(Courtesy Data on the Edge)

When do you leave work?

San Francisco is notorious for the “flexible” work schedule. Unlike people in NYC (don’t criticize from my last article), we don’t have to sit at our desks for eight hours a day to prove we are working. I can go to the coffee shop down the street to write a blog or lounge on the couch when working on budgets. I can roll into work at 11 a.m. and leave at 5 p.m. or not even show up as long as I get my work done and can call in for meetings.

It seems crazy right? Living in startup land, we are probably the only people who can pop in and out as we please. Don’t get me wrong, with that flexibility also comes the responsibility of staying at work until 9 p.m. to get things done when you’re on a deadline. A flexible schedule is a major selling point when being recruited as well. Imagine sitting in a conference room where the head of HR is throwing words out there like unlimited paid time off and work from home options.

Surprisingly, (at least in my office), not everyone takes advantage of these perks. People just have too much to do. Of course we all take the occasional day off, but we are all getting our stuff done. I happen to work across the street from tons of bars and a couple clubs. Not that there is a lot of temptation, but it is nice that a few of us can go out to have a drink and go home before dinner time, or just eat while we’re out.

On the other hand, I have heard that some people get beers and then go back to work. One of the companies I worked for also had a flexible schedule where employees rolled in at 10:30 a.m. and stayed until about 9 to 10 p.m. most nights. Instead of happy hour, one of the devs would walk around and pour everyone a shot of Fireball. We had our own happy hour without leaving work.

There is a reason why happy hours happen so early here. If you aren’t going to relax or go to sleep, you are probably going back to work for a few hours. That is the nature of the beast: with tons of freedom comes even more responsibility. Granted, there are lot of people that have hobbies, and use that extra time they aren’t working to take that painting class or go for a run. I am guilty for sure.

I have written about unplugging before from tech and somewhat for life itself. But I have found it is even more difficult to not work over the weekend if I take off at 5 p.m. The entire thing is a conundrum; techies are some of the hardest workers who take the most time for themselves. Nurses can’t leave early from their 12 hour shift. Finance people have to get to work at 5 a.m. to meet the markets on the East Coast. No one else with a full-time job (working for someone else) has this luxury.

I’ve been here for almost four years, and I still feel bad rolling in to work at the standard 10 a.m. Friends outside of the industry make fun of me, saying I don’t work as hard as they do because I don’t have the same hours. I’m not going to lie, I do wonder what people are doing who roll in to work at or after 10 a.m. I can say that I am either checking my email or going for a run. The flexibility makes me want to work and do things that focus me.

The best stories come from my friends who work for themselves. I see on Facebook they are taking mid-afternoon runs, traveling and are always on Facebook. Now, that is too much freedom for me. I do need some structure, even if super flexible. Even better is my friends that don’t work, and are able to take 2-hour lunches that I suffer through, thinking I am going to get in trouble when I get back to work. Flexible is one thing, taking two hours off in the middle of the day for anything other than a doctor’s appointment is excessive.

So, why do we care? We have Slack, Skype, Hangouts. We can be reached basically at all times. But the whole reason we leave is to set the boundary that we are gone (even though some people still make themselves available). When I walk out that door, I am normally DONE. I congratulate myself for having a day full of Pomodoro’s, a quick lunch and no downtime. I worked my ass off today in every possible way, and I am out.

With a background in journalism, Melissa Eisenberg has been working in the tech industry for eight years, currently leading the SF FashTech community.

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