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I constantly see one of my subordinates chatting in a semi-professional chat during her working hours. With "semi-professional" I mean that the chat is targeted towards frontend developers (which is her position), but besides sharing and discussing code snippets they often do small talk about books, movies, etc...

As a believer in development culture and active user of the Stack Exchange network I don't want to forbid such communication entirely. Mostly because it is hard to define the line (is answering a Stack Overflow question already private? Is commenting and improving an answer? Is discussing lunch options in WhatsApp?)

On the other hand I see that it takes a significant amount of her working time and I have never seen her doing overtime.

What I did so far when I saw her chatting for a longer period from the corner of my eye:

  1. Asking about the status of her current work package. The packages are rather small (I could deliver them in half a day, she takes 1-2 days). I often get evasive answers and she then indeed turns back to her package - for some time.
  2. Discussing which additional aspects popped up during the current work package to send her back on track.
  3. Openly stating that she should have an eye on her private browsing behavior
  4. Openly stating that I see her changing the tab when I come close and that I am annoyed by that.

We are a small startup so our possibility of sanctions is rather limited and not our desired culture. I am also unsure if I should appear tougher and stricter - to be honest I am alarmed that I have to act like a elementary school teacher here. Also she is not a very good coder, but it took a long time to fill that position and she indeed solves more problems than she creates - so firing her is a tough decision.

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    Are you new to managing teams? I ask because you've said: (I could deliver them in half a day, she takes 1-2 days) which sounds like you may have trouble delegating items of work and accepting that employees may do thing differently than you. Together with the other points you've mentioned, it seems to point that you may be micromanaging. Try to take a more laid back approach and focus strictly on the results she produces, ignoring how she delivers it. – Tymoteusz Paul Jul 17 '17 at 11:49
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    Over the years I've come to the conclusion that worrying about minutes and hours for mind/knowledge work is pointless. What matters are days. If she slacks off for an hour to rest her brain and then gets a bunch of stuff done before leaving, there's probably no problem. If a day is wasted, there is no way to get it back. You aren't going to watch her all day and the data samples you get when look over her shoulder are of little value. Track her productivity over days or weeks. Then think about ways to improve it. This might not involve her changing anything. – JimmyJames Jul 17 '17 at 13:59
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    It makes for a really boring and stressful office if all you are allowed/expected to do or talk about is work, work, work for 8, 9, 10 hours a day. Most companies, in their policies these days even acknowledge that people may pop into a facebook page or twitter or read a news site from time to time during the day, just not spend all day on it. If you are looking over people shoulders all day long, when do you have time to do your job? – bluegreen Jul 17 '17 at 14:13
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I would focus on her productivity, not her individual actions.

If her productivity is reasonable, then let it go. It's her process of getting more done at other times.

If her productivity is low, whether you think it is a result of her chatting or not, address that directly. Have a talk with her about her lower than expected productivity, what is holding her back, and how you can help her. See if she mentions the chatting. If not, bring it up as a possible suggestion as to how to improve her productivity. Do this in a friendly "I'm trying to help you" way.

After a reasonable time (a few weeks, a month), sit down with her to re-evaluate her productivity. If it's still low, you can be more authoritative about cutting the chatting.

Eventually if her productivity continues to be poor after attempts to fix it, you need to decide whether she's really worth keeping around versus someone else you could get to replace her.

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    This. You don't actually care how she spends her time. What you care about is how much work she gets done. If she's performing at the level you want (in terms of productivity), then let her spend her time however she wants, because evidently it's having the desired result. If she's not productive enough, then tell her that, and let her figure out how to get more done. – Kaz Jul 17 '17 at 11:56
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    @Kaz Sensible bosses think that way. Many bosses however think the "I want this person's 100% possible productivity. So if they're chatting half the time while getting everything done, they're robbing me of 50% of the time I paid for" way. – Magisch Jul 17 '17 at 12:42
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    Precisely. I very often get ideas out of the blue when I've put the project out of my mind. Sometimes I spend weeks on something, just to scrap it. Other times, I'll solve a difficult problem in an afternoon. Time in the seat staring at code does not equate to productivity. If this person is simply ignoring tasks, that's one thing. But, letting someone have their own process, especially in programming, is always the wise choice. – anthony Jul 17 '17 at 14:13
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    I agree with @Kaz This just makes sense. I've been in a situation where my team was able to get more work done than the other two teams combined. Our boss let us slack off as much as we wanted when the work was done with the understanding that 1)In emergencies and crunch time, we'd jump in, even working through lunch and breaks and 2)We'd be discreet and not flaunt what was going on. – Richard U Jul 17 '17 at 15:35
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    I agree with this answer and I'd like to add that if you make her stop what she's doing she may even become less productive. – Fez Vrasta Jul 18 '17 at 7:41
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Maybe this is a problem of motivation? Does she work more efficiently if she has more challenging and important tasks? In the past I often saw myself distracted from work if I had no interesting or challenging projects due to lack of motivation.

Maybe try to give her tasks out of other areas from development (if that is your competence). Or simply talk to her about problems she might have in the job and mention her productivity, maybe there is something to change what you don't know.

I think at the time you acted tough enough. But more toughness is recommended if nothing else helps.

9

As others had already said, you should really focus on her results only.

Otherwise, you will find yourself in a constant state of vigilance wondering if she is or not wasting her time on non-work-related chats. Actually, in that case, both of you will be wasting time. Her on the chats and you by wasting energy keeping tabs on her moves.

You should keep your head clear to focus on things that really need your attention. Another thing you should consider, you stated that she is not a good coder, so I`ll assume that she has less experience rather than assume that she is just a bad professional.

In any case, I think you should assume a kind of teacher role and help her improve her productivity by showing her how you deal with the many distractions, chats included, on work and manage to keep the focus on delivering the packages on time.

If she solves more problems than she creates, so there is pontencial to invest time on her. Of course, her improval will depend on her will to improve her productivity, but at least you can provide ways to help her to achiev that.

  • 1
    If she's not a good coder and likes to waste time, remedial work will likely not be very rewarding. Sadly (happily?) our profession (development) is out of stock right now and we often have to accept poor behaviour and work habits just because we can't get anyone else. But the behaviour remains unproductive, destructive and unprofessional. Really in any normal workplace, such a worker should be replaced in short order if you can't get her to reform. – Foliovision Jul 18 '17 at 8:51
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    I think "reform" is an appropriate word for this generation we're living in. People, and not just in our profession, enjoy wasting time. They're drowning in their cellphones screens and in all sorts of social media. That's a reality. Either we seat down and wait it to pass or we choose to deal with it today. Deal with it involves teaching them to keep their private life separated from their professional life. Also involves a lot of patience. There's nothing romantic about it, it just plain hard. But what in life isn't? – dvc.junior Jul 18 '17 at 12:28
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Do you use project management software and break down the projects into tasks?

If you track her hours and bill the client based on those hours, then what is she doing?

If she is only reporting 4-5 hours of billable time per day, make it clear that the policy is 7.5 hours of billable time per day (allowing for 2 x 15 minute breaks for anything they want). Falling short of the expected hours should reflect poorly on reviews and potentially even formal warnings. Even if its an internal project, the hours should still be counted and "billed" to an internal project.

If she is reporting a full day of billable hours, is she padding the billable hours unreasonably? If the job estimate for a task is 20 hours, but it takes her 40 hours... let her know that her productivity is less than anticipated and that you either need to talk to the client about increasing the budget OR that you have to eat the difference.

Also allow time for "training" and continued education (webinars, etc) with the permitted time very clear. She could indeed use time dedicated to developer chats and count it toward that time as long as she includes that time as "training" and does not exceed the allotted time for the week.

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    Using time tracker is a horrible, horrible solution... – Akavall Jul 19 '17 at 16:17
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    It all depends on how the business is setup. If you are charging your customer for billable hours (perhaps on a service contract) then having your production staff use a time tracker is the most efficient and honest way to bill your clients. The OP did not say he what his business model is, and so I asked the question "do you use project management software" at the start of my answer. As a developer, I hate having to account for my time. As a business owner, it is often a necessity. – Phil M Jul 24 '17 at 15:20
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Some practical techniques I have seen used:

  1. When assigning a job, tell the developer something like "I've estimated this job to take 1 day, so you should be finished by the end of tomorrow, ok?"
  2. Mid way through a job ask the developer how much time they have left to complete the job, then ask them again after that amount of time has elapsed whether they have finished yet
  3. Say something like "Your colleague developer X has some really time critical work to do. If you think you need to disturb them with anything in the next few days could you let me know first?"

These help focus attention on expected productivity vs actual productivity in a non confrontational way.

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    A boss like that can be very annoying, especially when they don't understand legitimate reasons why something takes longer than they imagine from a high-level view. – Olin Lathrop Jul 17 '17 at 13:35
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    Doing this creates an immediate and likely permanent adversarial relationship. Don't tell programmers how long something is going to take, let them tell you. If you disagree with their estimate, discuss that. "You're estimating 6 hours to add that button? That seems a little long to me. How did you arrive at that number?" You've got to get "buy-in" on these things and (big shock) the supervisor, even if he's a coder too, may not be considering something but has started the discussion by putting his subordinate on the defensive. – Chris E Jul 17 '17 at 13:52
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    I had a boss like this once. The key word here is "had". Giving me an estimate based on your arbitrary criteria is the fastest way to put a chip on my shoulder. If you've done any programming in your life, you know that any number of factors can turn a "one day" project into a week. If you haven't done any, you should stfu, and let the programmer do their job. – anthony Jul 17 '17 at 14:06
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    @rdans Are you sure OP is understanding this? From what I gather, OP is expecting a knowledge worker to be consistently productive 100% of the time, and everyone knows that is a fantasy. There are very few developers that just sit down and code all day, and yet still most devs meet their productivity goals. As a dev of his own, OP should know that sometimes you have to distract yourself for a while to prevent mental exhaustion – Magisch Jul 17 '17 at 14:18
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    @rdans I have known an amazing number of people who forget the realities of software development as soon as they become a manager and suddenly their entire life is nothing but Microsoft Project and budgets. – bluegreen Jul 17 '17 at 14:20

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