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Some of my coworkers seem to keep their online status as available until late at night, even when they are not working. I suspect they use some tricks to prevent their computer from going to sleep mode (like using something to keep a key pressed). This creates a false impression that they are working extra hours and puts pressure on others to do the same.

I don’t like this practice because I value my work-life balance and I don’t want to be distracted by messages when I’m not working.

How can I handle this situation? Sometimes I work or study offline on my own computer, but I’m afraid this will make me look less committed or productive.

Is it a good idea to follow the crowd and keep my status as available even when I’m not working?

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    – Kilisi
    Commented Jun 3, 2023 at 9:36
  • Do you know what they are really doing on their computer? Perhaps they are doing private stuff or gaming or whatever?
    – puck
    Commented Jun 4, 2023 at 3:44

9 Answers 9

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This creates a false impression that they are working extra hours and puts pressure on others to do the same.

How do you know that? Where would that pressure come from?

I don’t like this practice because I value my work-life balance and I don’t want to be distracted by messages when I’m not working.

Then turn your status to offline when you are off the clock. If no one complains, you are fine.

How can I handle this situation?

Just ignore it. Focus on your own work. What other people do is none of your business unless it directly affects your work.

Is it a good idea to follow the crowd and keep my status as available even when I’m not working

You are overthinking this. Probably the only person who equates online status with productivity and overtime is you.

I've managed quite a few people and I couldn't care less about online status.

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    Depending on the region of the world, "Probably the only person who equates online status with productivity and overtime is you", this may not be correct. EG compare the expectations of a salaryman in Japan vs a worker in Europe. The OP hasn't indicated where they are working (but baseed on the question most likely isn't Europe)
    – Peter M
    Commented May 31, 2023 at 14:20
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    Office anecdote on this (in Europe). When employees noticed that Outlook would show an online/away/offline status for all employees and depending on what you where doing this could show away/ offline even while working a number of employees turned their status to permanently show offline just to prevent anyone from trying to draw any conclusions from the outlook status.
    – quarague
    Commented Jun 1, 2023 at 6:47
  • I've definitely seen managers observe the online status of Slack and comment on it positively. Some managers equate presence with productivity. You can discuss all day why that's nonsense, but in my experience, there are workplaces where OP's suspicions would be well founded.
    – bytepusher
    Commented Jun 8, 2023 at 18:59
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I have a few colleagues who do that sort of thing, and the same sequence of events tends to happen over and over again. Someone (generally working from another time zone) sees that employee X is online. They send X an IM asking for help with something urgent. After a few minutes with no reply, they send employee X their request via email. A few hours later, still no reply even though they show as online and available. That person ends up angry that they're apparently being ignored, frequently complaining to X's manager about it. In reality, X is asleep because it's 2AM local time and they're merely faking their online status. In a more extreme case, one colleague got assigned to a midnight conference call because the European sales manager "saw that he was always available at that time of day" and assumed he worked the late shift.

So yes, showing "online" all the time might make you appear like you're working, but at the same time you're giving a false impression. It's a very thin facade that might make you look slightly better, but as soon as someone tries to act on that information it quickly becomes worse than if you were just honest to begin with. IMO, the risk far outweighs any potential benefits.

That being said, don't assume that employees with "green" status at odd times are necessarily trying to game the system. I've used IM systems where someone was always listed as "green" whenever they were signed in on their mobile phone since they were technically able to receive messages. It didn't imply anything about the status of the person, only the status of the software.

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    I too have seen people's status inexplicably ‘available’ when they've been offline for some time — and conversely, I've seen people's status ‘away’ when they're in the middle of an IM session! Some IM systems can clearly be highly inaccurate…
    – gidds
    Commented May 31, 2023 at 18:54
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    @gidds Many IM systems have an option to always show "away" even if you're active. I like to keep that enabled both to discourage idle chit-chat and as my own way of helping people unlearn the mistaken notion that those status icons have any real meaning.
    – bta
    Commented May 31, 2023 at 19:03
  • In the cases I'm thinking of, the app was configured to set the status automatically — and it still chose very poorly. Of course, if you can set it manually, then all bets are off.
    – gidds
    Commented May 31, 2023 at 19:25
  • @gidds Can confirm, we use a popular enterprise messaging solution and status is frequently incorrect, not because of anything any of us are doing but because the way it tracks is buggy. It turns out software is hard to make, who knew? Commented May 31, 2023 at 19:43
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    We use Microsoft Teams at work, I can testify that sometimes the status icon I see for a given colleague is different from what they've selected, and it even differs from one device to another.
    – Nimloth
    Commented Jun 2, 2023 at 13:41
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This creates a false impression that they are working extra hours and puts pressure on others to do the same

Yup, you said it yourself: a false impression.

Don't fall for that pressure, as being "online" does not imply productivity.

I’m afraid this will make me look less committed or productive.

You know what, I'd even say the contrary: this [not being online all the time] could reflect more productivity on your part.

An example:

  • Catiger3331 was online 7 hours today, and was able to finish tasks A, B and C.

  • SomeOtherCoworker was online 14 hours today, and was able to finish tasks D, E and F.

Let's assume all those tasks have the same relevance and complexity. Thus, you were twice as productive as that other coworker, as you achieved the same in half the time.

To finish, I'd like to quote a comment from Keshlam which I completely agree with: "Unless your company is remarkably stupid, you will be evaluated on productivity, not on-line time."

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    The amount of companies that are requiring employees come back into the office because managers like watching their employees work suggest that stupid companies do indeed exist. Commented May 31, 2023 at 4:36
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    @GregoryCurrie :/ unfortunately that is true. Let's hope that this is not the case for OP
    – DarkCygnus
    Commented May 31, 2023 at 5:18
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    under those assumptions, Id prefer Catiger331. He has reserves left to do extra hours and get some additional producitvy in an emergency, while SomeOtherCoworker is at his limit, and most likely to burn out...
    – Benjamin
    Commented May 31, 2023 at 8:31
  • Of course, it could also be that it's more productive to work when not being online, as one is not distracted by chat messages. Commented Jun 1, 2023 at 23:31
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Not necessarily a direct answer or advice, but I'll tell you what I always used to do in that situation.

My status was always hard-set to "away", and would thus never change -- even when I'd be chatting with people. If anyone were to ask why (though I can't recall anyone ever did) -- my response would be to simply minimize distractions so I could get more work done.

Effectively, everyone was used to me always being marked "away", and never paid attention to or bothered me about my status.

Of course, YMMV depending on position and seniority, but this worked for me (at multiple jobs).

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    This is a great solution! I like it. Plays the game right back at them. Commented Jun 1, 2023 at 8:05
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Verify that they are indeed faking it first.

When COVID and WFH hit, a ton of people, including me, invested in setting up very comfortable home offices and, from taking to coworkers, they've found, as I have, that it's more convenient to do all their other computer activities there as well. Ever since I discovered the joys of cloud gaming, my own computer has been gathering dust and I'm "online" late into the night and so are my coworkers. Obviously this depends on company policy re: using work laptops for non work stuff.

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  • this. the op could very well be over-interpreting what they see.
    – njzk2
    Commented Jun 3, 2023 at 8:24
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Don't sweat it, it's irrelevant and no competent manager will notice or care.

That being said, if you do want to just keep up appearances, you can use Mouse Mover.

I'd recommend against it because you're helping this issue become entrenched, but if it's a fight you can't be bothered to have, there's your path of least resistance.

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  • That might cause other problems.... reddit.com/r/overemployed/comments/w8uurb/… Commented Jun 1, 2023 at 11:41
  • That's a ridiculous overreaction... To the point I very much doubt that there's not an underlying performance issue at play here especially considering the subreddit that's on. Not to mention you can easily make a good argument that you have it because you don't want your laptop going to sleep when you're handwriting notes or just going to get a coffee. At which point, the only potential issue is if you're not allowed to install stuff on your company laptop. Commented Jun 1, 2023 at 14:51
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    Reading the post further than the title explicitly says that there were multiple previous issues with missed standups and other deficiencies that caused the PIP. The jiggler was really just the excuse, i bet it would have happened anyway even if reddit OP wasn't caught.
    – bracco23
    Commented Jun 2, 2023 at 11:13
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You need to consider a few things before deciding if you want to maximize the online status figure.

  • Does management track this? I have known of at least one company that did track this. They expected you to be online during the core hours. They also were expecting it to be green if they sent you home early to do some work from home. They would complain if you didn't have enough green hours per day.

  • Does having online status late into the night help? If the company is tracking this do you get bonus points for late night hours. Of course this can be hurt if they notice you don't respond to emails when your status is green.

The problem with the situation you have described is that it is easy to game the system. But it also has to be done in some cases. I had a project that I would periodically check on a long running process while I was working from home. The issue I had is would the system realize I checked for a few minutes every hour, or would the system decide that that small period of green wouldn't count. In my case keeping the system green did allow me to glance at the screen to see status instead of having to unlock the screen.

Keeping the system online, without doing work, or getting credit, is just for bragging rights.

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How can I handle this situation?

You handle this situation by not worrying about the tricks others are playing, and keep doing what you are already doing.

Sometimes I work or study offline on my own computer, but I’m afraid this will make me look less committed or productive.

Don't be afraid that you will be viewed as less committed or productive. You are what you are. And hopefully your output indicates that you are a top-notch worker.

Also, don't assume that managers are fooled by silly tricks like these.

Is it a good idea to follow the crowd and keep my status as available even when I’m not working?

To me, it's a silly idea.

Work hard when you are actually working.

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You can often find me online after hours, with the green color indicating that I am not only online but also actively working.

This happens because once I am done with my work and have done some biking, I code for my pleasure.

Since I do that on the same computer I often forget to switch my status off and usually realize I am "online" either when my eyes wanted to the lower-left part of the screen, or when someone pokes me wit a question.

The latter is very rare because people know I am off hours and even though I am technically connected does not mean I want to talk to them. For those who do contact me I just answer to sens me an email so that I can have a look at that the day after, when "at work".

This is to say: just make sure that there is competition in the first place.

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