If they're falling behind on their goals because of that, sounds like a case for RescueTime. If not... oh well?
In a typical day at the day job, I'm physically at my desk for twelve hours, and am physically typing for two of them. Count another two for talking to coworkers. The other eight are downtime between tasks.
Aside from the Japanese corporate need to keep up appearances and not have engineers go home at 5:00 on the typical day (which, but for appearances, I'd be able to do four days a week), my bosses are very enlightened about the subject: they set reasonable deadlines, and when the reasonable deadlines are being met they do not micromanage professionals' use of time.
We have a few people who do OSS for kicks. The guy behind me is some sort of volunteer for BSD, if I recall correctly.
I read. A lot. My bosses know it and explicitly encourage it, on the condition that I bring the stuff I learn back to the company. That's the same attitude they have about my off-the-clock economic activities -- "training we don't have to pay for, please, do as much as you want!" Although even knowing that was the arrangement I was pretty darn shocked when the boss strolled up one day, dropped a printed copy of my site on the desk, and said "Teach [coworker X] how to reproduce the effect you're using on this page. He needs to implement it for [Y] University's course registration."
One thing that Japanese companies have down is how they plan for their employees' retirements. I remember learning about their system in grad school and thinking I need to move to Japan! But it's been awhile, and I'd forgotten some of the details about how they do it.
Specifically: The Japanese system where employees past age 60 sometimes work for lower pay at the same company that had employed them would not be possible in the United States and some other countries because of legislation that prohibits alleged discrimination against older workers. The combination of legislation that prevents companies from lowering the earnings of older employees, and of legislation that prevents mandatory retirement in some occupations, creates a major rigidity in the market for older workers.
Brilliant. Build a system that rewards workers with retirement, yet subtly place incentives to encourage them to keep working (less). Albeit, they are also working for less $, but at this point, the holistic benefits of having employment probably outweigh the dollar amount.
I quit my job about a week ago to work on my business. I've found that I'm on HN a lot less now.
For me, the idea that I had to be physically there and making a big show out of getting stuff done made me do less. Knowing that I can get up and leave and take a walk any time at home to think about a tough technical problem makes it a lot easier to get stuff done.
I noticed the exact same thing when I left a day job... my karmic income is directly proportional to my time in a cubicle.
Now that I'm temporarily back in a cubicle, I probably average about 2-3 hours of real work a day. And, mind you, that is an average... some days I stay pretty busy for 8 in a row, others I'm basically putting in seat time. The rest of the time is spent reading books and research papers online (not remotely work related), participating here, chatting with a coworker, or simply daydreaming.
Still, from what I can gather I am exceeding expectations, which is both reassuring and depressing.
Your environment can be duplicated in single team workplaces. The team agree on milestones and tasks for a period, say a week. Each member does his assignments without counting hours and at the beginning of the following week, do an accounting. Factor in or out intervening or external tasks. Team members don't have to be physically there to do things except those that need interaction with clients.
What's hard is when team members' weeks don't coincide :). Hey, my week is not over yet. I still have to do these things.
That's what we are doing now for the past months or so. It is effective especially if milestones are few and tasks need two or more people to get accomplished. We are a team of five.
This happens in all areas of work, it's just that the geeks are honest about it..at least when asked in an anonymous poll on the Internet. I happen to not be a slacker, and a casual observation of the room around me makes it pretty obvious that most people waste huge amounts of time and effort. There is no reason to believe that it would be different in a profession not related to computers.
The reason there are consulting companies where the annual wages are more than twice as high than in the economy at large is that these companies have focused employees that put work first and life second, squeezing results out of every hour. In a regular company, you'd be insane to put in the kind of effort that these guys do, because you wouldn't be rewarded in any halfway reasonable way. The system breeds mediocrity, but there is thankfully a world of smaller companies (and in the extreme, startups) that allow overachievers to get compensation for their effort.
There is a corollary to this observation: it isn't really necessary to work more than 4 hours a day to have a good standard of living. Unfortunately, this particular niche isn't yet filled by any kind of company. Solo consulting may (marginally) work, but you won't get the best clients. There's an opportunity here..not to earn big bucks, but to create a different kind of company. How few (although focused) hours can each employee work and still earn more than the median wage?
We used to joke that you could tell when someone in the cube farm was sending email or IMing - it's when they were pounding on the keys/typing like madmen - no one can write code that fast without sacrificing quality and/or non-broken-ness!
Averaged out over a week, I probably come in under 2 hours a day of good productive work.
I tend to work in bursts of up to 6 hours at a time, maybe twice a week if I'm lucky. Those bursts account for pretty much everything good that I've put out over the last few years, and I've learned not to try to tackle anything important when I'm not in that mode.
Other, normal days, I start out by checking the surf report. If there's no swell (and I don't feel like climbing that day), I'll just wade through low priority bug reports and other mindless things like text changes and layout tweaks.
This approach works surprisingly well, since it means that I get maybe 4 days of "Weekend" scattered throughout the week, and am thus usually pretty fresh in the morning. It doesn't quite fly at an office job though (I usually limit myself to one day off for surfing when working an on-site contract), but frankly I find that to be a competitive advantage.
It's partly a matter of definition. I usually don't feel like I'm getting work done during meetings, but sometimes I still need to be at them. I usually don't feel like I'm getting work done when I'm talking with coworkers about workplace politics, but I find that it's necessary in order to avoid being blindsided by politics that I wasn't aware of. I usually don't feel like I'm getting work done when I'm waiting for or pestering someone else to do something so that I can proceed, or when I'm waiting for a long installer, but I can't leave it because it asks me questions every now and again. I usually don't feel like I'm getting work done when I'm doing paperwork, but it still needs to be done.
All together, four hours of work a day that feels productive (like I'm "really working") isn't that far from the norm for me, and some weeks I don't even get that far. But it's not because I don't want to do more, it's usually because I can't because of other things that are very much "work" and that I am very much expected to do by my employer, but that just don't feel like work to me.
While four hours a day of "real work" may not sound like much, my employer is actually much happier with me than it would be if I spent 8 hours a day doing "real work" and ignoring all of the "fake work" that I'm also expected to do.
At my last job we worked until the work was done. The problem was that we couldn't start our work until the developers gave us the build to test. Because of this there were days where I might work 2 hours in 8-10 hour day. There were others where I worked 18 hours in a 24 hour work day.
I think using productive 'hours' of work as a unit of measure is little more fair than using lines of code as a unit of measure.
What of the epic hacker of hackerness who finishes in an hour what takes most coworkers a week to finish. If he is only spending 10 hours of the week doing real productive work is he a benefit to team or is he hurting the team?
I disagree. It think it's not humanly possible to work at full output for an entire day without taking breaks. Your brain just gets tired. It's not as obvious as when a muscle gets tired but it still happens.
So do the breaks necessary to recharge the brain count as work? It's not like they are time that could be spent working, so why count them as down time and make you think you could work more? But on the other hand you are not working then, so it doesn't count as work.
I think we're far away from our capacity in terms of hours per day, but not in terms of average output per day: being actively working much more ours a day would be mostly countered by the lowering of hourly productivity.
Here's a Very Bad Analogy: even if you observe a sprinter runnning 100m in 10 seconds, you hopefully won't think "If only he wasn't slacking most of the day, he could run a marathon in 1h10"
I kept a journal of what I called "long term productive work" for a while. So I didn't count email, waste of time catch-up calls, cleaning my desk, clearing my desktop, etc. Then I clocked focusing on just one task that I termed long-term productive with no multitasking. If I had to take a call, I'd stop the clock.
I realized I didn't do all that much really productive stuff - lots of BS admin. So I set a goal of 30 minutes per day, and gradually expanded it to one hour, then eventually two hours. An amazing day I'd get six hours of LT productive work done. Like, it was a rare, epic event. By just getting two hours per day done, I was one of the most productive people I knew. (I also didn't let my admin totally melt down, but with a new focus that it's not really creating anything of value, I moved through it much faster and just got it done, instead of toiling in it to feel productive).
Most people are "working" a lot, but are not "getting shit done" at a very good pace.