Network pros feel effects of the connectivity curse

There’s no getting away from it – connectivity can be a curse.

The fabric of pervasive networking may be forging a prison for many business and IT professionals. The workday might pause at 5 p.m., but it does not end. Instead of sharing dinner with their families and put their children to bed at the end of a long day, too many hard-working folks are retreating to home/offices, cranking open laptops, syncing PDAs, checking schedules for the following day and beginning the working night.

It’s bad enough that those who work in the IT industry give an inordinate amount of time during the week and on weekends to important and often highly stressful jobs. Many business and IT pros see no distinction between working and everyday lives.

This fact was made clear in a late June press release from network equipment maker Avaya, which declares: “An increasing number of vacationing workers include laptop computers, cell phones and PDAs with their beach towels, sunscreen and paperbacks in order to stay in touch with office business.”

It goes on to provide highlights from a 300-person survey of IT professionals in a variety of industries, revealing:

– That 85 per cent of respondents remain accessible to co-workers during nights, weekends and vacations,

– That 76 per cent regularly retrieve messages during “off time,” and,

– That 54 per cent say they sometimes feel “overwhelmed by pervasive communications, with a whopping 93 per cent of that respondent group reporting a “negative effect on quality of life.”

Networks may have dramatically improved working productivity, but judging by the results of this survey, anytime/anywhere connectivity is killing quality of life and compelling workers to toil harder and longer than ever. Avaya takes the opportunity in its press release to introduce a newly formed consulting practice, which the company declares can help businesses build better communication infrastructures to more effectively deal with such incessant workload demands. The inference seems too be that converged and highly integrated communication tools and systems provide the ability to better manage workloads.

“Ultimately these improvements should also help workers manage personal time more effectively and enjoyably, too,” says a principal of the communication equipment maker’s consulting and integration practice. He adds: “It’s clear from our research that enterprises stand to benefit like never before from communications, but they can use some help in doing so.

For instance, we find enterprises using architectures and processes that can be made more efficient. We can help these firms by designing solutions that streamline processes, improve quality and cost less to run. It’s all about optimizing performance and creating a seamless, consistent customer experience.”

Nothing is said about the plight of professionals who, because of accessibility through various “connected” media and devices, may have become so damned busy that the last thing they seem to need is more of the same. Building a better communications infrastructure is all fine and nice, but the Avaya research would seem to point to a rather disturbing trend: business and IT professions can’t get away from their jobs.

How does an integrated network – which would effectively allow business and IT professionals to collaborate with whomever they choose, whenever they choose, and conversely allow co-workers and customers to do likewise – help them to more effectively manage their time?

Avaya identifies a need to simplify communication systems, but it seems much more apparent that the real need revealed by the research is that for many business and IT professionals life must be made simpler. Connectivity is a curse if vacationing business and IT professionals feel compelled to pack their laptops and cell phones with their bathing suits and suntan oil.

Working after regular business hours and while on vacation has become a business expectation. But from a business standpoint, is it really a good thing that employees increasingly feel they must put in such time in order to demonstrate their commitment and, in a much more practical sense, to have any chance of managing the work with which they are tasked? Wasn’t it long ago agreed that down time for working professionals is essential? Among other things, it may allow people to bring a reinvigorated attitude and renewed energy back to their jobs. Quality suffers when people are tired, stressed and overwhelmed. It’s why they need a vacation.

Rest provides an essential refresh and many would agree that they are much more creative and productive after having spent time away from the job. Shouldn’t businesses insist that employees leave their laptops, PDAs and other remote access-enabled business devices at the office, when they embark on a vacation?

Working after hours should be a strong indication that, among other things, employees have too much to do and need support, which would help them more effectively manage (reduce?) workloads. Does an individual who is more accessible, but as a result works 60-80 hours a week, really do a better job? Can they possibly be at their best when there is no escape from a busy working life? What is the cost to their health and personal lives? Should businesses care?

Avaya’s research seems to strongly suggest “yes” to all of the above.

McLean is director, strategic partnering and alliances research for IDC Canada Ltd. in Toronto. He can be reached at [email protected]

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