I went to work at the usual time on Monday, expecting to go home at the usual time. I'm fortunate like that, I have a usual time. I'm not forced to stick to it, I can be flexible, but I do have a time I usually start and a time I usually finish. It all helps to create a working life I can generally plan around, more often than not, which is nice.
Early on Monday afternoon I got a phone call. "You know that X which Y is doing? Could you send it to Z? It's not ready yet, but Y has promised to send X by half past hometime. You'll send that will you? Great." So I stayed later than usual in the office, which was fine because I had plenty to do. But when half past hometime arrived no X from Y had turned up. I couldn't get in touch with Y, but it was business critical that their X was passed on, so I hung around. At hometime o'clock plus one hour, still nothing, and at hometime plus two, no change. I could have been at home on my sofa, having a nice cup of tea, watching the evening news. Instead I was sat at my desk, waving at the ceiling to turn the lights back on, waiting patiently for X to turn up. Half an hour later an email arrived announcing that X was ready, but only half of it, and that was all I was going to get. I packaged X up, wrote a diplomatically apologetic covering note and sent it off to Z. And then I went home, arriving nearly three hours later than usual. It happens sometimes.
On Tuesday morning I got a meeting request. Somebody more important than me wanted to hold a meeting starting half an hour after my usual hometime, duration one hour. It's always the way with last minute meetings, they're always either after work or at lunchtime, because those are the only slots available that "everyone can do". I smiled weakly, waited half an hour, then fired back my response. She'll have read it as "Yes", whereas really it was "oh go on then, but only because you're important, and the project is important, and this needs doing". Unlike the previous Tuesday I hadn't booked anywhere to be, so this meeting was only going to be an inconvenience, not a evening-stopper. When my usual hometime came round I made an extra cup of tea, watched as others packed up and left, and got some X ready for the meeting. I wasn't complaining, it's all part of the job, but I'd rather have been somewhere else. During the meeting we spent so long picking apart U, V and W that there wasn't any time to discuss X, so I never got a chance to mention all the good work I'd done the previous night. And we overran, because last meetings of the day always do, because nobody's standing outside glaring through the glass waiting for everyone to leave. By the time I'd got back to my desk there were emails to deal with, to be forwarded to people working much later in the evening than me. And eventually I headed home, leaving more than two hours later than usual. It happens sometimes.
I'm not sure about tonight. I don't have any meetings booked in my calendar, and there are no definite plans for things to finish late. But there is a deadline looming, and a lot of that relies on other people doing their stuff first, so things might not go as planned. I might get out at the usual time, but more likely not, so I haven't planned anything after work tonight either. It could well be another late one, and I have very little control over whether it is or isn't. It happens sometimes.
Look, I'm not complaining. But it did get me wondering. It struck me that different jobs vary a great deal in the freedom they give you over your hometime. Perhaps more importantly, different jobs vary a great deal in the certainty they give you to know your hometime and to stick to it. So I've tried to come up with a 10-point scale to gauge where I might stand on the matter of predictable clocking-off.
The Hometime Uncertainty Index 0) I don't have a job. 1) I work for myself and I can stop whenever I like. 2) I have a set hometime, and I can always stick to it. 3) I work flexibly, and can I usually stop when I please. 4) I have a typical hometime, and I can normally stick to it. 5) I have an expected hometime, and I can sometimes stick to it. 6) I have an average hometime, but I can't rely on it. 7) I have a notional hometime, but it almost never happens. 8) I have to work until the job is done, however long it takes. 9) I get home eventually, but I still have to check in with work. 10) I'm always on call, my work never ends.
I've had an 8 job before. I couldn't plan to do much of an evening because there was always lots to do and I never knew when it'd be finished. I've had a 5 job before, which had widely varying hometimes each day, but at least I usually knew when they were in advance. I've never had a 9 job, thankfully, because at work I'm one rung below those deemed Blackberry-worthy. I reckon my current job is a 4, because I do generally get home when I expect and weeks like this are the exception. So I should stop complaining, and rejoice in the general predictability of my employment. Because we don't all have that, or indeed have work at all. I hope you're not a 10.