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Ask HN: Anyone rather just be alone during work day?
84 points by 0x01030307 on July 11, 2018 | hide | past | web | favorite | 52 comments
How do you peers take it?

If I manage to find somewhere in our open office to get work done in solitude, every individual who walks by feels the need to comment "oh, colanderman, you must be trying to get work done! Well I guess I'll leave you alone". It is so. Goddamn. Annoying. Like seriously, the fuck people, you don't need to vocalize every thought that pops into your head.

The only two solutions I've found are to (a) legitimately book a conference room, or (b) work from home. Except the latter reminds me how futile it is to spend such a short life working for someone else during all the beautiful hours of the day.

or those that don't check that a conf room is already booked and just show up expecting it to be empty. You still have that interruption "oh, I didn't know someone was using this room, sorry".

Unless I lock the door and/or hide in a corner, I've found that that interruption at least tends to resolve itself quickly and doesn't interrupt my flow. People react more predictably and reliably to familiar scenarios.

Locking the door is always an option I guess!

I've done that. It makes it worse. You get confused people jiggling the handle, knocking, and looking inside, as they try to enter the conference room they didn't book, after which you need to unlock the door, and explain to them that you locked the door to avoid interruptions, can they please go away and research the social signal a locked door is meant to convey.

The trick is you need to look unremarkable, yet also uninterruptible. I think the best strategy (short of finding an employer that values productivity) is to team up with someone else who values getting work done, and book a conference room with them. That way it looks like you're "having a meeting" and no-one will ask vapid questions.

Better still, dial your cell phone with the room's conference phone, so it looks like it's "on" to anyone peering through the door's window, and sit with your back to the door. People are less likely to try to take over the conference room if it looks like it's complicated to get you to vacate.

You need a door, which sadly, most offices don't have.

Yes, I'd rather just be alone. Some weeks I manage to get as many as four days in a row working from home, but most I end up just taking Friday as a WFH day so I can focus on getting things done.

As I type this in my open plan office at 1:39 PM, there's a vacuum cleaner 20 feet away, three different conversations going on around me, the stairwell door at my back opening every minute, people walking in front, behind, and to the side of me, and the janitorial service emptying garbage cans. Every few days we'll get noisemakers, screaming, and clapping and cake for birthdays or work anniversaries.

When working from home, I get a good nine solid hours in with great focus and the occasional break to take pets out. From my, admittedly non-scientific reckoning, I get about three times as much done in one work day at home. I go into the office mostly just to be seen, to participate in social rituals, for physical meetings, and to be "available" for questions and drive-bys. It's not that I don't like my co-workers, it's that my office is noisy and distracting. And it's one of the quietest floors in the company.

When I worked for IBM and had a private, quiet office, it took some getting used to being alone. When I moved to full-time remote work, it was a really good balance for me: I could exercise during phone conferences, have a healthy and properly-proportioned lunch with my wife, and get a balanced amount of distraction and "away" time by taking the dogs out.

I recently worked remotely for a month while on a semi-holiday. It was a lot better than I was expecting.

I was worried I would end up not getting enough work done or worst yet appearing as if I was not getting enough work done. But being able to work remotely from a quiet place actually meant I got more work done in a shorter time period, and it also afforded me proper breaks from my work. Like heading out for 1-2 hours and doing Pilates, or going for a long walk in the park.

For me breaking my workday up into like 2/3 3-4 hour sessions, with exercise and other activities as breaks actually improved my work, and I was way happier than sitting in an office for 9 hours straight.

I often retreat myself in the conference room to be "alone", more often than not headphones or me frantically typing doesn't seem to convey the image of me being focused. I used to be working remotely and miss it a lot just for my peace and focus, my manager told me I can't have a day or two working from home and I'm seriously considering leaving just because of this reason...my colleagues often says that I'm quite shut but tbh when I'm in my zone I don't want to be stopped every five minutes.

I work remotely so the only person in my home office is my wife who also has a remote job. I use headphones and we have a general understanding that during work hours we limit idle chit chat and if headphones are on, shoot each other a text.

For co-workers, they are also remote so we schedule meetings and chats. If something comes up we ask when we could interrupt via chat and the person responds when they can.

If the end of the day comes and a person hasn't responded we shoot an e-mail to get on the radar for the next day with the understanding that it should be handled asap the next day before entering a heads-down mode.

If extremely urgent then we pick up the phone.

I recently took a remote job. Initially, discipline for work / non-work time was tough. But in the end, it lead to better habits and more productive time spent actually working.

I like working in offices, however working remote has been surprisingly pleasant (although I'm definitely more of an introvert).

I enjoy the time I spend with most of my coworkers on most of my jobs - when I'm not working. Watercooler conversations, kitchen talk etc.

As soon as I'm working, I find people talking around me, getting up, or even simply being in my field of view, very distracting.

Not an enjoyable situation when you're working with quite a bit of legacy code with both complex logic and a few somewhat complex algorithms.

I try to get in the office earlier than everyone on my team, and I try to at least have a look at tasks that require concentration at that time of the day.

I find the notion that employers are worried that you might slack off working from home absurd, as I believe I'm not some special unique snowflake but part of a large subset of people that function like that.

I like a mix of alone time and collaboration time. Ideally I’d work from home a couple days a week and be in the office the rest of those days.

Also - I invested in a “do not disturb” light that I flip on while on a call or while I need to focus on something. It seems to be pretty effective as most requests that would have been walk ups are now turning into emails.

I prefer working with my team.

Years ago, when telecommuting was the bright future, I thought working from home would be great. I don't anymore. I'm more productive when I'm with the people I work with. We can discuss stuff, help each other, etc. More team cohesion, more cooperation, more knowledge sharing, more working in the same direction.

I enjoy working with my team as well but I think there’s a happy medium to be struck. It’s not a binary of :: have your attention constantly pulled or being hidden away and unavailable for collaboration.

Agreed with you. I like being able to shoot off questions in person, and I like being asked questions in person. Four days a week at work is ideal.

And the fifth day with my kids. I find a 32 hour work week plenty.

I absolutely love remote work. In fact, if I could not be bothered on slack by constant likes and rehashes of links I can go read and find on my own it would be even better. If I want a meeting of any kind it should be scheduled. I feel physical pain when my time is wasted.

Even better than being alone, not having foot traffic anywhere near my desk would be nice. I don't know how the guy sitting right by the door does it. People coming in and out all day and walking right by him.

From personal experience: in engineering, people are roughly split into two groups, ones who figure out by themselves, and others who ask. So when I worked in the office (in that particular geo), I put a thick cross on my developer career and added a second chair beside my desk. (I once did timing, and the average was 26 min between interruptions.)

Now I work remotely, in a different geo, and people still want to "talk to me", insist that I open the messenger app etc, call me on whatsapp (which our company prohibits BTW). No way around it. It is all the same people who asked questions when they were engineers, only now they moved higher up.

I am adding this useless personal anecdata only in hope we accumulate a big enough list so that HR and others realize that enough people consider important to be alone to get stuff done.

Some lore in our company tells about overachievers who would get up at 5am to be productive until the bulk of teams arrives at work. It was some 20-30 years ago, these days, one gets up at 5am to catch the train for this 2+-hour commute. Being alone is all we can have.

I don't want to go far, I just want to get my stuff done.

I live on my own so I prefer being with people at work.

I can absolutely see how this is true for some people.

Conversely: I have a family, and find that a day of open-plan leaves me consistently too frazzled to hand much in the way of meaningful interaction with my partner and child.

I don’t really know how to square these too, other than to suggest that different environments make sense for different people, and wonder how we can implement this without it getting caught up in status-game space (“why should X have the office...”)


I like productive chat but also having dedicated alone time is important.

Too much if either is not good

Working with my team is important but I need at least one day a week working from home in my bath robe, not only for my own sanity but also to actually get things done. I don't begrudge anyone else that! Not everyone is an outgoing extrovert and that is just fine - as long as there are results!

I much prefer and find it far easier to work when alone. I'd like to work from home more for this reason but have resigned to just putting in earphones to try block out the rest of the office. I definitely hope to find a remote job in the near future though.

I'm moving from programmer to more of an devops / architect role because I can't focus on building high quality code in noisy open offices.

Devops and architect stuff is a whole lot easier to do with open office since you don't have a million things in your head at once.

Unless it’s a million microservives.

I work in a big office (no windows) on the opposite side our site and it's glorious.

Co-workers think it's weird but they are office workers and sales so talking all day is 80% of their job.

I don't really have a 'team' as such these days (the joys of corporate silos) - I don't work in a vacuum, but the others that I interact with are spread out over the country, so I generally work from home 3-4 days a week. The office is open plan, and quite noisy on a 'busy' day, but a lot of my peers also work remotely several days a week, so most of the time its not too bad.

Solo is great. But collaboration is the key to success.

If you want to travel fast, go alone. If you want to travel far, go together.

Collaboration on slack works great.

Coworkers can be incredibly distracting in close quarters.

This is why I like working remotely. Sorry l I don't have anything to offer for what to do if you're still in an office.

We have an open office and the chatter ebbs and flows on mutual terms mostly. Doubt it would work with over 30 people. We're a fairly tight-kmit group and that becomes impossible after a certain size.

Our office has many places you can be alone, and we take advantage whenever needed. The open office warehouse echo still blows, but we manage

I work as a consultant and I find that for “problem solving” in person communication with colleagues and clients is fundamental.

When I’m working on a model I just put my headphones and I know people will disturb me only if they really need to. Which is fine, I’m here to help in the first place.

As I have to do a lot of stuff I can't do home I managed to get a small office room for myself .. I totally agree: It is frikkin' annoying .. don't they have something better to do? What also helped were Headphones and a sign reading "STFU, y u no w0rk?!"

They're good. They only come to me when they're having a problem and it's only a few times a day so I can get a lot of work done. If I must, I close my door and put a sign "Coding but welcome" and I'm sure some just wait until it opens but I'll never know.

I hope you appreciate the fact that you have a door :)

Another great example of why real offices are better than open floor plan.

I’m envious of your door.

Can’t concentrate at work because open office.

Can’t concentrate at home because Slack (virtual open office plan).

Always open office.

I like working alone sometimes, when I feel like it would be beneficial to do so I just work from home. I couldn't do it all the time though and I enjoy coming into the office, mainly for the banter and hanging out with my colleagues / friends

At my old company, under extreme cases, I put up a physical whiteboard on top of my desk with "Focus mode: on" and "Focus mode: off" depending on my mood.

Worked great, and nobody seemed offended. I may think that even the directors love it when they saw it.

I had a coworker who put on a hood with giant bunny ears when she had heads down work to concentrate on. You knew not to disturb her when the bunny ears were up - and it was very effective because you could see those huge ears from across the office so nobody wasted time walking all the way to her desk only to find her in focus mode.

Total lifesaver: https://luxafor.com/ (disclaimer: I backed them on kickstarter)

It usually works better for me to work alone in a conference room, and I can see the people around me walking around so I don't feel like nuts, and yet I can focus on what I was working on.

Depends on whether what I'm doing is interesting or not, having people around can mitigate the boredom, otherwise working alone is better.

Don't underestimate the power of putting on headphones and keeping a concentrated face. Nobody interupts me when I do this

Lucky! That doesn’t work everywhere...

(Over-ear headphones are a little more reliable than earbuds, but have comfort issues for some people)

Yes, so I can play my extreme metal very loud on my hifi - and code

Every now and then I'll fake some emergency and take some time to fuck off and be by myself. And do nothing. I have to lie because people need a reason, because being by yourself means slacking off from the global capitalist grind, and that's a no-no.


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