Part-Time Work Lessons

On September 16, 2019, I changed from full-time to part-time work at Patagonia. I essentially have a three day work week at Patagonia, and long four day weekends. This has allowed me to do my coaching and consulting work with Agile Time Coach, and to spend the time I need for building my sprint canoe and kayak club.

I had been counting down the days to this transition to semi-retirement for several years, and did so quite publically. I also ended up extending my transition date by about five months because of a delayed go-live date of an extremely large, multi-year ERP project. (The project actually was delayed even further and I decided to pull the pin anyway.) It’s been more than a year since this transition so it seems like a good moment to stop and reflect on this milestone and what learnings have been surprising or noteworthy.

When I was negotiating my part-time status, the direction I pushed for was less about the amount of time worked (my boss wanted me as close to full-time as I would allow), and more about where I would work. My boss and I agreed I would work two days a week in the Patagonia offices, and the rest remotely.

The Covid-19 pandemic of course changed everything. Since March 13th, 2020, all who could work remotely have been permitted to do so and I believe I’ll continue to work from home (almost) completely even after the pandemic wanes.

View of my backyard from my home office

WFH has been a positive change for me. My work for Patagonia requires me to talk to team members, frequently, many whom are spread out geographically making it mandatory that even if I could do a meeting from a conference room, it would involve a virtual meeting through Microsoft Teams or perhaps a conference call. Most of the time, my conversations were done from my desk in a very open (and at times crowded) office space. There were several times I know these meetings disturbed and bothered my co-workers. I’m sure I’ve never been accused of being too quiet! I know that the calls from my co-workers certainly disturbed my thinking, too.

Meetings and open office environments make for many impromptu group meetings at one another’s work areas, especially when conference rooms are hard to come by or simply because individuals assume their meeting will be short and not bothersome to the room or floor. Open office environments are horrible workspaces for productivity in my view. No surprising, for me WFH has meant greater productivity.

Another culture shift has occurred due to all of these meetings being virtualized. Several team members are prone to having stacked or back to back meetings, some in conference rooms. Removing the travel time needed from one meeting to the next has led to extremely timely starts to all meetings. This was an unexpected benefit for everyone.

Some people also would tend to spend part (or all) of a meeting checking and responding to email when they felt their full attention wasn’t needed. I have been guilty of this at times, too. With virtual meetings, going on mute at least prevents the rest of the group from hearing the disruption of keyboards and email notifications. In large meetings, very few people at Patagonia enable their cameras during meetings, so there’s really no telling who is paying complete attention to the presentation and discussion at any given time. More importantly however, the members that are paying attention can do so with more focus.

The changes I’ve mentioned so far are more about working from home which has been the experience of so many people this past year. Part-time work has given me other, larger, and more important benefits. The biggest benefit being greater focus. With less availability, my co-workers are involving me in more meaningful tasks and pushing aside the ones that can be handled by others. I’ve had to be strict with my boundaries for when I am available, but once established, many meaningless meetings and the “just a quick question” sort of interruption has dropped to almost nothing. I would honestly say the amount of work I get done now is just as valuable in my part-time status as the sum of my work from when I was full-time; I’m no less productive in my part-time role.

With four day weekends, I am able to truly disengage from my Patagonia work. However, my subconscious must still be churning some on issues and problems because I have frequently started the week with a clear vision of what was murky the week prior. Creative and meaningful thought takes time to incubate and ripen. Grinding work weeks like the ones that Elon Musk champions do not produce better work, at least not for me. Less has truly been more.

My attention to my personal projects has also been sharper. The long four day weekends allow me to complete personal projects that would normally take several weekends to complete. The amount of waste in productivity associated with stopping and starting a project is more obvious to me now. It is far better to complete something in total than in pieces and these larger time blocks have facilitated the completion of several home projects, equipment repairs for my canoe club, and side work. I come to my Patagonia work with greater focus because of this.

I don’t particularly love my work at Patagonia. Don’t get me wrong, the company is great and very much lives up to its reputation. However, my work there is not as personally meaningful and enriching as my mentoring, coaching, and teaching done for Agile Time Coach, nor the coaching and development work for the Ventura Canoe & Kayak Club. The majority of my time now gets spent on these more gratifying endeavors and that makes spending my time at Patagonia better, too. I’m happier.

Part-time work has meant more efficient, meaningful work, with a happier worker.