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Situation

I'm working at a startup (8 people, 4 sales/4 tech) in an open office setting. Lunch times always used to be from 12:30 to 1:30. We have a glass box room with a large rectangular table used for meetings and also for lunch.

Problem

Some time ago, members of the sales team started to use this space as a place to make their important sales calls, as it is more private and it's the only separate room with a wired internet connection useful for Skype calls.

They've now started occupying the conference/lunch room making group calls to big clients from 11:00 until 15:00 (which varies, and it doesn't happen every day).

Effects

  • As a developer I like to plan certain tasks for certain times. If I expect to have lunch for 30 minutes at 12:30, then I expect I can let my computer perform automatic tasks during that time. With these uncertain lunch times, I can't schedule my tasks properly.
  • If I have lunch at say 12:30 for a few days, my body starts to expect me to fill it with food at that time. If I then can't have lunch around that time, my stomach gets confused and I can't eat properly when the lunch room becomes available.

I feel like there really is an impact on productivity here, and also setting/clearing the table around lunch time takes everybody longer than 'normal' (when there is a defined period in which a space for lunch is available for having your lunch break) in my opinion. Sometimes I stay an hour or 2 longer to perform some tasks because that's the time I know I can work on my own schedule.

What did I do?

In the recent past I've already talked a few times about it with my employer and HR and they acknowledged people in my position could be experiencing inconveniences regarding the scheduling of tasks in respect to when I expect to have my lunch break. It would be communicated to the sales department and separate rooms for conferencing/lunching/programming-in-silence would be built in addition to the existing sales, tech and lunch rooms.

The problem is, nothing happened. People still conference in the same space during 'lunch time', there are no private spaces to sit and I still eat lunch 2 hour later than expected.

It's not about the food (as it is really positive what they conference about) but about structure and productivity. I don't want to go sit somewhere else and eat there by myself as I think it's reasonable to expect a designated space for lunch in which I can sit and eat during designated lunch times.

I'm ok with eating at my desk sometimes, but I don't want to do that just because there's no other place to have lunch.

What would be some ways to deal with this? Am I seeing this thing about productivity the wrong way? What would be some way to approach my employer/HR about improvements that were said to be made but aren't being done?

  • 2
    I would not recommend variable lunch times. You should find places where you can take your meal at the designated time. I am even taking my lunch at my desk if no other place is available around noon. – Alexander Dec 19 '14 at 13:47
  • I'm ok with eating at my desk sometimes, but I don't want to do that just because there's no other place to have lunch. Also working at my desk and having my break at my desk just feels a little like one long working streak. – Phalanx Dec 19 '14 at 14:02
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    From your comments it sounds like this could be solved by having a ethernet drop in 1+ other appropriate room(s). Offices often have drop ceilings making running cables easy. It's a startup (initiative and filling multiple roles is important). Just buy the cable(s) (and small switch if needed) and run the drop(s) yourself. It is probably a good idea to ask if it is OK. This, obviously, depends on how IT responsibility is allocated in the startup. Have you explained to those you talked to about the problem how easy/inexpensive (even if professionally hired out) it is to run an ethernet drop? – Makyen Dec 19 '14 at 17:32
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    Actually easier: In comments you state "There's definitely no shortage of space here." Get a table and some chairs (buy them at a local store if needed) and put them in one of the other rooms. You now have somewhere to eat. Easy/low cost. Again, this is a startup, you should be looking for solutions not just complaining to management. Again, obviously, asking for permission might be a good idea depending on the corporate culture. – Makyen Dec 19 '14 at 17:42
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    When working at a startup, it's not expected to have a designated lunch-eating space. At some startups, you're lucky to have your own desk. – KatieK Dec 19 '14 at 18:12
25

Solve the problem, don't just tell your boss there is a problem.

In almost any environment, you should be going to your boss with proposed/possible solutions to the problems you bring to them. If it is at all possible, don't just go to your boss throwing up your hands saying there is a problem. Go to your boss and say "[This] is a problem I've identified. [Here] are some solutions. [This] is how much I estimate each solution is going cost [in money and manpower]." You can provide a recommendation as to which solution to use. Providing solutions is far, far better than just bringing your boss problems.

Solving problems outside your area of expertise is even more important in a startup.

This is a startup. In a startup it is normal for you to solve problems which, in a larger corporation, would be handled by going through established departments and channels. The issue appears to be that you are applying the large corporate mentality of "I have to go through channels to solve problems not directly related to coding." In a startup that is not an appropriate attitude. You should be going to your boss and saying something like "Boss, [here] is a problem. [This] looks like an easy and inexpensive solution. Is that OK, or would something else be better/do you want to do something else?"


Your base problem is simple: You need a table and chairs (go get them)

You want somewhere to have lunch other than at your desk. Unlike many startup situations, you stated in comments:

There's definitely no shortage of space here.

Thus, you have the space, but are lacking, at a minimum, a table and a chair being unused somewhere appropriate for you to have lunch. Unlike areas being used by Sales for video calls, you do not need a wired ethernet connection in the area you are going to have lunch.

You have already talked to your boss about the issue and nothing happened. So go to your boss and ask something like "Hey [boss], as you may remember I would like to have a place to eat lunch other than my desk when Sales is using the 'glass box'. Would it be OK for me to bring in a table (e.g. a card table) and a few chairs and put them in one of the unused rooms? It would, of course, only be until the space is needed for something else." If OK, then ask if the room you would prefer is acceptable.

[To be clear: Another time, I recommend not having the stage of just telling your boss about the problem and hoping it will get solved. The first presentation to your boss would be much better if it included proposed solutions, not just "There is a problem - you fix it."]

Picking the table & chairs: Print out a selection of different tables (a quick look shows a basic card table and four chairs is available for $57 from Walmart). Get your boss involved by having him/her select the table from your printout, or tell you where it should be obtained. That way your boss can make the cost/quality trade-off. A more permanent solution could be to purchase used furniture that is more office-appropriate. If it is of concern, you can ask your boss at that time if you could be reimbursed.

You really want the glass room for your lunch room
If you really want the "glass room" to be where you have lunch, then Sales needs to have other areas that fulfill their needs. You said sales was using the room because it also had wired ethernet (an ethernet drop). Thus, you need to get ethernet drops into the other rooms (in addition to tables). Offices often have drop ceilings. With drop ceilings, running cables is usually easy. You can just buy some cable(s) and run the drop(s). Again, you can run it by your boss. If you want, you could even get a quick ballpark quote to have it done professionally. If there are drop ceilings, I would probably go to my boss and say something like: "Hey [boss], looks like we need ethernet drops in a couple of rooms so sales can use them for private video calls. Do you mind if I run a couple of ethernet cables after hours on Tuesday?" Depending on how professional you want the initial job to be, you will need a minimum of a medium sized ladder and some long already terminated ethernet cables. The complexity of the task goes up from there, if you want it to look more professional. You should verify that there are ports available in a nearby switch. If not, you are going to need to also buy an ethernet switch.

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    This is THE ANSWER. Proactively finding solutions for your problems is way better than simply complaining about them and hoping some upper management does something. I'm a coder too but I never limit my problem-solving skills to just coding. – ADTC Dec 20 '14 at 4:10
22

What would be some ways to deal with this? Am I seeing this thing about productivity the wrong way?

If you've already talked to your boss, and nothing has changed so far, then I think you need to find somewhere else to eat.

If it's that important for you to always have the same place available to eat, at the same time each day, you should probably look outside. Find a nice park, shopping center, or restaurant to eat, and encourage your friends to join you.

Alternatively, try to find another empty room - perhaps someone on the sales team would be willing to let you use their room when they are in the big glass box.

Many startups have limited physical space that must be shared for many purposes. In a startup, we all must learn to make do. In one startup where I worked, we gathered in a mostly-empty spot near our cubicles and set up a small table during lunch (except on Fridays, when everyone went out to the same restaurant). It was rather fun.

Later, when we got more crowded, we cleaned out a storage room and began using it as a lunch/meeting room. Sometimes you can get creative even in limited space.

In most startups, making sales would be considered more important than having a reserved lunch space. Try to be flexible here.

  • 1
    Thanks for your answer. There's definitely no shortage of space here. There's a shortage of working internet ports and a second table. The problem is that all kinds of things "will" be done about it, but nothing is actually being done and there's nowhere to go except for my desk. There's no park or anything here, just office buildings. Making sales is indeed important as I had also mentioned in my question, but IMHO there really is no need to make conference calls in the lunch room when there's an empty sales area. – Phalanx Dec 19 '14 at 13:59
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    Unfortunately, your opinion isn't being listened to, @Phalanx, so all you can do is adjust your own habits to keep yourself reasonably comfortable and productive. Management has decided the meeting room is not a lunch room; you may not like it but you're sorta stuck with it. – keshlam Dec 19 '14 at 14:18
  • Mark Rosewater likes to say "Restrictions breed creativity." – corsiKa Dec 19 '14 at 19:16
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    "conference calls in the lunch room when there's an empty sales area" - then swap the signs around on the doors (i.e. if the lunch area is being used for sales, use the sales area for your lunch.) – RyanfaeScotland Apr 7 '16 at 7:20
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Unfortunately, you're not necessarily going to have a private space to eat lunch, or a lunch room that never gets used for other purposes, especially because your conference room doubles as the lunch room. In addition to that, if the glass box conference room is the only place where they can make group sales calls via Skype, then that's going to take priority over lunch breaks.

I think you have two separate problems. One is being able to plan your lunch break and take it at the designated time, both for your own health and comfort and so you can set your computer to perform automated tasks and get some use out of that time. The other is wanting a private spot to eat lunch, that isn't your desk so that it feels like a real break. That's made more difficult if there's no place close to your office where you could go to eat instead.

I think the first thing for you to do is decide which of these is more important to you. Would you rather eat lunch at a predictable time, or would you rather eat lunch in the lunch room? If you prefer to eat at 12:30 every day, then understand that you may or may not have access to your preferred spot. If you really want to eat in the lunch room, you may not get to eat at your preferred time. You might need to eat earlier, before they start doing conference calls, or wait until they're finished.

My personal preference would be to eat when I wanted to, and at an hour that feels like lunch time. So, if I were in your shoes, I'd try to have a good "back-up plan" for where to eat lunch when the conference room is occupied. Even though there isn't a park, is there any outdoor seating at all outside your office? For that matter, what do your other 3 coworkers do at lunch time? Could you go sit with one of them? Failing that, there might be a way to make lunch at your desk feel more like a break, like turning off your computer monitor so you don't have work staring you in the face while you eat. You might also eat in less than an hour, and then take a walk, either around the building or outside.

Since it sounds like predictability is important to you, you could recommend using a shared calendar (e.g., Outlook or Google calendar) to track when the conference room is in use. That would be useful for you, but also for the business as a whole. I imagine it would be a problem for your sales team if they came in at 1:00 to do a sales call and they had to shoo out the people who were eating there first. Or, for that matter, if they wanted to do a morning sales call at the same time the tech people had a meeting. The shared calendar still leaves you finding either an alternate time or an alternate space to eat, but at least you know in advance whether the room is available.

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Your biggest concern seems to be that you were told something would be done, and it isn't, which is a valid concern in my opinion, and you should follow up at least once to get a feel for what you should be expecting.

It could be that the company is planning to make these changes, but just hasn't done it yet. It sounds like they would be creating quite a few rooms when they do get around to it. It could also be that your boss or HR hasn't talked to anybody about it. Or, maybe they have, but whoever makes the decisions has decided not to worry about it.

My best guess is that the company just hasn't gotten around to doing it yet. It sounds like they need the extra rooms for more than this one small issue. You could talk to your boss or HR, whichever told you something would be done, and ask them whether they've heard anything further regarding that matter. You will likely either receive a date, or a "sometime soon" (in which case it will probably be a few months at least), or some other excuse meaning they really have no idea whether it will be done or not.

After following up you should be able to get a feel for whether you will need to make different lunch plans for a while or not.

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