What does "full time" really mean when working remotely?

This one is for those of you who have full-time remote jobs. I noticed @wanderingdev mentioned being an FTE for a US company, hoping she may be able to weigh in here.

I have a very nice remote programming job. Great team, and the whole team’s distributed. I’ve been working remotely for years now – but never as a developer. I used to do more writing-related jobs, where you get paid by the word, and hours don’t matter.

As a coder, I’m suddenly paid by the hour. I am not a “consultant” - but I still find it very confusing and troubling, and I’m trying to nail down some norms. I’m supposed to be “full time”, which basically means 40 hours/week or so (43, but who’s counting).

I have a timer I use (nobody asked me to use it, and I don’t share the time report with anyone). I used to stop the timer whenever I went to the kitchen for a moment or to help with the kid. Working like this, an 8-hour day quickly became a 13-hour day. Meaning, it took me 13-14 hours to get 8 hours of work done, and it was pretty terrible.

I decided to do a sanity check with a colleague whom I have good rapport with. He’s a senior dev who’s been with the company for years. He said that in an 8-hour day, he usually manages to get in about 4 hours of “billable time” – meaning, about half his time is spent actually working, and the other half is doing other things, which he says is important to stay creative/fresh and not burn out (I definitely see the sense in this).

He told me that when he used to be a consultant, he used to charge exactly per what he actually worked – but then he doubled his rates to make up for it. (I don’t get a ton of money, I’m not a very experienced coder, and I’m not considered a consultant by any stretch of the imagination)

So… I decided to cast a wider net here, just as a sanity/reality check. As remote programmers, how do you manage your time? What does an “8 hour workday” look like for you, in reality?

Do you have a timer? When you watch a YouTube video, do you stop your timer? Etc. etc.
When working at an office it’s easy to get a fix for the norms - but working from home, you guys are what I have. :slight_smile: TIA.

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I am salary, not hourly, so my answer is probably a little different. I am officially available to my team from 9:30am-5:30pm EST. Some days I’m nose down that entire time. Some days I’m farting around with other stuff. Some days I start earlier and/or work later. Some times I’m doing stuff on the weekend when I get an idea. It all works out in the wash.

As an hourly person, unless you get to set your billable rate, I don’t think 8 hours billed has to = 8 hours worked because it certainly doesn’t when you’re in an office. Have you tried using something like pomodoro where you can work for 25 minutes then mess around for 5? Then you can do those step away things or video watching without feeling guilty.

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I am pretty new in the DN’s world but I assume its more or less the same as working in an office and its all about managing your time and tasks correctly.

When you work in an office, you are getting paid for your work but also for drinking coffee, taking a break (e.g cigaret break, fuzball break etc). You are also getting paid for having “dead moments” where you read something that maybe serves both you and your company by improving your skills or zooming out from your current project just in order to be more fresh. I think that most of the people do not work 8 hours although they are 8 hours at work. The idea of being at work so much time is mainly about being available for the rest of the people because many times you can finish your work (in case you really know what needs to be done and you don’t have any dependency in other people) in less than 8 hours.

Point is, if you manage your time and tasks clearly, you would notice that things can be done faster. I wouldn’t stop the timer while drinking coffee or taking a 5-10 minutes break though I would stop it in case of something that takes more.

Pomodoro is a great solution as @wanderingdev mentioned.


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Oops, I think I said something confusing there – I wrote “As a coder, I’m suddenly paid by the hour.” I didn’t mean to imply I’m actually an hourly worker – I am FT, salary, too.

What I meant to say is that I’m paid for my time, rather than for a deliverable such as an article or a blog post.

Your reply was interesting to read, and is pretty much in line with what I got from two teammates I spoke to (one is new to the team but a good friend, and the other I mentioned in my original post).

I did try Pomodoro for a little bit, and I really dislike it. It totally breaks my flow – it won’t let me get into the task I’m working on. I keep thinking about the end of those 25 minutes, and… bah, just doesn’t work for me.

I think I need to grow up. :slight_smile: Thank you.

Thank you, Shaked! That’s a good viewpoint, and is definitely helpful.

I work full-time for a US company too, salaried. I’m leading product & design so honestly, I work crazy hours (70+ p/w). Like @wanderingdev I match up with San Francisco, so I work 7am - 7pm PST. We have a few remote developers in Ukraine too so it means I have to stay on a bit later in the evenings to manage the timezones.

I don’t think anyone is 100% productive/working during their entire day. I’ve tried pomodoro too, but I never stuck with it. I just manage priorities & focus on single tasks until they’re complete - multitasking is a killer of efficiency/productivity.

I try not to work from home as much as possible because I’m the type of person that gets really distracted if I do - I just end up getting up & walking around aimlessly. I love coworking spaces, but quieter ones where I don’t have to introduce myself to 50 people each day & tell them what I’m working on etc. I just like to get in in the morning, put my headphones in for 8 hrs & work uninterrupted.

That said, I’ve just returned back to Australia & am staying with my Mum, so I’m back in the same boat of having to manage working from home. I’ve already checked the fridge 5 times today & I’m not even hungry :slight_smile:

In the past, when I worked remotely as a FTE, I was required to log 8 hours per day (or 40 hours per week). We were given 20% for research/learning so we were required to complete 6~ hours of billable work each day.

Some days I would be able to write code for 12 hours straight, fixing bug reports, adding new features and just getting stuff done. Other days, I couldn’t code to save my life. I would just make sure that I would get my 40~ hours of work done per week.

On the days I couldn’t get into a rhythm with the code, I wouldn’t try to force it. I would head to the gym, watch a movie, or just clean the house. It was quite often in that downtime that I came up with a solution to a problem I’d been trying to fix for hours. That time away from the keyboard can be quite useful when it comes to getting work done.

Over time, you’ll get used to the way that you work best. That ten minute break in the kitchen to wash the dishes or clean up might not affect your work too much at all, especially when you’re still mulling over the code in the back of your mind.

I use Harvest App for tracking my time these days (as a freelancer), which automatically detects idle time. When I return to the computer, the app asks me if I’d like to continue the timer, or remove that idle time. Only I know whether that time should be considered billable, so I update my timesheet as required.

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I consider 30h a week a full time work. I have a timer, which also catches my activity. But I also include all the communications regarding a project as billable/and other activity. So, it’s not like ‘focused coding on a project for 6 hours a day’.

That’s a good point I forgot to mention. The billable time for me also included project management and various other non-coding tasks.

The contracts I’ve seen being used all said just fulltime. No number of hours attached. It’s useless really. No one wants to work between fixed hours, nor can he/she work always 40 hours. Don’t focus on the hours, but on agreed output.
What it usually means is: if you work with us you can’t have another job without a burnout in no time.

Yeah – that’s one approach I really disagree with… It actually had language to this effect in a previous contract which I refused to sign.

I think of it this way: When working at an office, I can still go back home and have a side project at the end of the day or on weekends, right? So… why can’t I do the same when I work FT remotely?

Depending on whether you’re an hourly employee/contractor, a salaried full time employee, or paid on a project basis, there’s a world of difference with regards to how you approach the hours of the day.

Hourly employees and contractors are paid for their time. In theory this translates into billable hours in a day, but in practice it doesn’t, really. An oft-cited study ten years ago found that the average office worker only had three productive workdays out of five (60%) (http://news.microsoft.com/2005/03/15/survey-finds-workers-average-only-three-productive-days-per-week/). Other similar studies since have estimated that number even lower — as low as 37.5% in some regions and sectors. Too often you hear office workers complain about feeling like cogs or drones, paid to keep their seat warm for eight hours a day and deriving little satisfaction from the job.

Now, as digital nomads, that’s not our narrative, and in fact many of us chose this life because we wanted to escape or avoid that reality. However, for the vast majority of office workers, including the people we often work with, report to, and get paid by, that’s their life. So the challenge is ensuring that they believe that working with us is a productive, valuable, integral use of their company’s resources despite the fact that they themselves often waste them.

For those of us working on a project basis, or in a Results-Only Work Environment (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ROWE), it’s pretty simple — you need to deliver consistent quality on time. That’s it. Nothing else matters. It’d be the same whether you go into the office every day, work from home a few miles away a few days a week, or work from another timezone all the time.

For those of us paid by the hour, it’s a lot more challenging — not so much because of the time tracking itself, but because of how critical it is for us to manage the perception of what we do with our time. Depending on the expectations of your employer or client, you may need to keep the kinds of logs attorneys keep — obscenely detailed journals that break time down into quarter-hour increments, and log what filled that time, whether it’s spent performing research (searching for libraries, digesting technical manuals, reading relevant blog posts and articles), operations management (fielding emails, phone meetings) or actual production (writing code, documentation, articles, designing graphics, or whatever it is that you do). And again, depending on the expectations of whoever signs your checks, you may want to do this even if you’re on salary, to document the fact that you actually work and combat the perception of you being on a permanent vacation.

If you’re a line coder, production artist, specification writer or something similarly “output-centric,” where the thrust of your work is geared toward production in a fairly well-defined environment, it’s pretty straightforward — production artists’ billable time is divided between sourcing typefaces and graphic materials, researching visual language, manipulating assets and pushing pixels, line coders are paid to intake task backlogs, research patterns, read framework and API documentation, write code, run unit tests and update buglists.

However, the more generative/inspirational/creative your work is, the more difficult it can be to explain where your billable time went. I don’t mean “creative” as in “designers, artists and writers only” — every high-level software architect will tell you that many of the best ideas for their software designs come to them when they’re away from the keyboard, and software architecture is a highly generstive/inspirstional/creative field. So, yes, those thirty minutes you stepped away from the computer to wash dishes and think about how to optimize the speed of that tricky recursive function — that’s billable time. Track it as such. The word “conceptualizing” appears on my time log pretty frequently.

As far as tracking itself, I don’t log as-I-go, but rather at the end of each workday, but that’s just how I roll. I think back and ask myself “What did I do today? Well, I spent about an hour updating the user flow diagram, an hour conceptualizing the interaction model, three and a half hours drawing wireframes, an hour writing annotations, an hour on a conference call, and half an hour managing email. So that’s eight hours of billable time.” Yeah, I may have spread those eight hours of work across twelve hours of the day, but that isn’t relevant. My output in a given workday typically far exceeds the average office workers’ output, my clients see that, consider it a great value, and keep paying me to do it.

I’ve been working as a freelance web developer for about 6 years now in Results-Only Work Environment (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ROWE). I’ve been using Toggl ~4-5 years ago, but later on I dropped it… and that’s too bad, because lately I could see that I waste a lot of my time on things I shouldn’t (like multitasking; switching to reading blogs/facebook during the work time, etc.).

3 months ago I started using time tracking tool again (Everhour this time - honestly recommend it). It was weird to me in the beginning to “keep tracking everything”, but after a couple of days I got used - and now I see that my work efficiency is much better.

Mostly because now when I have Everhour tracking me, I don’t multitask anymore (as you need to specify in Everhour “what task are you working on currently”). So you’ve got this feeling “oh the tracking is on, I got to finish it soon”.
And even if the tracking won’t be always accurate (as u’ll forget to turn it on/off sometimes), more or less it will give you a nice view over the things you’ve been during the last month. And maybe give you some thoughts about your project hourly rates? :wink: