Q: Almost a year ago we hired a number of new people, and several of them surf the Internet up to half of the workday — shopping, watching YouTube videos, you name it. When not on the chmputer, they resemble swans, heads bent over their personal devices, texting or whatever.

Share story

Q: I have worked at a small architecture firm for about eight years. Almost a year ago we hired a number of new people, and several of them surf the Internet up to half of the workday — shopping, watching YouTube videos, you name it. When not on the chmputer, they resemble swans, heads bent over their personal devices, texting or whatever.

We’re in an “open” studio space, and those of us who actually work can’t help but notice. We also pick up the slack and fix the mistakes these people make because they are constantly distracted.


The partners who run the firm are in private offices and have no idea. In fact, two of the Internet addicts have been promoted. It’s upsetting and creating a level of disengagement in the office. We have no human resources department to complain to. What to do?

A: Before we get to your surfer colleagues, consider two morsels of big-picture context. First, as the digital era has injected more work responsibilities into personal time, many workers feel they have every right to take personal time on the job: If I have to answer the boss’ email over the weekend, then I get to place my Zappos order from the company computer.

Second, as unlikely as this may sound, activities that look suspiciously like time-wasting may be part of some people’s natural process — if I watch a YouTube video while ruminating on a work-related problem, maybe that’s no different from staring off into space or “looking busy” if it helps me think through that problem before my deadline.

All of this is relevant even if it doesn’t strictly apply to your tech-happy colleagues. That’s because you need to focus not so much on their behavior as on its consequences.
Instead of picking up the surfers’ slack and fixing their mistakes, you and your non-Internet-addicted allies should see to it that these genuine problems come to the partners’ attention. If the bosses wonder aloud why X is so behind and Y keeps messing up, you might discreetly raise the distraction issue. But a preferable outcome would involve the bosses deciding to pay more attention to what’s happening in their “open” office.

Most Read Stories

Unlimited Digital Access. $1 for 4 weeks.

Submit questions to Rob Walker at workologist@newyorktimes.com.