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Prepare for the always-on backlash

When the Australian Computer Society produced its survey of work habits late last month it found that more than one in five ICT workers spent more than 50 hours a week on the job. Instead of liberating workers, technology is ensnaring us. Well prepare for a backlash.

Speaking at Ne(x)twork, a conference organised by Fuji Xerox to explore the future of work, Scott Mason, director of products, marketing and strategy for Optus Business said that he hoped 'there is a bit of a backlash. We are so 'on' all the time.'

Stressing this was a personal rather than Optus viewpoint Mr Mason said that in the future people might come to question some of the health impacts of expecting employees to be available for work around the clock.

He said already there were concerns about teenagers' constant use of computer screens and lack of sleep. 'There may be a time when we all have to have some specific downtime,' he said.

Beth Winchester, executive general manager of human resources at Fuji Xerox, said that from an HR perspective; 'I have more requests about how to help stop people working than to start working.'

Ms Winchester said in addition health and safety professionals were 'freaking out' about the use of technology for work purposes in employees' home offices where it could not be monitored.

Cisco chief technology officer Kevin Bloch meanwhile hoped there would not be a backlash but he acknowledged that it was important to identify the difference between 'being efficient and working 24 hours a day versus being effective.'

Steve Godbee, IBM Australia CIO, said that it was a question of balance. 'If someone feels they have got to be connected 24x7 then it becomes the role of the manager to be on top of the worker,' and deal with the issue before it led to employee burnout.

The rollout of consumer devices into the workplace is further blurring the boundaries between work and private time. According to Mr Bloch Australia was leading the charge toward adoption of BYO device in the region.

He said that internationally corporate budgets were flat or slightly negative but the total ICT sector revenues were up by 17 per cent. 'That's because of IT purchased outside of IT,' he said.

Mr Mason said that BYO was more popular than people realised as there was a lot of unofficial BYO taking place, spurred to some extent by the rising popularity of tablets. He said that 'Within a month (of the launch) we had 4,000 iPads accessing our network, but we don't sell iPads.

'I'm sure their HR directors didn't know' they were using the devices at work, he said.

The speakers at the panel session said that as a result of the consumerisation of technology and the fact that it allowed employees to be always on, that there needed to be room for workplace transformation and cultural change in order to account for the new way of working where 'the office is no longer the office.'



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