how should I handle my downtime when I’m working from home?

A reader writes:

In the Before Times (when a vast majority of us went to another location for work), when you arrived was the start of your day. Now with many people being hybrid, start times seem a little more fluid and I’m wondering what the “right/ethical” way to operate is. For reference, I am a salaried employee for my company, but I’m a contractor for the government. This means my hours worked need to be tracked much more aggressively than a normal salaried person (and why I’m having questions about this to begin with). My job revolves around editing, so it’s an ebb and flow of being SO BUSY and then not.

For example, I work from home 4 days and go into an office 1 day a week. My start time on WFH is 7:30 am when I lean over to my nightstand and check my work cellphone for emails, and then (depending on if I have emails or not) I’ll get up or stay in bed a little longer. On the days I have work waiting for me, I’ll quickly start my work day but on the days I don’t … I’ll stay in bed until something comes in (which could be a few minutes up to an hour).

My boss and coworkers have never said anything about my start times or anything so this is purely me wondering if what I’m doing is ethical. You’ve written before about being available to do tasks and technically speaking I am available at 7:30 am. Just sometimes … there’s nothing waiting for me and I can sleep longer (or watch TV, or make elaborate breakfast, etc). And on the days I go into the office, I’m checking my work phone, then getting ready, then checking my work phone and jumping in the car, then checking work phone and waiting for the bus, etc. So again, I’m “waiting” for work. (Although on days I’m going into the office, if I was given something to do RIGHT THIS SECOND I might not be able to do it but I can reply and say I’ll get on it once I arrive at work.)

I believe other people are doing the same thing I am at my job, but I can’t exactly ask, “Hey, are you also sleeping in longer when there’s nothing to do?” I finish my tasks and I’ve been told I do good work so I’m not worried that I’m doing something wrong, but having a work cell phone has made my clock-in/clock-out much harder to pinpoint. I’m “available” 40 hrs a week but some days if I didn’t roll out of bed until noon (not work from bed — like truly laying in bed not working), no one would know since there wasn’t work for me to do. I don’t think I’m operating in bad faith but maybe I need a reality check?

Personally, I think that if you’re getting all your work done, are available when needed, and your employer is happy with your work, what you’re doing is fine. When you’re in the office, it’s very unlikely that you’re being productive every single minute — lots of people have jobs where the work ebbs and flows throughout the day (or throughout the week, month, quarter, or year) and during their slower times spend that downtime chatting with coworkers, reading the news, and so forth. When you work from home, that same downtime can feel like you’re somehow cheating the system, but it’s not really that different from downtime at the office — the difference is just that you’re spending it in bed rather than lingering in the office kitchen chatting to a colleague or similar. It feels more decadent (you’re at home! you’re in bed! it’s more relaxing!) but the practical effect on your work is pretty much the same.

That’s not the case in every situation, of course. There are people who have more downtime when they work from home because they’re deliberately slacking and avoiding work, which isn’t okay. (I mean, it might be okay within a broader anti-capitalist moral framework, but it’s not okay in the sense that you’re violating an agreement you’ve made in exchange for money, potentially causing your coworkers to have to pick up your slack, etc.) But that doesn’t sound like you.

I do think it’s worth asking yourself if there’s an opportunity cost to what you’re doing — like maybe you’re getting all the must-do’s completed but you could be spending that extra time on more optional stuff that would produce stronger results in your work or position you better in your career. If it ends up meaning that you’re merely okay at your job when you could have been great at it, do you care? Striving for great rather than okay can have significant long-term benefits like getting you more money, better projects, better jobs, and more political clout, which all have a direct impact on your quality of life (and can be used to make other people’s lives better too, for that matter). On the other hand, some people go above and beyond and never get rewarded for it — or simply aren’t interested in the trade-offs that would be required — so I’m more hesitant than I used to be to push people in that direction. Either way, I’d say to get clear in your head on (a) whether there’s an opportunity cost and (b) how much you care if there is. (How much your manager may care at some point is also useful to factor into your thinking.)

{ 165 comments… read them below }

  1. Jane*

    This was so helpful, and I’m in a very similar position (nearly exactly the same, actually). I used to feel guilty as well but when I got into the office I saw people doing the same things that I was chastising myself for at home-checking my phone, running out for a 10 minute coffee break, decompressing generally. No one is productive 8 full hours per day.

    1. Nobby Nobbs*

      I mean, some people are… in a retail or food service environment where there’s a manager breathing down their neck to enforce “if you have time to lean, you have time to clean.” I think most people on this site can agree that’s a lousy way to live and an unfair standard to hold people to.

      1. Jane*

        Right, but I think it’s pretty obvious that I was talking about certain office jobs and not, say, life on an oil rig, military operating base, retail, or food service.

        1. Nobby Nobbs*

          Sorry, I meant to agree with you. I was offering those jobs as a counterexample of what shouldn’t be expected of workers, in any industry, even if it is technically possible.

          1. Here for the Insurance*

            I’ve had a fair number of family & friends do stints in the military — my dad, my husband, husband’s best friend. My uncle & cousins were lifers. To a person they talk about how much time is spent screwing around on base.

            My husband’s nickname when he was in was Big Bank Hank because of all the money he took off people at the frequent work-hours poker games.

        2. GythaOgden*

          Yeah, but if you want your basic needs taken care of, you need to be mindful of the privilege that is working in an office. You can goof off a lot more than we can, and it’s something to be grateful for, but the problem is every time this comes up the white-collar workers forget who produces and maintains the systems they depend on. People are losing touch with our situations and the formerly pretty egalitarian experience I had prior to the pandemic has now soured. WFH people have become a privileged class and treat us more like skivvies than they did a few years ago, and I’m fed up.

          I’m trying to find a new job, but I’m actually looking for something predominantly in person — because I want to be serving people who actually care about me as a worker. It’s more fulfilling to feel that someone, somewhere appreciates your work, and to be very frank, it’s the white-collar crowd who need to be more mindful of the in-person workers they depend on.

  2. Jessica Fletcher (RIP)*

    Oh, to not have to swirl my cursor around periodically to keep Teams green when there’s no work coming in. Woe!

    1. LadyScrub*

      If you search online for mouse mover, you can find devices you can purchase that will keep your Teams green (I deal with the same affliction, haven’t purchased a mouse mover yet). :)

      1. LikesToSwear*

        My husband bought one that he uses at home to prevent the computer from automatically locking if he’s not actively typingor usingthe mouse. I think it was around $15 on Amazon.

      2. Teekanne aus Schokolade*

        CAVEAT WITH MOUSE MOVERS/Jigglers!! The ones that are just USB plug in dongles use a script to move the mouse and CAN be detected on work computers! So you might get noticed by your IT. The manual ones that have a moving component you rest your mouse on also need a specific type of mouse (I think laser? But someone can correct me as I don’t remember the difference between laser and optical).

        1. Jane*

          Another issue is if your computer is monitored or screenshots are taken. If you’re employer sees a single key being pressed for hours at a time or your screen not changing when you realistically should have been doing work, you’re probably looking at termination on the spot.

          1. Jessica Fletcher (RIP)*

            I appreciate everyone’s ideas and will look into into one of these things you put the mouse on top of! I do think my wireless mouse has a laser, and we don’t have any screenshot or tracking software (knocking on wood to ward off any upgrades!)

          2. Not Really*

            Nope, using a mouse jiggler is not always nefarious. My work has it’s system (LAN) set for a very short time of inactivity before it times out. Go to the bathroom? Times out. Get coffee? Times out. Doing paperwork/phone calls? Times out. It is so annoying to have to keep logging back in. I find the mouse jiggler is an efficiency in that disruptions are lessened, as is my aggravation. Love that little thing! Mine is USB and no IT administrator problems yet, and I’ve had it for awhile. I hope my computer is not being monitored or screenshots taken, holy Big Brother!

            1. Bilateralrope*

              If the timeout is that short, I wonder if it’s because they don’t want people being able to just sit down at an unlocked computer and do stuff. Which would mean any mouse jiggler is bypassing a security procedure.

              But you know your workplace better than me.

              1. allathian*

                At my job, it would be a fireable offense to leave a computer out of your sight without removing the smart card that is used for logging in and as an ID at the office. When you log in or unlock the computer, you insert the card in your computer and type a 4-digit PIN.

                Granted, when I’m at home I go to the bathroom without removing the card or locking the screen.

              2. Mongrel*

                A lot of rules like this are based on rules for the office though, where you may have commercially sensitive information on your computer that other people shouldn’t have access to.

                It seems sillier when you’re at home and it’s just you and the cat but security is always balancing itself with convenience and often pitched at “worst, normal use case” scenario

      3. WillowSunstar*

        We can’t install software on our computers. I just open up Word and put a paperweight on my keyboard.

        1. Not Really*

          No software required for the USB jiggler device. I would not have been able to use it otherwise.

          1. Kuddel Daddeldu*

            My job is similar. We can sign in/unlock with Windows Hello; our laptops have a fingerprint reader for that. It’s optional; if you don’t want to give your laptop your fingerprint, you can use your password as usual, or an 8-digit PIN.
            The fingerprint/PIN are stored on the laptop’s TPM security chip only, never on the server/in the cloud.
            It’s very convenient and secure, more secure than passwords as there is always a second factor (the laptop) involved.

      4. MJ*

        I saw online where someone had used an elastic band to attach the mouse to a wooden ruler, which was then attached to an oscillating desktop fan. The constant back and forth movement of the fan kept the mouse moving.

      5. That One Person*

        Insert “get a cat” joke here! Kidding though, mine’s only interested in knocking mine off the desk when I’m starting to go to bed, or pulling off the keyboard rest so no guarantee on cat model. They may be more likely to slow your productivity down, though in times of low projects and work activities that’s not as bad of a thing.

    2. Neon*

      Top tip: If you don’t want to buy/risk a plug-in mouse jiggler you can always just place your mouse on top of a watch or clock with a second hand.

      Every minute the hand goes around and the mouse registers it as a slight movement. Screen never goes to sleep and it’s undetectable by your IT team.

      1. CDinKC*

        My mouse jiggler plugs into the wall, not my computer, so it has no software to be detected. I got it from Amazon for about $10.

    3. Lunachick*

      To keep it “green” just go to “calendar” and then start a meeting with just yourself. You will turn “red” but just change back to green and bam, green indefinitely! :)

      1. Liz*

        Or just manually set your status. You can set it to reset after X time or by Y time, so if you want to set yourself to Available/Away/Busy, you can get it to reset after an hour or at 1pm.

  3. Anothergloriusmorning*

    I had a job that had days where the workload was very light. I would get my work for the day done and then remained available for the remainder of the day (in case something came up). I often cleaned, folded laundry, or did other projects.

    1. Sloanicota*

      To me, days like this are evened out by the other days where work requires (and does not compensate) extra nights and evening work. If I pushed through on regular days and required 8 hours of my best effort as a minimum, then those last minute, unpredictable nights and weekends would push me over 40 hours a week into the limits of what I can stand. I am not compensated at all sufficiently for that. So by necessity I will be doing less some days when work is not busy, which is the flexibility that gives me work-life balance and makes my poor salary and benefits worth it to me.

      1. Wendy Darling*

        Honestly if you count the days I’ve busted ass versus the days I’ve massively slacked off over the course of my career, if anything it would come out slightly in my employers’ favor. (The time I spent knocking myself out because I was temp-to-hire is making up for all the time I spent baking cookies and playing Wordle while “WFH” in 2020.)

    2. DrSalty*

      Yeah I do this. I often have heavier days too so it all evens out and I don’t guilt over it. To me, this is the point of being salaried and a big perk.

    3. lilsheba*

      Same here. Some days are busy, but a lot of days aren’t. I always get up on time because most of the work collects from the previous evening in terms of data entry I have to do or emails I have to research/respond to. My heaviest work load is the first 2 or 3 hours of the day, and the rest of the day is just being available and working on an occasional email. While I’m working I listen to music or podcasts, and in slower periods I watch movies/tv shows, or I read, or take care of stuff like laundry. I have no problems with this at all. All my stuff gets done and in a timely manner even with the time spent reading or whatever.

      1. Allura Vysoren*

        This is me. I left a job where I was essentially doing four full-time positions in a regular forty-hour work week (I wish I was kidding, I’m not) to a job with lots of downtime.

        If I get an email or message from my boss, I jump on it immediately but some days I only have a couple hours of work to do. I consider it on the same level as being “on call.” I typically only step away from my desk for normal breaks, like getting coffee or going to the bathroom. The rest of the time I’m here. I’ve had a few times when I saw some data clean-up that would help in the long run and just took care of it, but the nature of the job is waiting on other departments to finish their work so we can do ours.

        I’ve been able to read quite a few books in this job.

        1. Eleanor*

          Ah, same! I left a job where I was also doing the work of 3+ people after several other team members left and weren’t replaced right away. My task flow is so slow at my new job in comparison, it can be hard to shake the feeling of guilt that I should be finding something to do.

    4. No Longer Gig-less Data Analyst*

      My current boss told me (after I was concerned I wasn’t busy enough during a slow period this summer) “We don’t pay you for how hard you work every minute of every day. We pay you because we know how hard you’ll work if the sh*t hits the fan.”

      So on the days that the fan is clean, I stay in bed and check my work emails occasionally for a bit, get some housework done, and hang out on here and Reddit. I never do anything that will take me off the grid during core hours, though.

  4. Fez Knots*

    In the years I’ve spent toiling in copywriting/editorial/content creation, I’ve never found putting in that extra effort to be “great” has had any positive effect on my career.

    Putting in that extra work or saying yes to things I didn’t really want to do (or maybe wasn’t responsible for) made me resentful, burned me out or made it more frustrating when contracts weren’t extended, etc. I had hoped (and still do sometimes) that it will make me more valuable to an employer, but I find that’s often not the case. They end up with free labor and I end up annoyed. I complete and submit work I know is quality. I’m reliable. I find I’m less annoyed and my career continues forward.

    For what it’s worth: I work from home and do the exact same email/bed routine as the OP here. I avoid talking about my WFH routine with friends and family who work in office, as I’m almost always bombarded by stories about how “busy they are” and “could never do this,” etc. For what it’s worth, my WFH people all do some version of this routine as well. It’s all a crapshoot so in the end, I do what’s right for me!

    1. Sloanicota*

      I think about this a lot. What I’ve decided is that extra-and-above work, which you could call “going from okay to great” from a certain point of view, is best spent doing things that are a) very visible b) outside of your normal scope of work and c) demonstrate what other people will perceive as leadership/management qualities. So putting in extra time doing Even!More!Editing or catching one more typo isn’t necessarily it.

    2. ThatGirl*

      I’ve been in content management/editing/copywriting roles for ~15 years and while I’ve never gone back to sleep after checking email, I have:
      – opened my email at 7, responded to anything urgent, then got up and made coffee and breakfast and leisurely took a shower around 8 am, with occasional peeks at my computer in case a message came in
      – taken breaks to clean, take a short nap, run to the store or start dinner
      – etc.
      For me my metric is definitely: am I responding to messages in a relatively timely fashion, am I getting everything done that needs to be done, and is anyone complaining?

    3. Teekanne aus Schokolade*

      Editor here to confirm that this is my routine exactly. Remembering that half my team is across the globe and isn’t monitor-able either helps. We have a shared task calendar and are adults – we just get our work done and don’t need supervision to produce good work. It’s technical writing, it doesn’t need to be Shakespeare, it needs to be clear and we need to meet deadlines. It’s a brilliant balance and I get to nap in the sunshine with my pup.

      1. Mockingjay*

        Remote Technical Writer here, part of a team that’s spread across the continental US. I think this ties into another recent letter in which the OP was worried because they got their work done too quickly. The consensus was that 1) experience shortens the time required to do a task well and 2) many industries have outgrown “assembly line,” 8-hour work days but management and billing haven’t caught up.

        As a contractor I have to track 8 hours worth of ‘billable’ work. In reality, my work ebbs and flows. I’ve discussed this (quietly) with teammates and my supervisor; we all agree that we’re professionals who can monitor our own work. As long as we check in occasionally on Teams, are available to the Government customer during specified core hours, and update the work tracking system, we’re left alone to manage our overall work and time throughout the day.

        1. Tulip O'Hare*

          I’m in the same situation: a remote tech writer, salaried with a company that contracts workers to the federal government. We are required to complete daily timesheets for our employer company (i.e., not the government). That’s fine, no objection … but what I wonder about is the days when I’m available but no work comes in. Do I put down 8 hours on my timesheet? What about days when I work 1 or 2 hours? Do I have to take the rest as PTO?

          I hesitate to discuss these questions with my employer, for obvious reasons. But I feel like it might be unethical to enter 8 hours for a day I did practically no work (even though I was available).

          Does anyone have any thoughts or guidance on this?

    4. Smithy*

      So I’m not in copy writing/editorial – but I am in a field where I have work that hits the spectrum from stuff I can do solo to things that require organization wide buy-in.

      And what I’ve learned is that a lot of those “extra career growth” projects can become personal creative writing exercises unless there’s team, department or organization buy-in. You can put together a really interesting summary on cutting edge XYZ in our industry, but without having the ability to see that implemented, it won’t do much for you where you are or on your resume. Additionally, a lot of our work is cross team, multi-stakeholder, and wildly outpacing the rest of the team is not only personally irritating but can actually harm your professional reputation cause it risks showing that don’t have a good sense on how long a given task or project can take.

      All to say……in addition to echoing how sometimes that work can have no value add, I also find that it can contribute to increasing your frustration at systems at work you can’t really change. My job involves a lot of contributors and soft deadlines – so yeah – some things will just always move slowly, and being irritated by that mostly just hurts myself.

  5. H3llifIknow*

    I, too am a salaried government contractor. I feel everything you’re saying. This need to “account for 8 hours per day” is so outdated! I am probably productive about 5 hours a day. Heck some days LESS because there isn’t anything I need to be working on steadily for 8 hours most days. Now during a surge, yeah that changes, but those are relatively infrequent, thank goodness. I never “slack” on the job, there just isn’t always 8 hours a day OF “the job”. So, I know you don’t want to ask your co-workers, but I’m here to tell you YOU ARE NOT ALONE… you’re doing fine and it’s not unethical! It’s the new norm of WFH. :)

    1. Dinwar*

      In my current role I do a lot of “hurry up and wait”. When I’m needed I’m needed right now, but there are periods where no one needs me and it’s too short a time to do anything serious.

      I use the question “Can I have a beer?” to determine if I can bill. If I could crack open a beer and no one would bat an eye, I shouldn’t bill. If cracking open a beer would cause problems, I’m billable. For example, if I have a random gap at 15:00, I have random downtime but–because I’m still expected to be here, available, and immediately respond–because having a beer would be a major misstep on my part–I’m still billable.

      1. Drago Cucina*

        This is brilliant. I used to think of the paid to wait concept. I’m here waiting to be contacted. I would also develop projects that might not be needed right now, but be important a few months or even a year later. Those actually paid off when I left my W2 contracting position.

    2. Camelid coordinator*

      It’s funny you should mention 5 hours. I am technically half time and have a lot of flexibility in my schedule. I feel like I am working as hard as when I was full time because I give my new job 4-5 really good hours each day. With the occasional 3 hour day because I am trying to keep it to 20 hours per week.

      1. NeedRain47*

        From what I’ve read, this is how brains function. We literally cannot pay attention to stuff for eight hours so when we force ourselves to work that long, we’re not very productive after somewhere in the four to six hour range.

        1. lilsheba*

          Hah I agree but I wish call centers would realize this! In my previous job I worked 10 hours days on the phone constantly, with no slow periods. The ear fatigue and the hoarse voice by the end of the day were torture.

      2. Anon in Aotearoa*

        I was about to say that I am more productive than I’ve ever been in my 25 year career now that I only work part time (24 hours per week)…. but, here I am on Ask A Manager when I am supposed to be doing billable work….

      3. Lightning*

        This is me. Now to figure out how to get paid for producing full-time level product instead of half-time hours…..

  6. WindmillArms*

    I’m consciously trying to think of my work the way I used to think of school assignments: things have to get done, and done by a certain time, but *when* I do the work and *how long* it takes doesn’t actually matter. (This is true for my position, though I know some people need to have regular hours for other reasons.)

    When I worked in-office, it was all about the time I was sitting at my desk, regardless of what I was doing. It was pretty torturous, actually! Now that I have the freedom to do work when I want, I’m so much more efficient that I don’t need nearly as much time at the computer. It’s tough to get used to!

  7. Writing this with shampoo in my eyes*

    I was reading too fast and thought this said SHOWER TIMES.

    “and during their slower times spend that downtime chatting with coworkers”

    Picturing myself in the shower talking on my cellphone to coworkers, sound of water running in the background.

    1. RabbitRabbit*

      I nearly had that problem several months ago. WFH, I get out of bed early and go straight to my desk to start working, so I postpone my shower until mid-morning when I’m ready for a break. I listen to podcasts, including in the shower, and have my phone hooked up to a Bluetooth speaker for the shower-listening.

      Worked fine until one morning I’m in the shower and my phone cuts in to say ‘incoming call from (Manager)’. I scrambled for a towel and my phone, and hopped out of the bathroom to have a call, dripping wet.

  8. shhhhh*

    I would draw a distinction between “not working” and “sleeping”. If you go back to sleep, do you miss an assignment that arrives ten minutes later? (Or if you don’t miss it … what quality of rest are you actually getting if you’re keyed up to listen for your email notifications?) On the other hand, anything wakeful — laundry, a leisurely breakfast, browsing a work-advice column — seems fine to me, because those are theoretically much more easily interrupted by the arrival of a work task.

    1. Coffee Bean Counter*

      Yeah going back to sleep seems odd. Especially because I used to work for a government contractor and we were supposed to stop counting time if we talked to a coworker socially for over 6 mins since we tracked to the tenth of an hour.

    2. Teekanne aus Schokolade*

      Nah, I’m with OP, get online to check emails from international partners the night before. If nothing is urgent, I rest well. OP might also be in an industry where nothing is really *urgent and just checks any emails that might have been sitting in the inbox more than a few hours.

      1. An SEO*

        Also with the OP. I work from home 80% of the time and have an autoimmune condition that tires me out daily by 3 no matter how much sleep I get or how well I conserve energy. Sometimes a nap is just what I need to be productive. If I was in the office (or not!), I could be in a meeting if something come through for the time I’m taking a nap.

    3. Firm Believer*

      Yeah, being available is not the same as working. And sleep really isn’t either of those even.

      1. So they all cheap ass rolled over and one fell out*

        I take naps and I go on walks during the work day, but I don’t count it as work time. Checking your email first doesn’t convert an hour of sleep time to an hour of work time.

  9. gawaine*

    From a US Government Contractor perspective – time spent reading blogs, talking to people by the watercooler, etc. isn’t part of my day. I can take breaks during the day, but time like reading news and responding to this story is definitely not something I can charge my customer. There’s a statement of work or other work authorization that covers my tasking. I can only charge in accordance with that work authorization. DCAA compliance means that even if a contract isn’t paid by hours (if it’s paid as a fixed price contract, for example), the contractor is charging only those things that are actual and appropriate costs on the contract.

    Have seen people arrested or fired for charging time inappropriately, and the penalties for a company where a manager allows it to happen are huge.

    When I’m not feeling it, I can do the boring or stupid stuff, because there’s always something I can do, and that’s part of my job – making sure that I, and my team, always have a backlog, which should include some things that don’t require me to be at my best.

    1. Wisteria*

      Yes, my first question is “what do you charge that sleeping in time to?” People who don’t work in this environment, like Alison, don’t really get it. “If you’re getting all your work done, are available when needed, and your employer is happy with your work” doesn’t cut it when you need 9 hours of charge numbers each day.

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        Well then if you don’t bill nine hours you aren’t getting all your work done.

        Not being snarky, but when Alison makes broad statements like that she or others who agree don’t “not get it”, they’re saying “do what makes sense within the construct of your job”. For a billable job, the question of “is this ethical” would be the same, as long as you aren’t billing it to a client. Whether that means you need to work more later or structure your day differently depends on your position.

    2. chewingle*

      Right — when it comes to filling out timesheets, you need to be honest with the work you did for the client. Anything not for the client can be marked as something like, “brushing up on new editorial standards” or “research on [something you might need to stay up-to-date on for your job],” etc.

    3. Coenobita*

      Yeah, as a former federal contractor, there’s a HUGE difference between how I feel about downtime now at my nonprofit job vs. how I felt when I was expected to be nearly 100% billable. I couldn’t bill the client for a staff meeting or for my check-ins with my manager, and I definitely couldn’t bill time for sitting in bed. But I do absolutely sit in bed waiting for things to happen during business hours at my current “just get your work done and show up for meetings” job.

      That said, it sounds like maybe the OP’s editing role is more of a split in-house/client situation, where she isn’t expected to be billable all the time and the company is cool with paying the rest of her salary on overhead when she’s waiting for tasks to come in. That seems totally reasonable to me – if part of her job is waiting for tasks, I don’t see a problem if she wants to wait for tasks from her bed rather than in front of her computer!

    4. Coffee Bean Counter*

      I think the reasonableness of what can be charged as time worked is very different for government contracting vs a regular salary job. Even in a job that was overhead for the contractor I worked for, we still tracked time and social time for talking to coworkers was not allowed to be included in our hours.

      1. Kuddel Daddeldu*

        We record our time – we have projects that are billable by the hour, fixed price/per-task projects, and various types if overhead (like sales, conference presentations, meetings, training, and administrative tasks). Even on projects not billed by the hour we want to know where the time went so we can improve our estimate next time. For internal tasks, it’s just an estimate and even for external tasks we are not using a stopwatch (we bill in hourly or half-hourly increments).

    5. one L lana*

      Yeah, it does seem like there’s a distinction here when it comes to the work you are billing for as a contractor. As a salaried employee who’s had similar jobs to OP’s, I don’t think there’s anything to worry about here from that perspective, assuming they’re not kidding themselves about a difference in response time/readiness when working from home.

      But whether you can bill for dozing off waiting for your first assignment of the day feels like another matter.

    6. Gumby*

      Agreed. My role expects me to have a fair amount of time on overhead because of the nature of some of my tasks, but even then I would absolutely not be able to report “took a 30 minute nap because I had no direct assignment” as work time. Even if it’s not reported directly on one of the government contracts, they still pay the OH indirectly and I can just imagine the auditor reaction to having naps included under that.

        1. Curmudgeon in California*

          I’m salary and I only nap during my lunch break. “Ready and available” means that I need to be at my computer.

    7. RD*

      100% this. Time spent working when working for a government contractor is a whole different story and advice like this may not apply. OP, I’d talk to your manager about how they want you to handle down time. There are rules and regulations that need to be taken into consideration. I manage programs for a government contractor and I can tell you that if I found out someone was doing this, they’d be very, very closely monitored and if it didn’t stop, they’d be terminated. I’ve seen it happen.

    8. Skippy*

      Do most people work for government contractors, though? I’ve been in the working world for 20+ years and I’ve never had to track hours like that.

    9. L.H. Puttgrass*

      Yeah, the federal government contractor aspect really matters here. The federal government can get really het up about “time card fraud” and theft of federal money (which billing the government for time worked when you weren’t actually working technically is). Federal government employment is the first place I’ve worked where my employer cares deeply what time I start and end work each day—even though I’m salaried. You aren’t expected to be 100% productive for every minute you’re on the clock (oh, lordy no), but unless you have a flexible schedule* your butt had damn well better be in that virtual seat from the start of your tour of duty to the end (allowing for a half hour lunch and breaks).

      In addition to the brilliant “Beer Test” Dinward mentions, I’d suggest thinking about how much trouble you’d get into if you described with complete honesty what you were doing during a given period. “Commented on an Ask a Manager post while waiting for work to come in” might or might not pass muster. “Slept” almost certainly wouldn’t.

      * In my job, “flexible schedule” can mean as little as being allowed to start and end your days at any times other than 8:30–5:00.

    10. MsClaw*

      Yeah, I think for some of us with long careers in govt contracting, this is clearly not cool.

      It is understood that you may do some incidental stuff during time you are charging to the government, but if you are taking a snooze? Absolutely not. You are billing a customer. If a lawyer billed me for 8 hours in a day but really only spent 2 hours on my case, I would not be happy. This is pretty similar. The way you’ve framed this question make it sound like you are charging a customer for the time you spend getting ready in the morning. That is very much NOT billable.

      If there is genuinely nothing you can be doing while you wait for a request to come in, talk to your manager about how best to use that down time (and in a way that is chargeable, either to a customer or overhead). Incidental stuff that takes 10 minutes here and there? That’s no different than the same sort of stuff in the office. But if you are charging a customer from 7:30 to noon when you’re still in bed? Well, you better hope no one ever finds that out.

      1. Jessen*

        How is this different from being in the office though? I work in the same position as a government contractor. When I was in the office I was clearly and explicitly charging time that I was sitting waiting for emails to come in to my main project code, even though I was sitting there playing games on my phone because there wasn’t anything for me to be doing other than waiting for emails or phone calls to come in.

        For what it’s worth, I’m another person who works for a government contractor and I don’t even have an overhead code available on my timesheet. Normally I bill 8 hours a day to my IT support helpdesk code, and the only variations are generally for trainings and such. So I’m not sure what people expect OP to be doing here.

  10. Lea*

    I am ok with some unproductive time but if they are literally sleeping I think they’re being disingenuous calling themselves ‘available’.

    1. Teekanne aus Schokolade*

      Why? Calls come through and they wake up. OP might not even be in an industry where there is the possibility for urgency. I’m in technical writing and like dermatology, there is no email that needs responding to within an hour.

  11. Alicia*

    I can do my actual on-paper job in half the time when I’m working from home because I am not constantly interrupted and tasked with things that aren’t my job, just because I’m the closest person to throw a task onto. I don’t feel guilty about it in the slightest.

    1. CharlieBrown*

      Oh gosh, the joy of not having a centrally-located desk where everybody comes to you is almost worth the pay cut I took to WFH.

  12. The Person from the Resume*

    Not related to the exact question, but I disagree with this definition of “waiting to work” and I’m wondering if I’m misunderstanding.

    And on the days I go into the office, I’m checking my work phone, then getting ready, then checking my work phone and jumping in the car, then checking work phone and waiting for the bus, etc. So again, I’m “waiting” for work. (Although on days I’m going into the office, if I was given something to do RIGHT THIS SECOND I might not be able to do it but I can reply and say I’ll get on it once I arrive at work.)

    If you’re commuting into the office, you’re not actually ready to work. I suppose it depends, but is the LW editing things on their phone? They specifically say they can’t start work right that second while commuting especially if they’re driving versus sitting on a bus. I can’t tell if the LW is saying they/their company bills the government as waiting to work when they are commuting. I think that would be out of bounds.

    I’d view checking the phone this way as just prepping yourself for what you’re going to find versus working while commuting and being prepared to start work while you’re in transit.

    1. Wisteria*

      And on the days I go into the office, I’m checking my work phone, then getting ready, then checking my work phone and jumping in the car, then checking work phone and waiting for the bus, etc. So again, I’m “waiting” for work.

      Does OP have a charge number for getting ready, driving, waiting for the bus, etc? Is not, then it’s not part of their work day. (Also, why are you doing this, OP? The work will be there, or not be there, regardless of whether you check your phone. I think you have a general boundary problem.)

    2. CharlieBrown*

      Nah, prepping for work is work.

      If it’s okay to prep myself for work on my way into the office and it doesn’t actually count as work, I guess it’s fair for me to bring some vegetables into the office and chop them up at my desk because I’m prepping them for dinner. Since there’s no heat involved, I’m not actually cooking, right?

      1. Teekanne aus Schokolade*

        Seconding!! It IS work. If my brain is working on work, I am working. I’m not a woodcarver, I literally get paid for brain work as do most people.

      2. The Person from the Resume*

        Driving your car to the office is not work. It’s definately not minutes the the employee’s company should be billing the government for. I assume that’s clear the LW because it would be outragious if it wasn’t.

        This letter has a slightly different twist than usual too becuase time the LW should be paid for by their company doesn’t equal time their company should bill the government for. But the vast majority of employers are counting commute time as time in the office for their employees either.

        1. CharlieBrown*

          Driving is not work; checking email is. But you shouldn’t be on your phone if you’re the one behind the wheel, anyway.

          However, if you’re car pooling or taking public transport and can safely check emails, then yes, it is work, and should count as such.

          1. Wisteria*

            Checking email is work (make sure you spend the minimum chargeable amount of time on it). Driving to work is not work. Driving to work is also not “waiting to work.” OP is trying to equate sleeping in with driving to work. Maybe they are equivalent in the sense that if a project was assigned, they would not be available to work on it until they woke up/stopped driving. In neither case, however, can they charge the time spent driving/sleeping. If they truly want to say that they are available to work and can charge their time to whatever code “available but no work assigned” gets, they at minimum have to be awake (and not behind the wheel).

          2. Irish Teacher*

            Irish rail actually have a “the view from your new office” campaign, to convince people that hey, if you go by train instead of driving, you can get some of your work done on the commute.

            1. Allonge*

              Urgh. This is like 70% of my problem with this whole conversation: if OP is working on things that are not that time-sensitive, then why check email at 7:30 and go back to sleep if there is nothing instead of deciding that their workday is from 8:30 or whatever?

              Why extend work into all of life? Just take the train ride and chill.

              Yep, I am grumpy about this.

              1. Caramel & Cheddar*

                Yes, my first reaction to this letter was stop checking your email fifty times before you get to work! But I am also grumpy about this “always on” availability people seem to want but not pay for.

          3. Allonge*

            OK, but this also has different ways it can go. If you are checking your email, answering and getting things done, then you are working.

            If you are checking your email and there is nothing new… maybe? I would put a limit on how much of this counts as work, but ok, at least you are ready to work.

            But if you are checking your email but cannot do anything with it other than knowing there is a new task (editing things on a bus on a phone sounds less than ideal), that to me is just a waste of time and should not count as work (and you should stop doing it! Read AAM or something fun.) I am not sure that responding ‘I will get to this when I can’ is a good investment of anyone’s time. But this, too can depend on the job.

    3. I should really pick a name*

      Yeah, that seemed weird to me. I’m curious if the LW considered the commute part of the workday before they started WFH.

    4. Lizzianna*

      I don’t fully agree. When I commuted by train, I would spend about 30 min during my commute going through emails, translating them into my daily to do list, and responding to or forwarding the easy ones. I consider email triage work. That said, I rarely did anything focused enough that I could bill it to a single client. But it helped me get focused so I could dive into billable work once I got to my desk.

      Now that I drive, if I take a few minutes to glance at my email before I walk out the door so I know what I’m walking into, I don’t consider my drive to be work even if I’m thinking about it on the drive.

  13. frustrated trainee*

    I have a similar question about this when you actually have to report how your time is split across your day (like 1 hour e-mails, 2 hours meetings, 3 hours X project, 2 hours Y project) etc. What on *earth* am I supposed to use to say “no work happened here?” Companies are very tight-lipped about this when asked and it leaves me so confused as to how I’m supposed to fill out those time-sheets

    1. Betty*

      Do you have a generic “overhead” or “administrative” bucket? Most places have some version of that for mundane “no work” activities (I looked at my LinkedIn feed to see if anyone had shared an interesting professional development article, I read an article online that’s general background for my work, I went to the supply closet to get some pens…)

    2. Wisteria*

      Overhead. Companies hate it when you charge overhead, which is why they are tightlipped.

      If you can, nail down a response from your manager on this, preferably in writing. If they tell you verbally, follow up with an email to them saying, “per our conversation, I will charge my time with no specific task as follows…”

      1. frustrated trainee*

        We don’t even have an Overhead category:/ They blow me off telling me “there’s *always* something to do!” or just give vague non-answers no matter how much I push. I guarantee you I’m not going to get anything in writing unfortunately. There’s not even a “per our conversation” e-mail i could send because it’s going to say “per our conversation, you trailed off, or said you didn’t know and never responded when I asked again on slack, or gave vague positivity that didn’t answer the question”

        1. Wisteria*

          Ugh. I’m sorry. I’ve been in that position, and I had many days where I had to spend more hours at work than were chargeable bc I just didn’t have anything to do. I had to spend a lot of time walking around asking people if they had anything I could do. Sometimes they did, but usually they didn’t. For a period, I had to copy my boss every time I asked for work bc they thought I was just being lazy.

          Your user name says trainee. Are you new? What happens if you hit a point with no work and go to your boss and say, “I need one of those ‘always something to do’ tasks and a charge number to go with it”? And stand there until they give you a task and a charge number? Is it possible to look around, see something that needs doing, and go ask your boss for a charge number to do it?

          Have you ever left your timesheet empty? What happened?

          Honestly, the only things that ever worked for me were 1) use department level funds (for department level projects, a type of overhead since it’s not for a client) without authorization and 2) spend 12 hours at work hoping 9 chargeable ones would come my way (and use PTO if they didn’t). The client billable hours model really stinks.

    3. WillowSunstar*

      What I do is put a start time and end time for each task. There is however, such a thing as being too honest. I don’t think they want to know if say, you took a bathroom break during the block of reading email.

    4. J*

      When I was in this position, I had a billing code for general emails so I just dumped it all in there. “Managing and monitoring email inbox for directives” and just hoped for the best. I was indeed awaiting updates. I also tended to be half available, like listening to an industry-related podcast while engaged to work so I’d bill some of that time to my continuing education bucket. If I was making a to do list or just thinking about work, I had a project management bucket I could use. Start looking at the codes very creatively and make sure your narrative matches the code but there’s a chance for additional flexibility. I was doing this for a subcontractor of a government contractor and never had an issue.

    5. Sarita*

      If you have an overhead or admin budget, you charge to that. If you don’t have that budget, you split the generic stuff proportionally among projects worked.

  14. StitchIsMySpiritAnimal*

    What about learning something work-related during your downtime? While you’re available but waiting, find some videos that teach you how to use the latest widget software, or an online seminar about new developments in teapot management, or blogs about llama whispering.

    1. allathian*

      Depends on how much downtime there is. For a few minutes here and there, reading a blog to rest your brain might be just the thing. I find that online seminars usually require at least an hour of uninterrupted time, sometimes considerably more than that, and that doesn’t necessarily work in situations where you’re just waiting for some work to come in, but are expected to start working as soon as it does.

      That said, reading a non-fiction book is probably easier in situations like that, it’s easier to put down whenever. Although at the office, there may be optics involved.

  15. Teekanne aus Schokolade*

    I could have written this! At my job I do specific pieces that take 15 min-hour each with downtime in between waiting for them to come back from an external editor. What do I do with that time? I try to work on at least one extra thing a day like a special project I am particularly excited about, but I also sleep in with my phone next to me, take the dog out, check my ACNH island, crochet, work from the garden, etc. I don’t feel bad about it because I still have amazing deliverables, constant great feedback from my boss and colleagues, but I just don’t have that many work hours out of what I’m paid for. Part of that is I am a lot faster than my colleagues because I switched from a much faster paced industry (think like switching from NASCAR pit crew to a small town mechanic). We do have a busy season where I am working A LOT for weeks on end. The rest of the year I don’t feel bad about being available, but not reaching out for a crap ton more work. This is why I loved Alison’s latest article on quiet quitting. I’m not burning myself out in a job where there’s no room to progress and I’m finally SO happy in my life and look forward to my work without dread.

  16. Elle*

    I agree that this is fine. The way my work is, I have times of the year that are absolutely insane-long days, logging in on weekends, etc. During the slow times, I feel like it’s fine to log off early for a hike if there’s truly nothing anyone needs from me. It’s what keeps me able to be fully available and ready to handle whatever during the crazy times.

  17. NinjaMonkey*

    I go through waves of feeling guilty about this. I “start work” at 6:30am, and the first 30-40 minutes are generally done from bed on my phone. To Alison’s point about the office not being all that different, I do a lot of the same things I did on office days. I sign in, read my work mail and check for any work chats from after I left the day before. I catch up on the night’s internet and check my RSS feeds (like AaM). Some of us used to get breakfast at our office cafeteria, so getting myself coffee and breakfast during work was the old normal, and there’s never a line to stand in at my house. When I feel guilty, I remind myself of all the hours we used to talk in the office that mostly disappeared over remote. Is it more comfortable to read it in bed than at my desk? Sure. But do they get more overall work out of me at home that they did in the office? YES.

  18. Non techy tech editor*

    So glad to read Allison‘s response to this, as I pretty much could have written this letter. Except that I’m fully remote and I get up at 5:30, because kids/dog. And sometimes if there’s work, I’m working before six. If there’s no work, I might go back to bed when the kids leave. If there’s still no work, I might take the dog for a long walk. At the same time, I’ve gotten calls for a literal “editing emergency“ at 7 PM, and I’ll never say no. I’ve been telling myself that as long as my work is good, I answer my phone and teams messages, nobody should care.

    1. Teekanne aus Schokolade*

      Hahaha I laughed at “editing emergency” because I couldn’t remember ever having one then remembered my boss just added me to a printed publication for next quarter and can imagine that is where I will meet the Balrog.

  19. Former Gremlin Herder*

    I’m so grateful for the question-I’ve transitioned into a salaried job where there is often time that I don’t have anything to do, and I find myself with a lot of “waiting” time where I’m checking my email constantly to make sure I haven’t missed anything. As a former teacher, it’s really hard not to feel antsy or guilty, even though it’s partly just timing as we’re waiting for the go ahead off on a few projects and also the fact that I’m new means I can’t necessarily take on tasks as easily as my colleagues. I feel guilty about the down time and this is such a good reminder that you don’t have to be productive eight hours a day! Today I’m watching my email, doing some optional training courses and also making pulled pork for my partner’s birthday dinner :D

  20. Lacey*

    Similar situation, except I’m just a regular employee.

    I have never felt guilty about spending the time where there’s no work on whatever I want. And it’s mostly because when we were in the office we often had hours where we would just chat or shop online, or whatever. As long as we work hard when it’s busy, no one cares.
    And we also have to be available. I couldn’t run out to do grocery shopping, for example. Though sometimes people do let the team know they’ll be popping out to pick up a prescription or something and that’s not seen as a problem.

  21. Anon for this one*

    I work for a government contractor, salaried and with strict time reporting requirements. Where I am, charging while asleep would be considered mischarging and grounds for immediate termination. Not commenting as to whether that’s right, or if you’d ever get caught in your circumstance but that’s how it would be viewed.

    1. Lizzianna*

      Yeah, I’m a government employee, there would be issues if I found out a contractor was charging time they were asleep to my project.

      I get that no one is productive 100% of the time, but there is a big difference between taking a few minutes to grab coffee and sleeping for an hour.

      The government still has a real butt in seats mentality. Rightly or wrongly, this wouldn’t come out in your favor in an audit if you’re charging those hours to the contract.

      If you’re charging it as overhead, I guess that’s between you and your employer.

  22. Irish Teacher*

    I had this dilemma when we were teaching online during the pandemic. Only some of my classes were live; for others I posted work. When posting work, I would post it all at 9am, partly to avoid trying to remember “I must post this class at 10:10 and this at 12:25 and this at 1:45,” but mostly so that students could organise their work if it suited them and if they had a free class, do the work for my class earlier rather than hanging around for 40 minutes waiting for me to send it.

    I generally tried to be available throughout the day, but did occasionally go down town or whatever, trying to keep my absences to less than about half an hour, so if a student needed to contact me, I’d be able to reply within a reasonable timeframe.

    My thinking (and this is probably specific to teaching or at least to jobs that were at home due to necessity and didn’t work optimally that way) was that I was working in a DIFFERENT way and possibly putting in less physical hours (this is because I am a learning support teacher and some of my work is supervising students exempt from certain subjects who may just be studying and some is things like helping students with homework, some of which wasn’t necessary when online), but I had other tasks, like preparing work to be sent out to students who were unable to engage online and had to adapt my teaching materials and methods so they could be done online, so I saw it largely as working differently rather than working less. AND there were things I had to catch up on once we did get back to work in person because some things just couldn’t be done virtually, whether because the students weren’t engaging online or because they needed me physically there to help them or because it required linking with other teachers or other professionals and it just wasn’t feasible to get everybody on board virtually.

    So I guess I feel that if the work is being done, it doesn’t matter if it’s done a bit differently. As Alison said, if somebody is using the fact they are sort of “out of sight” to avoid work, that’s different, but if you are getting done as much as in the office or as much as you can possibly do, that seems reasonable to me.

  23. Melonhead*

    Why not ask your boss if sleeping counts as “work” and see what they say?

    If you’re on a T&M contract, what do you bill those sleeping/laundry/scrolling hours to?

  24. Erie*

    Whoa, your tone on this stuff has changed so much over the years. This is really fascinating to see as a very long-time reader – it’s an indication of the changing zeitgeist, and as always you are on top of what’s happening. I don’t think is ever have seen that parenthetical about an anti-capitalist moral framework from you back in 2014.

  25. WillowSunstar*

    This may depend on your job. At mine, they make us track to the minute what we do. There is a minimum amount of busy time per week we are supposed to have. If we don’t have it, we are supposed to go take an online training class or something. Yes, the company pays for it. But they absolutely do not want us to have downtime.

  26. nnn*

    The internet says that the Dalai Lama says that sleep is the best meditation. So you’re starting your day with a morning meditation! #Wellness #SelfCare

    Seriously though, in order to be fully covered ethically, ask your manager (if you haven’t already) if there’s anything in particular you should be doing during downtime. If they mention something, do enough of that to fill in your downtime hours (even if you don’t do it precisely at 7:30 in the morning). If they don’t have anything you should be doing, you’re in the clear!

    Strategically though, I wouldn’t tell people that you’re sleeping – no good can come of it, and it might lead to something like your employer requiring more in-person work solely for optics, without regard for operational needs. If you have to mention your downtime, just say that you’re waiting for work.

  27. Phony Genius*

    Question: How do you charge down time when you are in the office? You have to charge it to something.

  28. Cacofonix*

    I’m stuck on the part saying OP leans over at 7:30 to check work emails. At my house, that’s far from being “ready” to work.

    1. arthur lester*

      I mean, in editing, it’s unlikely that any of them need responses RIGHT NOW IMMEDIATELY; when I have slower days waiting for my next assignment, I usually will keep an eye on my work email/slack so I can get back on things if something comes in. But even at the office, getting a new task will involve at least a couple of minutes of switching tracks.

  29. Marna Nightingale*

    I’m in a similar position, in a job where there truly isn’t a lot of other stuff I could be doing. I am paid to be responsive to specific requests along a very narrow band.

    The only thing I won’t do is go back to sleep.
    But that’s my own personal thing because I wake up slowly, so if I nap then I’m really not available at full power as soon as something comes in.

    So I’d say in general if you’re not impairing your ability to swing into action, whatever that looks like for you, you’re good.

  30. Lavender*

    I used to have a remote job where I’d usually spend a few hours each day in a similar situation: I had to be “on-call,” but a lot of the time there was nothing urgent for me to do. As long as I was checking work email periodically, I could use the time however I wanted unless something came up. A lot of the time I had other work to catch up on or ongoing projects I could get ahead on, but sometimes I was able to use that time to do chores around the house, scroll through social media, watch Netflix, or whatever else I felt like as long as I was able to quickly drop it if I was needed at work. It never led to any issues – I always finished my assigned tasks and got consistently positive feedback on my work.

  31. I heart Paul Buchman*

    When I WFH I keep my usual hours, including breaks. I think that what OP describes isn’t in the spirit of the agreement and could be used as an example of why employers don’t like WFH.

    I’m shocked that there is nothing to do in the quiet times. In my industry there are peaks and troughs but we always have admin, research, prep work for the busy season. Even reading industry publications is better than sleeping from the employers perspective.

    1. BubbleTea*

      I have a very different job from OP but broadly speaking when there’s no work for me, there’s no work. A lot of the things I could do as and when aren’t compatible with my main job role, because I have to be responsive the moment the phone rings. So I can’t do anything that requires outgoing calls or focused work. I’ve begged for more adminy work and additional projects without success. It’s why I’m working on quitting.

  32. Michelle Smith*

    Stop feeling guilty. You could use that time productively by putting away the dishes or throwing a load of laundry in, but if you want to rest, rest.

    You forget how in the before times people had a lot more downtime that we had to look busy during. So now that no one is looking over your shoulder, it could feel like you are slacking. But you obviously aren’t. Most 40 hour a week jobs don’t take 40. Enjoy the slow times.

  33. rubble*

    the thing that concerns me about OP’s behaviour isn’t that they’re not sitting at their desk waiting for work for their whole shift, or even that they don’t get out of bed some days until work comes – it’s that they’re going back to sleep if there’s no work when their shift starts.

    I personally would be really worried about sleeping through a phone call, waking up to answer it but saying something stupid because I’m disorientated, or *sounding* like I just woke up when I’m talking to whoever it is. if no one ever calls OP when they’re WFH maybe this isn’t a concern for them, but I know it would be for me.

  34. Curmudgeon in California*

    When I worked for an environmental consulting company that had some government contracts, I would batch together certain tasks (eg organize and review lab results) then break it out by ratio per project. If project ABC had 8 pages of reports, QRS had 4 pages, and XYZ had 12 pages and it took an hour I would allocate 2.5 minutes per page, roughly, which makes ABC 20 min, QRS 10 min, and XYZ 30 min. Then I had to convert those to 0.1 hour. So ABC was 0.3 hr, QRS was 0.2 hr, and XYZ was 0.5 hr. This is a simplified version – I did these on a weekly basis, and could easily have lab results from a dozen projects and multiple reports with multiple pages. I still billed pretty close to what it actually took. Because I did them as a group it actually took less time per report than if I did them by ones and twos – I avoided excess context switching and setup time.

    We billed by the tenth of an hour. Most people would work for weeks on one project, so their time was easy to track. But when you are doing QA/verification and other minor work on each project it’s harder. One other thing I did was write and/or QA reports that we issued for accuracy on the chemistry part. Again, multiple projects in a week.

    However, not then and not now would I actually bill for nap time. This is even though when I have a tough problem to solve often a nap will let it sort out in my brain. I nap on my lunch hour, or after work. Because sleep isn’t work, no matter how you slice it.

  35. Heather*

    If OP is a government contractor they will have been provided with very training which would defintely cover the difference between billable and non billable time, so I’m guessing this letter is just aimed at getting “permission”. OP, what’s your plan if the project gets audited and they ask how you billed 8 hours on a day when your computer was only active for 4?

  36. Eyes Kiwami*

    I am also in a situation where my hours need to be tracked (though not billed to overhead/a client necessarily). I would not consider checking my email at 7:30 then going back to sleep and sitting at my desk at 8:30 as one hour “worked” because I’m “waiting for work”. I think it’s disingenuous to frame sleeping as work!

    That’s not to say that OP shouldn’t do that. I often do the same thing, but I use that first email check to see if I need to start my day at 7:30 or at 8:30. If you start early, you can take a break later or end early/flex time throughout the day. But I wouldn’t count “going back to sleep because nothing is on fire” or “prepping dinner but I check my email once afterwards” as “work”.

  37. StressedButOkay*

    This is so interesting. As a salaried person who has been full time WFH since the start of COVID, and who doesn’t have to track like that, I basically have kept to my same hours. I get up around 8:15 and am starting my work day by 9, maybe a little earlier if I have a 9 am meeting (ew).

    I end at 5, unless I end up having to work late during rush season.

    Do I take advantage of downtime during the day? Oh yes – laundry, a walk, dinner prep, etc. when it’s quiet. But I’ve never started/clocked in and then kind of pulled back from work.

    Then again, I would MUCH rather take advantage of the quiet later in the day.

    1. Canadian Librarian #72*

      Same here; I do keep to a schedule even when it’s not necessary. It helps me organize my day.

  38. Kuddel Daddeldu*

    We record our time – we have projects that are billable by the hour, fixed price/per-task projects, and various types if overhead (like sales, conference presentations, meetings, training, and administrative tasks). Even on projects not billed by the hour we want to know where the time went so we can improve our estimate next time. For internal tasks, it’s just an estimate and even for external tasks we are not using a stopwatch (we bill in hourly or half-hourly increments).

    1. Kuddel Daddeldu*

      For context: I’m salaried (not in the US). While my contract says 39 hours/week, actual time worked (and recorded) can be over 80 hours sometimes, less than 20 in other weeks. As long as I record at least 39 on average over a quarter or so, all is fine. So I can take off overtime as time off in lieu (TOIL) without any paperwork or approval required.
      A WFH day may start at 6 with some Europe-Asia calls, a 4 hour break, and Europe-US work from 3pm. Next day may be an international trip to a client’s site (our clients work 24/7, through weekends and any holidays, so we do too when on site). A few days later may be data analysis of the measurements taken on site and report writing, which I can do at whatever time my jetlagged body feels best.

  39. BoopyDoop*

    For a while we were doing optional 1-day per week from home, and I would fill my downtime with household tasks and occasionally a walk or nap (but inevitably when I’d try that, that’s when my boss would call, so I stopped). Now I’m back in the office 5/week and I’ve realized my downtime there is either read (work related) articles, chat with coworkers, or (ha) go for a walk. So really not much different, except that those household tasks are now being ignored!
    Managers need to understand the nature of downtime, and that chatting with coworkers about their weekends doesn’t = work any more than doing laundry at home.

    1. MsVanS*

      But chatting with coworkers contributes to team culture and comraderie. Doing laundry at home doesn’t.

      1. Canadian Librarian #72*

        I have to be honest, I think the value of team culture and comraderie, especially in an in-person context, is vastly overstated. There are workplaces where it’s truly important, but many where it’s really not. Or where it can be created at a distance via virtual means. Especially for digital natives and people who have developed online social skills, it’s really not hard to develop enough of a culture and camaderie through chat, Zoom, and email. I am frankly really tired of hearing about how water-cooler talk is apparently the only thing keeping millions of organizations going, when I’ve worked remotely with good relationships with coworkers for years now.

  40. MsVanS*

    Since I read this post and some of the comments yesterday, I cannot get it out of my mind! Certainly, there are jobs that are more or less piecework and come with a salary, but the vast majority of roles I’m familiar with (in the nonprofit and legal worlds) provide quite a bit of autonomy in exchange for people taking ownership of their work. Sure, there’s downtime, but that’s when you tackle the less urgent tasks on your to-do list, engage in some professional development, or look around you to see where your colleagues are struggling and offer to pitch in. I worry that one downside of WFM is unequal workloads: some people are running at breakneck speed all day long and others are checking their phone and … going back to sleep.

  41. aubrey*

    The most important thing for my job is that I am consistently reliable, and exceptional when needed. Busywork to be productive every minute of the day is not what I was hired for, and in fact is counterproductive to my essential job since if I’m drained by busywork, I can’t do the “exceptional when needed” part. Realizing this was a really key reframing moment for me. I’m really fortunate to have a boss who realizes he employs me for the company-essential stuff I’m really good at, and doesn’t care what I’m doing otherwise as long as I don’t become unreliable.

  42. Flowers*

    This is something I’m constantly struggling with. I’m now in a job where we have to bill clients and I’m always worried that my billable hours are too low or that my billables are too high for what they’re budgeted for. My workload is pretty light at times and I’m constantly asking for more work.

  43. Canadian Librarian #72*

    If you’re available whenever something comes in, and you do your work to a high standard with integrity, you have nothing to worry about in terms of how you approach downtime.

    The thing about WFH vs. working in an office is that on-site, you have to spend your “downtime” looking busy,* which is more draining than just… not working and getting a load of dishes done or reading a few pages of your book or something. It’s a fiction that when you’re on-site at work you’re spending every minute of your time actively engaged in work. There’s bathroom breaks, coffee runs, chit-chat with someone who runs into you in a hallway and wants to make small-talk, getting distracted by people two cubes over having a conversation, inevitable tech glitches, actual slack time when there’s nothing to do or when you’re waiting for someone to give you something you need to finish a task, and on and on.

    Basically, do what your job description requires, and don’t worry about the rest. You won’t be rewarded for doing more, especially when they can’t even see you doing (or not doing) it.

    *I heard someone refer to it as LARPing work, which… yeah. Sometimes it’s like that. Switching between windows, looking over your shoulder, periodically typing nonsense into an email draft to no one and then deleting it… What a bunch of BS. It’s sort of the white collar version of “if you can lean you can clean”, which from what I remember ended up usually being just wiping down the same already-clean countertop so you didn’t look “lazy” in front of the CCTV cameras.

    1. Flowers*

      omg yes!!! esp where I sit by an entrance everyone can see me. constantly keeping one screen open etc.

      One day the head admin noticed and asked if I would be OK moving so I could have more privacy so….yay for that.

  44. Alison Smaalders*

    I am echoing so many other people here and saying yes, this is fine. As long as your work is getting done, and you’re available for calls/emails if anything comes up, doing something else is perfectly reasonable.

    Part of many office jobs is just being available in case someone needs something. Having that slack usually means that the workload is well-designed IMO, because if other folks are out (on PTO, parental leave, someone quit, etc) it means you can pick up the slack without burning out. It’s way more sustainable.

  45. DJ*

    I find that my work is pretty steady WFH. It’s when I’m in the office I’m less productive and more likely to be chatting with other staff.
    When WFH if I take time out to do more than say put on a load of washing/quick chat to a neighbour/check mail box/go to shop across the road for milk, I’ll record a longer lunch break.

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