HLGEM Mar 24 at 13:20
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@HLGEM, I have to disagree, in general. A salaried employee is supposed to be paid for services rendered, value, and expertise. It was not intended to mean that an employee works greater than 40 hours per week. If someone always asks for more tasks, then they will always end up working 40 or more hours per week, which isn't what the social contract of salary was for. If employers want an hourly employee, then they should pay those employees hourly and not salary. –  daaxix Mar 24 at 14:34
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@daaxix, you are supposed to work the full 40 hours and if you don't have work to do, you are expected to ask for more. The contract for salried workedrs is not a social contract. YOu are expected to work the hours you are being paid for which is 40. If you ask for more work, you will not aurttomatically go over 40, that is ridiculous to assume. YOu have to manage deadlines on new work too. I know I'd fire anyone who worked less than 40 hours when there was a backlog of work. –  HLGEM Mar 24 at 14:53
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@daaxix - it's not intended to be free under-time either. That said, you're not paid for 40 hours as a salaried employee - you're paid to get your job done. CEO's work way more than 40 hours for their salary, and others I expect way less. What is their job? To do their work and all the backlog that their peers neglect? I hope they're well paid. –  Telastyn Mar 24 at 15:10
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I said nothing about overtime. You assumed that more work would mean overtime. I don't have to work overtime just because I asked for another task. –  HLGEM Mar 24 at 17:02

When there is nothing to do for you, then nobody can expect you to just stare at your monitor doing nothing. It's a torture for you and provides no benefit to the company. It would in fact be detrimental for the company to force you to do that, because the result would be that you unnecessarily stretch out your work to fill your work-time which will result in you delivering your work-results later than possible.

I see no problems with doing private stuff during off-time, provided that you:

  • Are always reachable and work-ready immediately in case some work does come up (which means you need to stay near your home-office and can't leave the house).
  • Do not "work" paid overtime hours
  • Make your manager aware about your lack of work, so they know you have free capacity.
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Time to lean, time to document... –  Thorbjørn Ravn Andersen Mar 24 at 12:11
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@JoeStrazzere, I agree I have never worked at a job where there weren't always some tasks waiting to be done. Not alawys the most fun ones, but always something. –  HLGEM Mar 24 at 13:15

As far I know, working from home should cover the same hours as when you work at the office.

There could be some issues that may arise at particular times like just before 6pm and need to be dealt with. In that case you put down for overtime if it gets to 7pm or longer or pass it to on call support if.

You're absolutely correct, working from home is more productive but I don't think working your own hours is feasible unless the contract says the hours are flexible.

If you have just a few tasks to finish and they take just a few hours to complete, it may be possible to set up a "Call" or a "Text Alert" from the office and respond to anything that may arise within half an hour if you are out from the house like weekend support.

Usually if you work from 9 to 6, then you need to be logged in remotely from 9 to 6 too.

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This question is, as I'm sure you realize, highly subjective.

I'm in the same situation, working from home.

A couple of thoughts:

If when things are busy you put in extra hours with no extra compensation, then I think it's fair to say that when things are slow you should be allowed to take a long lunch or leave early. I do this now that I'm working from home and I did that when I worked at an office.

People who work at an office don't normally spend 8-plus hours every day doing productive work. They chat with co-workers. They take snack breaks. They stare blindly at the ceiling when they get tired. Etc. So I don't feel too guilty about doing similar things when I'm working from home.

But that said, I think there's a sharp reasonableness test. If yesterday I worked two extra hours and today I quit an hour early, I don't feel guilty and I've never had a boss criticize me for it. But if once last month I worked an extra half hour and so every day this month I take off three hours early ... no. That is not reasonable.

My company had a period about a year ago where there just wasn't enough work to keep everyone busy, but it wasn't bad enough that they had to lay anyone off. At first I took that as a nice break, take long lunches, make some postings on internet forums (like this one!), etc. But after a few weeks I just couldn't in good conscience kill that much time. I'm new to this company so I didn't have a lot of things that I knew needed to be done but hadn't been able to get to. So I started reading up on things relevant to my job, in my case reading up on optimizing SQL queries and learning a new programming language and that sort of thing.

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Sounds like you are just going about business as usual and are available when expected. If your boss was over concerned about you staring at your monitor for a full day, he would make more provisions to monitor everyone.

The ethics are going to come into play when you are assigned more work. Are you going to lie and claim you don't have enough time? Will you volunteer if asked? Could you be helping coworkers who have too much to do?

Many people are allowed to work from home because the nature of their work is more project oriented and less clock punching. If you work at your job long enough, you should be able to do the same amount of work in less time; I don't think anyone should be punished for that, but that is up to the agreement between you and your employer. Sounds like there hasn't been enough clarification. Make sure your boss recognizes you are truly getting things done.

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Quite subjective, however my take is:

I would say that if you are manufacturing widgets and make 1 per minute then yes. you need to put in the hours your are being paid to generate the expected output.

However software development is quite different. You are being paid to create something. For some folks that will mean 'actively' working for 1-2 hours a day (even if in an 8 hour office), for others it means a 9-12 hour day.

The main thing you should be focusing on is your output and your contribution.

In terms of ethics the main thing I would focus on is conversations with your manager. These should be about how you can be the most effective and productive and how flexible hours can be part of that.

You may also wish to talk about how different hours while working remotely may change your schedule. For instance if you can start work at 8am instead of a 1 1/2 commute, maybe you could really finish at 4pm and shut off your IM then. Having finished work but still checking IM "just in case" is a poor strategy because:

  • you'll be 'caught out' eventually between your frequent 5-15 minute rechecks.
  • you'll be stressed, even though you might not realize it.
  • you're giving the impression that you're online but you may not be and if someone pings you it may take you a while to notice and answer.

If there's an emergency just have them call your phone and just make sure that that is with you.

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Are you as productive at home as you are at work? In addition to +Joe Strazzere's excellent answer, I would suggest that from the company's point of view, if you are getting the same amount of work done at home, but doing it in less time, then your boss will probably be fine with it. But you should tell them.

"Boss, when I'm at home I find I'm usually about 20% more productive b/c of fewer meetings and more focused time [or whatever]. I just wanted to let you know that sometimes I don't work as many hours, but I'm always scrupulous to be sure that I'm getting at least as much work done as if I were at the office. And I'm always available during work hours in case people need me."

If you feel like that message to your boss would be poorly received, then you probably should be working more hours at home, whether you are getting work done or not.

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It seems to me what's important is whether or not your output is satisfying your boss. Also, whether you want to just satisfy him or knock his socks off.

However if you're really staying logged on 'til 6PM to make it look like you're working when you're not; that's a bit deceptive and could bite you at some point.

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