One afternoon early in my career, I was in my office when I noticed one of my direct reports coming back from lunch around 2:30 p.m. As I approached, I noticed he had been to the barber. I asked if he was just coming back from lunch and the barber shop. He responded in the affirmative. I looked at him quizzically, hesitated, frowned—then raised my eyebrows and said. “You got your hair cut on company time?”

One afternoon early in my career, I was in my office when I noticed one of my direct reports coming back from lunch around 2:30 p.m. As I approached, I noticed he had been to the barber. I asked if he was just coming back from lunch and the barber shop. He responded in the affirmative. I looked at him quizzically, hesitated, frowned—then raised my eyebrows and said. “You got your hair cut on company time?” Without missing a beat he responded, “Well, my hair grows on company time!” Hmmm. Ever since I have given a lot of thought to the question, what is office time? Common business practice usually dictates an eight-hour work day and an hour for lunch. Some firms choose four 10-hour days. Some firms work half-day Fridays and so forth. Knowing architects’ capacity for work, most “involved” employees usually spend quite a bit of time beyond regular hours AND weekends to complete or improve upon their work.

Yes, it’s true; most architects are workaholics. Most end up in very real terms making about $5 an hour (only a slight exaggeration) when their hours are divided into their salary! Because of the many hours logged some individuals feel justified in liberalizing normal office hours. Agreed. Take the time you need for personal things or just to rest. But keep in mind four important guidelines.

1. There is not necessarily a one-to-one ratio of compensation time; i.e., every hour of overtime a person labors translates into an hour off. Reality, however, is more like a half-hour for every extra hour worked. Architectural firms are not “punch-your-timecard” organizations. Most employees are salaried and interested in the success of the business and therefore give freely of their time. Hence there is seldom a one-to-one payback ratio even if that’s the official policy. Architects by nature tend to give their time lagniappe, which often leads to broad definitions of the workday.

2. Any compensatory time given for working excessive hours should be used within two weeks. This is because memory is short; time gets exaggerated. The next project comes along and so forth and all is forgotten.

3. The employee must clearly notify the office of upcoming time off—e.g., “I will be taking this Friday afternoon off. I worked last Saturday and part of Sunday. I can be reached on my cell or at home.” Recognize, however, that the world doesn’t stop because you are taking Friday afternoon off, therefore let people know where you can be reached.

4. Be liberal in your approval of such circumstances, even if the payback ratio is closer to one-to-one. Those who receive generosity almost always go the extra mile when called upon.

Our world is so overwhelming it’s amazing we get anything done. Cable guys give you a five-hour window. Can you imagine telling a client, “We’ll be there for our presentation between noon and 5 p.m.”? How can anyone give half a day to the phone guy or the furniture delivery guy? But you have no choice. Mortgage companies want notarized documents FedExed today. Well, I guess this also means you’ll need a notary. Your mechanic closes shop at 6 p.m., but he’s an hour and half away at rush hour, so you have to leave at 4 p.m. to make sure you get your car. Your tax guy is booked through April 15 so you can’t cancel—you have to go at your prearranged time! Your proctologist is overbooked, so your appointment takes twice as long! This is life. Your firm should allow you that life without guilt. If you really do office emails at 5:30 a.m. from home—that counts. If you were out to dinner until 11 p.m. with a client (not necessarily fun), that does too. While at home the next morning you need to collect your thoughts, check your home mail from the day before, communicate with your spouse, partner, kids, etc., and come in late. Just call in within 10 minutes of starting time and let the office know. If your office can’t deal with life, they are probably not very good architects, and you don’t want to work there. One exception is when you’ve worked until 11 p.m., but you have an 8 a.m. meeting. Don’t miss that meeting; come in late later in the week. All employees should feel comfortable about the time required to deal with their personal matters, but this begins with the attitude of the leader. Flexibility combined with responsibility on everyone’s part. Once upon office time, we should all live happily ever after.

The boss needs to call in too! It’s 20 minutes after eight. The office phones have been ringing since 7:45 a.m. A few people are meandering down the hall to get coffee. A few more are exchanging greetings just off the elevator lobby. The boss’s office is dark. The receptionist is still trying to boot up the built-in reception computer. The engineers have been at their desks since 7:30 a.m. The guys with projects in the construction administration phase are already on the phone. Not a single designer has shown up. Two people call in with the flu. Another calls in late to say he forgot about a parent/teacher conference, he won’t be in until 11 a.m. The designers have arrived, but it’s now 9 a.m. and still no word from the boss. Already, one client has called asking for him. A colleague has called to confirm lunch. Two people in the office need to see him right away. Another client calls. Everyone is
working. No boss! The receptionist

doesn’t know what to tell people. She feels guilty that she can’t give an appropriate response to callers. And everyone sees that the boss’ office is still dark at 9:30 a.m. They wonder if the boss passed away in the night!

We all like to think that age, experience, title, and money bring certain privileges. They do! But not calling in is not one of them. It doesn’t matter that you built this business, and you have been at a 6:30 a.m. breakfast meeting that went long. Or that you’ve been at home doing office email since 5:30 a.m. Or you had a colonoscopy scheduled this morning. It doesn’t matter.

YOU MUST CALL IN AND TELL PEOPLE WHERE YOU ARE, how you can be reached, and when you expect to be in—all within 10 minutes of your firm’s opening. No one really cares why you’re late, but a professional business needs to be able to respond with confidence as to your absence. Just picture your receptionist saying to a prospective client, “Oh, Mr. Big, I haven’t seen him today. I don’t know where he is. No, I don’t know when he’ll be here. Ten other people have called for him too. I’ll put you down as number 11! You know he had a reception last night. He could be hung over! That guy, he can really put ‘em down! Last time it happened his wife nearly divorced him! I wouldn’t blame her! Did he tell you about his colonoscopy?” Just what you want your receptionist telling a client!

The 10-minute rule applies to everyone, not just the boss. Make it clear that everyone needs to call in if they are not going to be in on their normal schedule. Remember, it is often your lowest-paid, least-educated person dealing with these absences. Train that person on how to gracefully handle these situations. But first, train thyself!

—Williston Dye

Dye is the principal in charge of the Stubbins Associates’ Las Vegas office. He is the former head of Disney Imagineering and former board member of the DFC. His new book is Five Potatoes: Things are as clear as Vichyssoise! Humor, Hubris, Humility and one Human’s Huge Hallucinations from un Homme de Terre!