I'm a software engineer in a team of 6 people. 3 of which are ostensibly more junior members, they've been here less than a year. All in their mid-late twenties. We work 7 hours a day and I feel like each day kicks off with 2-3 of them having 25-50 minutes of chit chat. Turned around, computers ignored, chatting about holidays and weekends.

Our manager is quite random, he's almost never involved. Due to work from home practices, you might only see him once or twice a week physically, if that. I have no team lead or managerial responsibilities.

It affects my productivity because the work piles up. It's the team's work; work they're not doing is work someone else in the team has to do. Or no one does, and the team output suffers and the customer's experience is worsened.

Is there anyway I can approach this situation? Or am I wrong to find this such an interminable wind up and waste of our team time?

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    What is the problem you are trying to solve? Based on your description, you have observed 2 of your team memebers (out of 6) doing at least 25 minutes of "chit-chat" per day. Is this affecting your work in some way? In my experience such 'chit-chat' usually starts informal but is then often goes to touching on work matters. I.e. you begin with "how was your week" but then most of the time you are actually talking about work matters, albeit in an informal way. – Brandin Nov 18 '19 at 8:31
  • @Brandin if they covered more work I'd feel less stressed about the sisyphean mountain I'm always trying to cope with – Paul Nov 18 '19 at 8:36
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    "Our manager is a helicopter, he's almost never involved." - That's actually the opposite of what's usually considered a "helicopter manager". A "helicopter manager" is a micromanager who constantly hovers over you, watching everything you do and intervening immediately if you don't do your work in exactly the way she wants. – Philipp Nov 18 '19 at 10:35
  • Please make sure your vote reflects the quality of the question, not your opinion of OP's thoughts. – rath Nov 18 '19 at 13:52
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    So do you end up doing a greater share of the work because they are basically slacking? Are there any metrics involved in the work that you could use to prove that they are getting less work done than others? – Smock Nov 18 '19 at 14:09

Naturally, people need a bit of time to "get in the zone" of working and some do it by hanging out a bit at the start of the day. Everybody is different. Some people get in the office "ready to roll" so-to-speak, others need a coffee, a bit of time to settle in, or some other "ritual" to get them in the zone. So the first question to ask yourself is whether you're accounting for these differences in personalities.

A productive way to fix this problem is to start your day with a daily standup in the morning. You can have a chat with your manager and recommend the change as a way to make the team more productive.

Another way is to lead by example.

However, not all "problems" need fixing. If their work is completed and they're performing well, then that's just how they get prepared for work.

  • They get very little work completed, spend too much of the rest of the day on their phones. Not self starting enough for people this old and in this position of responsibility. – Paul Nov 18 '19 at 13:52
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    @Paul I'm guessing there aren't any metrics/measures in place? (not that metrics are a panacea) – Smock Nov 18 '19 at 14:08
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    @Paul - They get very little work completed, spend too much of the rest of the day on their phones. Not self starting enough for people this old and in this position of responsibility Are you responsible for their productivity? – dwizum Nov 18 '19 at 16:41
  • @Paul then I guess there is a bigger problem at hand, not just the start of the day chit chat. The daily standup would help with this issue, since each day they would be required to state what they did the day before and what they're planning to do today. If they're not making progress on a day-to-day basis, it will become very obvious to the entire team. Again, speak with your manager and request some more changes. Scrum, Agile, or Lean, pull requests, code reveiws, etc. – Kiril Nov 18 '19 at 17:18

You answered your own question.

I have no team lead or managerial responsibilities.

Until and unless that casual talk is affecting your productivity (loud voices, creating disturbance, unavailable for meeting / discussion etc.), ignore them and carry on with your work.

As clarified in the comments,

  • If the team is actually losing their work-time in this chats
  • Unable to complete their assignments
  • Manager is assigning those "pending" work to you, instead of asking the responsible employees (who are slacking off and not delivering)

then, you need to find a better manager. If that means finding a new job, so be it.

Due to WFH practices you might only see him once or twice a week physically, if that.

That's not at all relevant. Some managers (effectively) manage geographically distributed teams, without any physical presence for really really long time. Physical presence (or lack of that, thereof) is not an excuse for a sloppy management.

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    @Paul and how are you responsible for their work? Is it like your work is dependent on theirs? Or is it like you consume the output produced by the other members, so you'll be blocked until they deliver? – Sourav Ghosh Nov 18 '19 at 8:35
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    One consideration here is that without this daily warmup they might actually be less productive overall and get less done. And if work really is piling up, then maybe the amount of work should be adjusted. If the team can reasonably do X amount of work points, then maybe the number of work points being put into the sprint should be lowered. – TheEvilMetal Nov 18 '19 at 9:39
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    Then you need a better manager. You are not responsible for someone else's work. Period. – Sourav Ghosh Nov 18 '19 at 9:39
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    Then you definitely need a better manager. – Sourav Ghosh Nov 18 '19 at 14:00
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    responsible or not, I get the fall out @Paul Are you actually getting blamed when the team falls behind or directly assigned work when they don't complete it or are you taking it on to prevent the team as a whole from looking bad? It's still unclear to me whether you're actually being told to take up their slack or if you're choosing to do it to head off trouble. – BSMP Nov 18 '19 at 14:08

Who is responsible?

Consider the following:

You are only responsible for the work that can reasonably be expected of you to finish.

As you said yourself, you are not in a manager position. Your job is to get as much work done during your normal working hours. It's advisable to work as efficient as you can and this has very little to do with how efficient your coworkers do their job.

If the customer is unhappy they should be complaining to your manager (or whoever higher up is responsible for "selling" the product and the support for it). Then when your manager comes to you, you have to be able to honestly say: "I have done everything that I could.". It is your managers responsibility to either reduce the work load on your team, or find other solutions to keep the customers happy, not yours.

To support your claim, you also want to have some tracking. At our job we use jira to track issues along with coupled commit messages so you can see who did what. It doesn't really matter how you're tracking it, as long as you can somehow prove your value whenever someone questions you about your work. Note that managers usually have a decent idea of which team members are productive and who is slacking off, even if they don't mention anything about it.

The value of informal communication

Do not underestimate the value of informal chatting during work hours. I fully agree that it's time not spent on getting actual work done. But what does it accomplish?

The number 1 positive aspect is getting along with other coworkers. If you're in a habit of chatting with certain coworkers, you're also much more likely to ask a quick work related question. Especially for new hires it can be a difficult thing to ask a coworker a question that maybe "they should have known already". If they're already on good terms with coworkers because of the daily chatting, it really lowers the threshold and the question actually get's asked.

These informal channels are even far more important if they happen in between different teams. I've had plenty of times where someone in my "chat group" at work was complaining about some issue they had, where someone from a different team could point them to another coworker that is an expert on that topic. Without the informal channel, the former would have wasted a lot of time trying to figure it out themselves.

Another positive point is that some people need some time to "get in the right work mood" as other answers here have already pointed out. Some people are just slow to get started and almost nobody is able to really focus 100% for 7 hours in a workday. Which would be worse, someone staring braindead to their screen getting about 2 hours of work actually done that day OR that same person chatting for an hour to get started, get those 2 hours done before noon and do something similar in the afternoon for a nice 5 hours of effective work done?

Solutions for you

There are 3 main "solutions" that I can think of for your situation.

1) Ignore them and hope for a raise because you're obviously the most valuable employee.

If those chatty coworkers are really not pulling their weight, then their manager will (/should) at some point do something about it. (Worse case for them is firing, best case a small reprimanding and a joint solution proposal to make the entire team more productive). This solution assumes you can acknowledge that you really are not responsible at all.

2) Make them aware that they're waisting too much time.

Let them have their 20 minutes chat in the morning, you might even join in at times to get on good terms with them as well (see advantages mentioned earlier). Every once in a while when they're chatting too long (30 mins +) and it didn't switch to work related topics you can point it out or break the conversation with a question. Depending on how often they do it, and how friendly you are with them (known to be a joker yourself or super serious ...) there's a couple of options:

  • "You guys didn't learn about work ethics at school or what?" (try friendly tone when they've been chatting for about an hour).
  • "Hey [talker 1], how's [issue you know is assigned to them] going? (optional extra:) Do you need help getting started?" (Really useful if you are somewhat responsible of sharing knowledge with new colleagues).
  • "Ahum! *clears throat, looks at them expectedly"
  • "Hey [either one of the talkers], what time is it?"
  • "Oh sure, I'll do all the work here so you guys can have your little tea party over there. Did you make sure to bring cookies this time?" (be careful with jokes like this, if you can't also use the right body language to make it clear it's a joke it will make them really anoyed with you).
  • ...

The idea is to give them (hopefully) friendly reminders that they're expected to be working. As a senior member of the team it's your job to show them the "business culture". You can tell them how "things are done around here" even if you cannot enforce it directly. Make sure not to just be the "grumpy old guy" that they want to ignore though. Try to earn their respect by showing how to get work done and help them if they're stuck.

3) Start doing daily standup meetings in the morning like Kiril suggested.

Get some buy in from your manager (or just agree with the entire team) that it's a good idea to start the day with a daily standup so everyone has at least some idea what everyone else is working on. That way, you "force" them to at least consider what needs to be done that day so they get into the right work-mind doing something more productive for the entire team than chatting about non-work stuff. Note that this does imply everyone is in on the standup, so you also "lose" that time if you don't consider it useful yourself. (Small tips: make sure nobody talks for more than 5 minutes during this standup. It should really be a really quick "I'm planning doing foo and bar issues today but I need to find out how to fix that bug on baz issue from yesterday first". (<- someone might suggest looking along with them after the standup, don't go into the issue at that point yet!).

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    Hi Imus, all of your suggestions for your second solution come across as passive aggressive. – Matt Bell Nov 18 '19 at 16:46
  • I worked at a job that had a morning stand-up right at 8am, which is when we were supposed to start work. Unfortunately, I was 1-2 min late every single day due to traffic. It didn't matter if I left my apt. with 10 min, 20 min, or even 30 min to get to work, it almost always worked out for me to be late. I tried different routes even. There was nothing I could figure out to avoid being late. I can't find it anymore, but a reliable source says starting a meeting at the very beginning of the day guarantees people arriving late and is to be avoided. – computercarguy Nov 18 '19 at 17:15
  • @MattBell Isn't that inherently true whenever you point out to someone that they're doing something wrong? I would say that it highly depends on how you say it though. I know I would be able to say any of my examples to my coworkers, but that could be because of our rather friendly banter atmosphere at my job. If anyone has a non - passive agressive way to actually point it out to coworkers I'm open for suggestions :) – Imus Nov 18 '19 at 18:05
  • @Ismus another option is to be direct and to explain your issue with your coworkers to them or your manager. – Matt Bell Nov 18 '19 at 22:15

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