Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
Average Office Worker Spends Less Than 3 Hours of the Day Working Productively (vouchercloud.com)
78 points by rubinelli 31 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 39 comments

I had a manager once who would just divide the number of hours I stayed in office by two and then tell me that that was the time I was actually doing something useful. He did that for everyone in his team and kept it in mind when planning for long term projects.

This heuristic seems to work pretty well for him. His planning was never far from perfect and he did deliver quite a few large projects within the timelines.

How is it useful to know the number of hours someone is actually working on a project when planning? That seems to granular to be useful. It seems easier to have a sense of what can be done in a day than an hour. Each hour is going to vary a lot anyway.

How else would one forecast?

If you need to accomplish TaskX, you work with the team that will do TaskX to come up with a valid estimate of effort required to complete it -- say, 300 hours of work.

You could just naively assume that this task would then be done in 300 hours / 8 hours per day / # of workers, but that assumes 100% productivity -- which isn't true basically anywhere.


Even if you are estimating your own tasks and there aren't many unknowns, as a developer I don't normally check in with myself every hour and ponder how much I've achieved, so my idea of how much I can do in an hour is not going to be too accurate. Then multiply the error by 300. At least if a team has daily standups they'd be used to assessing their progress per day.

(Nice name)

The thing is, though, for many business models being able to accurately estimate time and cost is critical, and so is executing vs. that estimate.

It's nice to be able to say "I have no idea how long this will take," but it's also a luxury not available to many (most?) developers.

I doubt the manager focused on the hours. It was a simple way to say the manager doubled the expected timeframes when estimating tasks. By assuming the team is productive 1/2 the time, the task should take 2x the initial estimate.

Ugh, just the idea that workers are "guilty of" stealing productive time from their employers by "Making hot drinks" or "Discussing out of work activities with colleagues."

"Discussing out of work activities" I can buy, as I've been distracted many times by people doing exactly that (a constant feature of open-plan offices). But hot drinks? Come on. One has to stay hydrated, and in a typical office job, also caffeinated. Making tea is my break, during which my brain rests, and sipping that tea helps me stay concentrated. Not being able to do that would easily drop my productivity by 50%.

Workers need unproductive activities, because otherwise the long days that the unproductive activities make necessary would be intolerable.

I'd much rather work 4 hour days with no hot drinks or chatting than 8 hours at a relaxed pace. I can do unproductive activities in my own time.

I couldn't do even 4 hours in a hyper-focused mode without taking 3 minutes to go get a cup of tea. That's not "unproductive activities", that's giving my brain a short rest.

The current standard working week is 40 hours. 40 is not a magic number and it's not a law of nature. We need to start a serious discussion about reducing it. 32 would be a good start. Retaining the same pay. In case you worry it will destroy the economy check out https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Working_time

When I work from home, I get far more done in less time, yet so many employers are stuck on discouraging working from home. In fact, I'm probably more productive working 20 hours focused at home then 40 in the office.

I changed my work setup to be contact based (by project, not by hour), and I now get more done in 20 hours than I did with 40 hours, and I feel that's because I can:

- take breaks without getting flak for it from management - interact with clients/partners when I choose to (email, IM, etc, all of which can be muted/ignored) - work longer when I feel I'm doing well, work less when I'm distracted

However, every office has different expectations, so maybe mine was just particularly bad. IDK.

Correct. It has absolutely nothing to do with individual productivity of a person or with ANY kind of job you do. It's a cargo cult crap.

The future is virtual, remote, and productive. It is cheaper, more robust to team life changes and can select from a wider net which ultimately makes for better people.

Offices are a distraction except for meetings, integrations, planning but for actual work they are horrible.

Think of all the greats, they all had their own lab/study and that is where the great work was done.

Funny thing is, even when we go to work at an office lots of the communication is virtual internally via text/email/systems with people an room/office over, next building, or other office in another city. When you deal with clients and customers it is mostly virtual.

We should focus more on virtual communication in modern project processes/management as it is the default even in an office for your co-workers, customers and more. Remote working and virtual communication helps that even if meetings/integrations are physical, focus and work flow can be more tuned in.

I'd be unsurprised to learn that people aren't productive for much of their work day in an office. I also don't think it's that big a deal – people aren't paid for the time they spend thinking about work outside the office, and thinking about work is often as important and valuable as completing it.

That said, this is a garbage study:

The study, conducted by www.vouchercloud.com, polled 1,989 UK office workers all aged over 18 as part of research into the online habits and productivity of workers across the nation. All respondents currently worked full-time in an office role.

Respondents were initially asked, ‘Do you consider yourself to be productive throughout the entire working day?’ to which the majority, 79% admitted that ‘no’ they weren’t. Just a fifth, 21%, believed that ‘yes’ they were productive throughout the day.

The study asked then asked respondents, ‘If you had to state a figure, how long do you think you spend productively working during work hours on a daily basis?’ The results of this revealed the average answer to be ‘2 hours and 53 minutes’ of actual productivity in the workplace across all respondents.

It's PR fluff and not worthy of serious discussion.

How fitting that I'm reading this while at work.

This is not surprising. People aren’t “on” as soon as 8am hits and “off” at 5. Of course this can differ from occupation to occupation, but you can’t strive to get people to 100%. You’ll burn them out. You also can’t say work at 100% for 3-4 hrs and then go home. Productivity doesn’t work like that. You have to allow for ebb and flow of thought and interactions but also avoid productivity sapping interruptions.

Unrelated but kind of related - when people hire freelancers, they may seem expensive by the hour compared to a full timer, but when you take into account this stat, that doubles the per hour cost of your full time employee, which makes hiring freelancers a bit more attractive.

As a freelancer, you can bet that I factor my lack of productivity into my hourly rates.

Unless freelancers are equally subject to this, and I don't see why they wouldn't be.

When using platforms like Upwork, they are constantly being monitored and screen captures are taken to make sure the hours being charged are work hours.

How can a screen capture capture thinking?

Which is invasive and also about as relevant to actual work as "butts-in-seat" metric is for meatspace offices.

Sounds awful. Do people use that?

"it's easy to be distracted" reminds me of what Cal Newport seems to like pointing out.

In "Deep Work", Newport also suggests distinguishing between 'shallow' and 'deep' activities. 'deep' = 'requires extended period of focus / attention'. Shallow = e.g. replying to messages. -- I think an important point is: even without any of these distractions, you still wouldn't be getting more than 3 hours of deep work each day.

Albeit, not all work is deep. Meetings can be valuable. And not all the "unproductive distractions" given in TFA are bad.

They just asked "If you had to state a figure, how long do you think you spend productively working during work hours on a daily basis?". There were no measurements made. So it is probably quite innacurate.

When I've tracked pomodoros, the average came to around three hours of productive time. Anecdotal, I know, but I've often thought that it would be nice to squeeze that three hours of work into three hours of clock time. Life would be considerably more pleasant.

Huh. This is my self-evaluation trick I've been employing for a year or two now.

I run pomodoros (standard, 25-min) whenever I'm trying to focus on work, and aim to have as much of them as hours at work. I have three marks here: the bronze standard = 100% ratio, i.e. 8 pomodoros for 8 hours of work. The silver standard is 150% ratio, i.e. 12 pomodoros for 8 hours of work. The gold standard is 200%, i.e. 16 pomodoros for 8 hours of work. Note that even the gold standard is only about 6 hours and 40 minutes, because a pomodoro has 25 minutes.

I consider a day in which I hit the bronze standard to be a good day. That adds up to about 3 hours 20 minutes of focused work time, so it's consistent with your result, with the article, and with what I've seen reported around HN. It's surprising how much you actually can accomplish in that time, but I find it frustrating that it can be difficult to get to even that on a regular work day.

The entire article is not much more interesting than the title. The more interesting question is why. Why do workers procrastinate, why do managers ignore it or don't do something about it. And while it might be true that office workers need unproductive activities, it's a bit of a stretch from that to "workers need 5 hours of unproductive activities for every 3 hours of work". There's got to be a saner balance.

I don't really care about what 1000 people don't do. I'd rather learn why 10 people work the way they do, and how to change it.

RescueTime tells me I’m spending at least 7 hours / day productive in my terminal, IDEs, or web browsers. I’m obviously worth at least 3 times market rate then!

As just commented on a related thread (https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=19198649) this doesn't seem to be a problem for us, as since ever and always we gave people the choice to work as much as they want and when they want. People take breaks whenever they feel like. Go doing sports, play with their kids, run errands. They even take whole days off to go surfing or skiing. And I really don't mind. Because I do the same.

But then, if a server goes down late at night, people all the sudden show up by themselves and fix problems. Also on a rainy Saturday or Sunday, people will all the sudden be online and working.

Give people the opportunity to be in charge of their own work schedule, give them the responsibility, make them feel that they're actually responsible and they will shine.

I really don't want this to be a promotion and also because I just shared it on the other thread, but I really think people (both business owners and employees) should have a look at our just released company handbook which covers a great deal how we work. If anyone thinks this is unrelated spam I'm more than happy to remove it.

* https://mobilejazz.com/company-handbook (landing page, if you want to get email updates)

* https://mobilejazz.com/docs/company-handbook/mobile-jazz-com... (direct link to the PDF for the HN crowd)

What surrogate activities are you not doing right now so you can read this comment?

I think most of the griping in this thread will be unrelated to the article. The article talks about real time-waste (surfing social media, personal communications). From the headline, I was ready to rail against the definition of “productively” but if you’re on Instagram all day, that’s a different story.

Nevertheless, remote teams and flexible hours and maker time and all that, yes!

Many years ago, I worked as a proofreader for a company that had us keep time sheets for billing purposes. As I recall, my boss said that I charged about six hours of every eight, and that this was above average. I don't remember much idle time in there--perhaps some of it was waiting for proofs to be ready.

Work distractions can be a bit misleading. A lot of work I do involves lengthy unit test runs. Often I don't have anything better to do, even if I wanted to work harder. I just have to patiently wait for my tests to finish because I can move on with my work.

In cases like these, we're often guilty of not finding something else to do in the meanwhile. There's almost always something productive one could do, even something so simple as taking a quick look at your open issue tickets and decide which ones to queue up next, or writing a quick email that you've been putting off. The reason you don't do that is because you're looking for an excuse to take a break and aren't motivated to look for other tasks.

Actually, no, this isn’t what they mean. The concentration level for unit test runs is distracted much more if your thought process is preempted by another work task, no matter how trivial. There’s zero fall out from surfing the WWW for a few mins.

A case where it’s more productive to be skiving.

Obligatory Office Space quote:

Bob Slydell: If you would, would you walk us through a typical day, for you?

Peter Gibbons: Yeah.

Bob Slydell: Great.

Peter Gibbons: Well, I generally come in at least fifteen minutes late, ah, I use the side door–that way Lumberg can’t see me, heh–after that I sorta space out for an hour.

Bob Porter: Da-uh? Space out?

Peter Gibbons: Yeah, I just stare at my desk, but it looks like I’m working. I do that for probably another hour after lunch too, I’d say in a given week I probably only do about fifteen minutes of real, actual, work.

... later ...

Bob Slydell: I’d like to move us right to Peter Gibbons. We had a chance to meet this young man, and boy that’s just a straight shooter with upper management written all over him.

Don't have open office internet: run in through a proxy server so tracking can happen. People are free to use their own devices. Then, during a lunch period, open up the office internet to news sites. Social media should be used on personal devices off the clock. Not to micromanage or infantilize people, but to prevent distractions for me too. Guest internet with a simple self-registration should be a separate network (vlan & ssid) filtered for malware, hate/terror sites, illegal activity and porn.

Also, productivity requires motivation and mission. If people aren't paid enough or don't get to share in the profits, why should they kill themselves for more company-only money? Meaningful co-ops and worker profit-sharing has a chance to remedy the situation and make people care about a venture. The other part is giant organizations having BS jobs without very much to do, let dead weight type jobs accumulate because large organizations make managers look good. OTOH, smaller shops tend to be more agile and not put up with any dead weight. Perhaps a solution is a Richard Branson one: keep splitting up organizations before they get too big so they're a loose-coupled confederation of business units. Since big business pyramids drain money and agility from an organization, try not to go there.

PS: I know a former DIA sysadmin who said numerous classified researchers lost their careers by surfing for porn on known monitored networks. Why would someone do that? It seems a shop like that should have monitors in the hallways anonymously listing non-official business URLs people are visiting from classified/unclassified networks to make publicly-obvious.

Applications are open for YC Summer 2019

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact