Though some tech professionals might prefer to work all night and sleep all day, that does not necessarily bind them to the brotherhood of the undead. It does, however, mean they might be better off being unbound by many rules that govern other employees' temporal existence.
"I've had more success letting the folks I manage work on projects when they want to, rather than restraining them to 9-to-5 work days," says Nicholas Percoco, senior vice president and head of Trustwave's SpiderLabs, a cloud-based compliance and information security provider. "They're always held accountable for completing tasks and working as a team, but allowing them to do it when they're most productive leads to better results for the company."
Smart managers recognize that geeks are different than their average employee and give a wide latitude for alternative hours, dress, and behavior, says Richard J. Sherman, author of "Supply Chain Transformation: Practical Roadmap to Best Practice Results."
"Let them work in soft light, let them listen to their music, let the surf the Web, let them find their own technical muse," Sherman says. "As for time, they cannot have any boundaries. They will work for 72 hours straight when the muse finds them, and they will take 72 hours off when a new release of a computer game comes out. Let them be."
When they spy a techie fiddling with an iPhone or playing a game, many managers see unnecessary distractions that drain productivity. But the geek sees inspiration -- or at least something to occupy the lizard brain while their higher thinking chews on tougher problems.
"Managers don't understand the emotional connection geeks feel toward their personal devices," says Bill Rosenthal, CEO of Logical Operations, which provides multichannel skills training to businesses. "For many, the feeling is so visceral that policies restricting their use seem like an affront to them. It dampens their enthusiasm and undercuts their productivity."
That's especially true for the tools they need to do their jobs, says Brian Kelly, VP of engineering for TimeTrade Systems, maker of Web-based scheduling software.
"Most programmers work best when given the best tools for the job: fast computers, top-quality monitors, noise-canceling headphones, ergonomic chairs, and any software they need," says Kelly. "The most successful engineer-focused companies out there are well-known for giving their geeks great tools, and that's no coincidence. At TimeTrade we even describe the tools newly hired programmers will get in our online job postings. That certainly helps attract technical talent to the company."
When you see geeks glued to their phones or staring at screens for days on end in a seemingly comatose state, don't panic, advises Rod Bagg, VP of customer support for Nimble Storage, a provider of flash-optimized hybrid storage arrays.
"The wheels are churning," he says. "They're going to get it done. Just stay out of their way."