philipp's blog

What They Don’t See

I was a consultant in the first year of my career. As soon as I started, I learned one important rule: Be there before the customer is, leave after the customer does. It doesn't matter if you're there an hour or a minute before the customer, it matters that you're there before they arrive.

This is not about faking productivity, as you might think. You see, what sticks with the customer if you don't follow this rule is that you are either always late, or you always leave early. What doesn't stick with them is how late you are, or how early you leave.

At my next job - not a consultant this time - I saw this in action more clearly. I had one colleague who had kids at home and decided to start work incredibly early. He started at around 6 a.m. and therefore left at around 3 p.m. . Another colleague was really not a morning person and usually arrived at around 11 a.m. and left at around 8 p.m. Both of them were frequently teased because of their perceived laziness. Having worked with both of them at the same time1, I can confirm first hand that both of them worked at least the 8 hours they were contractually required to.

When I joined my current employer, Zalando, we were in the middle of the pandemic, and my new team had the informal convention of writing a hello message in the morning and a goodbye message in the evening. I quickly noticed that one person would say hello very early, and goodbye very late (usually around 12h would pass from hello to goodbye). I brought this to our next 1:1, telling him that I won't stop him from working as long as he pleases, but that it's certainly not expected from him2. He then told me that, being from middle America, he's used to a long break in the middle of the working day, his lunch break takes as long as 4 hours3.

Me, personally, I'm setting an example. Whether I want it or not, people interpret my behaviour as "this is how things are done around here". Being the lead amplifies this. If I write emails during vacation, I normalise writing emails during vacation. If I work long hours every day, I normalise working long hours every day.

This is why I usually don't participate in these good morning/good bye threads. My own working day is very scattered, I start early with some mails and chat messages, I then make sure the kids make it to day care and school, sometimes I need to work through my lunch break, sometimes I don't, and quite often I have a final go through my emails before I stop working. I'm pretty close to the 40h required from me per week4 - but thats what they don't see.

  1. That was interesting.

  2. If you find it strange, or even inappropriate, that I brought this up, note that as a lead in a German company in Germany, it falls into my responsibility that my directs stay within specific bounds, take regular breaks and so on. I don't micromanage people's working times, but if I notice things like this I need to bring it up.

  3. I usually have an okay grasp about what's achievable within a normal working week for a normal engineer, and as long as I don't feel that their output deviates significantly from this, I leave it to them to figure out their working times.

  4. My girls ensure that.