I have posted about many challenges at my workplace, and the issue of how to manage downtime is one that we've been struggling with, and I speak on behalf of my colleagues as well.
What exactly do we mean by downtime? First of all, our boss is one who does not write expectations for any projects. They briefly tell us the new idea and then to implement it, and leaves it up to us to divide up the work. They are also busy working on other things, so they visit our work area every so often. Since there are no written expectations, we often do not know what to do next if we complete our tasks earlier than expected.
When we approach our boss and ask what to do next, they tell us to be more proactive in making decisions on adding features to the project or enhancing it for better visuals and/or user experience. And more often than not, taking this "proactive" course lead to wasted effort because it ended up not matching what our boss really wanted, which wasn't even verbally communicated to us, let alone, written.
So we decided to instead learn newer technologies or explore unfamiliar concepts of the technologies we already use. During those downtimes we devoted in keeping up in our field, our boss suddenly walked into our work area and reprimanded us for "wasting time learning technologies and concepts we don't need."
Again, there are no written expectations, and "taking the pilot's seat" in a project often ended up being wrong. We just got better at sneaking in some learning time so we wouldn't get caught. What was the result through all those years? We learned Git, newer frameworks for both front-end and back-end, better programming practices, user experience, and more, and yes, 100% of our efforts became official practices and implementations for our subsequent projects, and yes, we became more effective and efficient overall.
Now, we do have evidences that our learning time spent actually paid off, but telling our boss things along the lines of "had we not spent some time at work to learn, we wouldn't be able to pull off the project this well and this quickly" may sound quite confrontational. We know that in our industry, we must learn to keep up, and the projects just get more demanding. Still to this day, our boss emphasizes that we should spend no time at work learning because it "takes away time from development and improving our current products." But we must, and we continue so, unfortunately covertly.
And let us remind our readers again - this is downtime, and we would complete all known tasks first before we take some time to learn something.
So, how do we convince our boss that learning new things during downtime is the way to go, if they don't buy all the empirical evidences that our learned knowledge became official practices and information? What other suggestions may you have for managing this situation?