My friend in Sweden works with software development and leads a team of developers. He has a boss that has previously stated that he wouldn't count time spent commuting as work hours.

My friend recently confided to me that his boss has been asking him several times about how he spends his time during his commute, urging him to spend it on planning, which is a major part of his daily tasks.

What should I tell my friend to do? He's a nice guy but he is really hesitant about this and bringing up that we both consider it to be unpaid work. I don't really have a frame of reference for this sort of thing.

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    It's bit weird you are asking here on his behalf. He can ask here directly. And regarding your friend, he can just say I like reading during morning hour and also find it difficult to plan without concentration so he won't be able to do it. – VarunAgw Apr 13 '18 at 11:31
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    @VarunAgw the friend may want to retain some anonymity, may have limited internet access, or may not be aware of the site. – alroc Apr 13 '18 at 12:33
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    What are the rules, regulations and laws about working hours in Sweden ? – Max Apr 13 '18 at 13:14
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    No pay = no work, it's that easy. – r41n Apr 16 '18 at 14:48
  • The question what would happen if the friend would be coming in late to work, because they had an accident during the commute or missed the right bus/train stop as they were busy planning springs to my mind. They are late because they were working, but I am fairly sure a boss who wants you to work during your unpaid commuting time would still give them a warning for being late. – skymningen Apr 27 '18 at 11:53

Unless your friend's boss is paying his salary while he's commuting (IOW, he's "on the clock" while commuting and gets to spend less time in the office during the day as a result of working while commuting), it's unreasonable and, as you say, unpaid work.

His boss has explicitly stated that the commute time is not "working" hours, so it absolutely would be unpaid work, unless he's going to change that rule if your friend is doing this "planning and communicating" while he's commuting.

Your friend's commuting time is his time to use as he sees fit. If he's driving his own car, he should be driving, not doing work.

Are his teammates even available during this commute time? If they're commuting as well, and he's expected to be "communicating" with them, they probably aren't available either. If they're not in the office, then he'll be imposing on their non-working time.

This is an unreasonable request IMHO. The appropriate response is "due to the nature of my commute, it's not safe, reasonable or possible to engage in those activities during that time."

Addition based on comment

If your friend is expected to work during his commute, then his boss should:

  • Pay for the commute costs
  • Allow for fewer hours in the office (since he's working during the commute - otherwise he's working more hours each day, for the same salary)

If your friend won't speak up for himself, no one else will.

  • strictly speaking you are not paid by the hour if your salaried but your correct if I do an hour of planning on the train each way I would count that as working – Neuromancer Apr 13 '18 at 11:47
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    His team is available to him while he commutes. And he commutes, like many Swedes, using public transport. Edit: He seems unwilling to find out if his boss would change his stance on doing work-related things during his commute being work, saying that it would "cause a fuss". – S G Apr 13 '18 at 12:50
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    So he wants your friend to have work -related phone conversations on public transport? That's inconsiderate and, depending upon his field, an information security concern. If your friend maintains silence on the topic, then he'll either be taken advantage of or will find himself in a very uncomfortable position. – alroc Apr 13 '18 at 13:00
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    I commute usually with the same people (just faces that you recognise) and there isn't much space. If I started needing space for a laptop, and making phone calls during the commute, I think I would face some backlash after a week or two. In other words, no work during the commute unless the boss pays for a taxi where I can work undisturbed on the back seat. (Plus security concerns). – gnasher729 Apr 13 '18 at 15:24
  • The friend should ask his boss "do you want me to arrive at the office later, or should I leave early?" – Abigail Apr 15 '18 at 20:13

What should I tell my friend to do?

Be direct and answer the question. If he is not working during the commute, he may indirectly be helping his own productivity by de-stressing:

Roughly two thirds of workers (66%) claimed work pressures meant they regularly suffered from high stress levels and a third (31%) found it hard to get through a typical week.

or if he is not driving, sleeping would also help the company:

Those who skipped lunch said that their concentration and productivity flagged badly later in the afternoon, resulting in a loss of perhaps 40 minutes of their day. This is estimated to cost UK companies £50 million each day in lost productivity. A fifth (21%) relied on drinking five caffeinated drinks a day to get them through, which medical experts warned could lead to insomnia and dehydration.

avoiding burnout would be a third way to increase his effectiveness:

In September 2017, in the headquarters of a London high-street bank, Adam was celebrating having completed a major project on deadline. But, moments later, he felt a sharp pain in the side of his abdomen that went on to keep him up all night. The next day, he took 30 minutes to walk from the station to the office – usually just a 10-minute journey. A colleague sent him home, and later that week he found himself rolling on the floor, clutching his stomach in agony. The following week, he was back at the office. “Even though, physically, I was better, I couldn’t focus or think straight,” he says. “I would stare at my screen, unable to engage my brain to send a simple email. I couldn’t remember how to solve a simple problem on a spreadsheet, or who to call – all of which would have been instinctive before. I had blurred vision, like a fog hovering over me. That’s when I realised that what I was experiencing was mental burnout.”

As a team, learning about and practicing risk management is important:

Beyond the uncertainty of resource estimates and task durations, many other uncertainties influence the project schedule. The project team must be able to address these uncertainties to lessen the impact to the project schedule. Proactive planning and response to the project uncertainty is referred to as risk management. The Project Management Institute (2008) includes risk identification, qualitative and qualitative risk analysis, risk response planning, and risk monitoring and controlling as the main processes in mature risk management practices. Project teams with inadequate risk practices are not prepared to identify and address risk events as they occur or anticipate risks. The missed risk mitigation opportunities may result in unexpected work for the project team and extend the project schedule or, in the event of a fixed schedule project, increase the workload of the project team. In the event of a fixed-schedule project, this additional workload creates further pressure on the team. More mature risk management and practices are needed to ensure risks events such as scope creep and fluid requirements do not impact the project schedule or create unanticipated workload for the project team.

Your friend is part of a team, so emphasizing that in any conversation is key.


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    This doesn't really seem to answer the question? – Erik Apr 26 '18 at 12:59
  • In a round about way this answer does add in some interesting counter arguments in support of non-work related activities that could be considered more important during a commute than the initial request of the employees boss. – Digitalsa1nt Apr 27 '18 at 10:41

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