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The 'always-on' IT culture: Get used to it

Beth Stackpole | April 8, 2014
Thanks to factors ranging from BYOD and flexible work arrangements to the global economy, a broad range of IT roles demand around-the-clock accessibility. IT professionals say it's part of the territory and are devising strategies to cope.

That's how Scott Murray, business intelligence manager at Hospital Corporation of America (HCA), sees it. Murray, who has worked from home for six years, says he regularly emails or instant-messages with colleagues late at night or in the early morning hours, and he works some weekends to create reports tied to the monthly accounting cycle.

On the flip side, Murray coaches high school soccer and is out for practice from 3:45 to 5:30 p.m. every day during the season. "I feel like that's OK because I'm available on weekends and after work," he says. "If I were sitting in an office, there would be an expectation that I'd be there until 5 p.m. or later, and I couldn't do the coaching." Additionally, Murray doesn't go totally dark. "I still answer the phone at soccer practice," he says. "If something goes wrong, my boss knows he can reach me."

Establishing trust and respect helps make the "always-on" culture work for both IT employees and management, says Cynthia Hamburger, CIO/COO at Learning Ally, a nonprofit dedicated to helping people with learning disabilities. Hamburger, who has been a CIO at larger companies, including Dun & Bradstreet, says it's important to protect people's personal time and publicly acknowledge them when they go beyond the call of duty. But respecting personal time doesn't necessarily mean that weekends are off-limits.

"If you are on vacation with the family, unless the house is burning down, we will not contact you," she says. But for those who aren't taking paid time off, "there is an 'always available' mentality. It goes with an IT role and, unfortunately, the digitalization of the planet has made it worse," she adds. "There is an expectation that most forms of contact are checked pretty regularly."

While Hamburger says technology has made it easier for IT professionals to stay connected, she says the idea of 24/7 access is really nothing new, particularly among those interested in advancement. "People who have been the most successful in IT have had this work ethic all along," she says. "The technology has just made us much more accessible in real time."


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