managers and employees have different ideas about being productive, how to stay motivated when everyone else is on vacation, and more

Over at the Fast Track blog by QuickBase today, I take a look at several interesting work-related stories in the news right now, including data showing that managers and employees have very different ideas about what it takes to be productive, how to stay motivated when everyone else is on vacation, and more. You can read it here.

{ 41 comments… read them below }

  1. Brogrammer*

    Interesting write-up! I find point 1 and point 2 to be directly related – I’m more productive when half the office is on vacation (or at a trade show, or anywhere else that isn’t the office) because there are fewer distractions.

  2. Nanc*

    I must be an odd duck–I have no problem being motivated when folks are on vacation because I can get stuff done without being constantly interrupted!

    1. BRR*

      I’m with you and I think a lot of others are as well. The article mentions being stuck because people aren’t around who you need to weigh in or sign off on something so I can imagine it’s hard for some roles to be productive. But I fortunate to be able to enjoy when others are off :).

    2. Anon on Occasion*

      I get much more accomplished when direct supervisor is out of the office. He doesn’t call or e-mail much while he’s out, and when he does, it’s less of an interruption and less distracting than when he’s in the office. I love being able to work through whatever I have without having to put things aside one by one because other things keep coming up.

    3. Jillociraptor*

      It’s very feast for famine for me. Either I’ll accomplish a week’s worth of work in a single day, or I’ll stare blankly at my screen for eight straight hours.

    4. Vicki*

      I’ve been more productive if I came in a few hours before everyone else arrive, but less if they’re all on vacation because then I’m thinking “why am I in an office? I could do this from home.”

  3. hayling*

    Ughhhhh the difference in management and employee understanding of productivity is so true. We just moved into a mostly open space, and our CEO loves it because it allows us “to collaborate.” Even with cubicles walls I am still distracted all day by the sales and customer success people on calls (they are so loud!)! Listening to their phone calls is not “collaborating.”

    1. Sharon*

      Here’s my speculation:

      Leadership likes open concept because of the “buzz”. They can see and hear lots of stuff happening, it looks and sounds busy. Therefore, in their logic, it must be productive.

      However, if all the workers are quietly working in their private offices, it’s quiet and there’s much less “buzz”, therefore (again in management logic) they must not be accomplishing much.

      It’s a shame someone doesn’t invent a way to actually track worker output in order to gauge productivity! (oh, wait….)

      1. Rebecca*

        This!! My PHB is always saying that my office mate and I are quiet, and our desks are tidy, so in her mind, we must not be busy! It’s the exact opposite. We’re very busy, but we’re organized and task oriented, and getting more than our fair share of work done. That’s why no cell phones, talking, laughing, etc. So frustrating.

    2. copy run start*

      We collaborate just fine on opposite floors of the building here. I’d scream if they moved us next to customer service and sales. Customer service has a much higher call volume and sales… Well every time one of their customers complains about their service it generates a huge email chain with that awful red exclamation point: “Fro-Fro Poodles is going to cancel because it doesn’t work, I promised you’d call them in the next 30 seconds!!!” I can just see someone just cold transferring a call because we’re not on the phone at that exact second.


    3. Anon Always*

      I worked for an organization that was set-up the same way. They had horrible turnover (I only lasted 8 months, although it wasn’t just the open plan that contributed), because they put 200 people in cubicles, and then had the sales, marketing, and advertising teams in all difference places in the office, those teams were so loud, and they would start yelling and screaming when they hit a daily target or goal. It was very difficult to get anything done because if you are the kind of person who needs quiet to concentrate for more than a few minutes it was almost impossible to stay focused. If the hollering wasn’t coming from sales, it was coming from marketing, etc. It was so bad that my boss (who did have her own private office at the time) complained repeatedly, and got the whole collaboration line.

      I will never work for another office with an open plan layout, unless every single member of the senior leadership team, included the CEO, is required to work in the same environment.

      1. copy run start*

        I worked at a place where management was in the cubes too. They were clearly there only to try and overhear employee’s phone and face-to-face conversations (and oftentimes interject!). They were never at their cube when they actually had serious work to do, and therefore the conference rooms were often occupied by management when you truly needed a collaboration space.

        I had a hard time approaching my manager to discuss issues with a customer or other staff or my own performance concerns when about half the office could see and overhear you at any time. And if you were seen in a conference room with a manager everyone knew what was going on. (All had windows and the office manager disapproved of anyone closing the blinds to a conference room aside from him.)

    4. BRR*

      Is your CEO in an open space? I always feel these decisions are made by people who aren’t affected by them.

    5. Revolver Rani*

      I work in a legitimately collaborative environment and … that’s one reason why we each have private offices with doors that close. Because when a couple of people are collaborating on a design in the office across the hall, they can close the door and everyone else on the hall can still get work done.

    6. Isabel C.*

      Uuuugh, yes.

      At the end of my last job, I sat behind a guy from sales named Brett, because of course he was. Did not get the concept of “headphones,”* Brett didn’t. Nor “indoor voice.”

      * I didn’t know Howard Stern still had a show. And now I know that.

    7. Vicki*

      I had an exec VP say he wanted to come to our building and appreciate all of the “collaboration” after I complained it was so noisy I couldn’t think. We didn’t have sales & customer success people – we had engineers and managers doing speaker phone conference calls with other sites.

  4. Cake Name*

    The ability to block out distractions is something I feel like a lot of managers (since they normally have private offices) take for granted, since they end up just shutting their door whenever they need quiet focus time. It’s not something I’d say they’re completely unaware of, but since it doesn’t really factor into their day to day work experience it can take some mental effort to think about what it’s like for people out in the cubes.

    1. esra (also a Canadian)*

      I think you’ve nailed it here. Every ceo I’ve ever had who really loved open spaces basically just enjoyed walking past loud/busy people on the way to their office, or out for a meeting.

      Although any time they were in a mood, they all grouse about how loud it is.

      Looking back on it now… it sounds like I’ve been working for cranky children.

    2. Vicki*

      Or, they just don’t get it because they never experience “sitting in a cube and trying to work”. If your day s back-to-back meetings in closed-door meeting rooms, you have no idea what’s going on out on the floor.

  5. Gazebo Slayer (formerly I'm a Little Teapot)*

    I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how to stay motivated when you *never* have a vacation, which is the case for a lot of us who are temp/contract employees (including myself) or in service-industry or other lower-paid jobs. I’m bitterly envious all summer of my many perm-employee coworkers who actually have time off, not to mention my family members who have vast amounts of time. I work most Saturdays at a side job that’s actually in the field I went to school for, though it’s a short day, and I do freelance fiction writing on the side, and my commute is long, at least an hour each way. This spring and summer I was just burned to a crisp; I tried to cut back on my side job, with mixed success, and I took a break from my writing because it was the only thing that wasn’t a required obligation.

    I’ve finally been feeling the urge to start writing again and I’m starting to be able to enjoy it and be creative once more. I’m afraid that my writing career is over – my last story sold abysmally, and I’m afraid of just dropping off the face of the earth if I don’t start publishing and making myself visible again. But my main job is heading into the busiest time of the year. I’m hoping to someday be hired perm with benefits, but that could take years.

    I suppose I could look for another job, but my resume is awful – lots of temp positions and gaps – and this job is pretty good in some ways and is something I’m actually decent at, which I struggled to find for years. I also genuinely lack any marketable skills. I could quit my side job, but I’m afraid that will permanently destroy any chance at going back into the field I went to school for.

    I’m just struggling to find a way to not feel like I’m working all the time with no chance to rest or do anything relaxing or fun. It’s not about traveling, it’s about time and being able to accomplish the things I want in my personal life. It’s also about feeling like a permanent second-class citizen as a long-term temp.

    1. Robin B*

      I’m in the exact same spot with my *side job* (writing). Sigh. If you don’t spend half your time marketing, your work won’t sell enough to make it worthwhile. Sorry you don’t get vacation.

  6. Jennifer*

    I laughed at the “you get less inbound messages” because while everyone’s out, I’m the only one getting every single plea for help from outsiders.

    1. Chaordic One*

      Yes, me too. When everyone was on vacation I never got anything done. I just spent a lot of extra time answering the phone because when callers couldn’t reach the person on vacation, they would all come to me. My supervisor said to send them to voice mail, and mostly I did, but everything was an emergency.

  7. Jaguar*

    Maybe this is a bit cynical, but I can work fine in a noisy environment (with a few caveats). Do you guys think it’s worthwhile to highlight that in interviews (or even a cover letter, if I figure out a company has an open office setting)? I’d never have thought to bring it up before.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      No, because if that have that environment, they don’t think it’s a big deal to ask people to work in it. Or even if they do worry about it, it’s not a big enough thing (to them) to take up cover letter space, and I think might be weird in an interview unless there’s a very natural opening where it comes up.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      Just my opinion, but with the noisy workplaces I have been in you are just told to adjust. In other words, they don’t care that the place is noisy and it’s just part of the job. If it doesn’t bother you that much then you are lucky. I had to work one place where they had to run jack hammers for a few days. Noise does not bother me that much, but that sound was over the top for me. I could have walked out the door without a second thought. It took me a bit to wind down once I got home at night.

  8. 2 Cents*

    Alison, don’t know if you can get it fixed, but some of the links in that article are set up as “mailto:” instead of ahrefs. (Entrepreneur, HBR, Inc.) You might want to let the Quickbase people know.

      1. 2 Cents*

        No problem! (It’s satisfying to know I can tell someone, and it’ll get fixed. You’d never guess I’m a Type-A personality!)

  9. zora.dee*

    Ha, #1 is so relevant to my life right now. I’m the only one in my (satellite) office all week, and most of the rest of the company is out, too. Maybe I should do better at staying motivated, ooopss!!! ;o)

  10. Lena*

    I truly hate open plan offices. At my last job, even with headphones I could hear everyone talking, and it was so disruptive to my work. It’s hard to take phone calls that need some discretion as well because there aren’t always meeting rooms available.

  11. SallyForth*

    I always find that after quiet holidays breaks (summer, New Years) there are always busy times, so I like to take a few minutes each day to do physical office tasks like get rid of dying plants or clean my keyboard. I have a really nice office (because I do a lot of confidential stuff I need walls and a door and it’s about five steps above my pay grade) and having things at hand in a clean bright space motivates me.

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