Work-life balance works both ways

There are pluses and minuses to telecommuting, ICT professionals tell Mary K Pratt

Companies that promote a healthy work-life balance generally have corporate-wide policies and guidelines that allow individual employees and their managers to set up flexible work arrangements.

That doesn’t mean that all ICT jobs are suitable for every flexible arrangement, however, says Mary Finlay, deputy CIO at Partners HealthCare System in the US.

For example, she says, employees whose duties include fixing broken PCs and other hardware can’t telecommute. Some production-support positions can’t be done part-time or from home, says Lisa Adragna, a senior project specialist at the organisation. And some technical support positions tied to patient-care systems need to follow core business hours because of their critical nature, which means those staffers can’t work non-traditional hours.

The same is true at American Century Investments. “Some people have to physically be here,” says Keith Little, a network engineering adviser at the firm. He points to the computer operations group as an example. “They have to be here because they’re swapping out tapes or disk drives.”

Some companies are more restrictive. In June, Hewlett-Packard brought back into the office some ICT employees who had been working from home. An HP spokesman told Computerworld at the time that the move was to “facilitate face-to-face interaction and increase team effectiveness”.

On the other hand, some ICT shops are finding that positions long presumed to be office-bound can be done remotely, part time or during non-traditional hours. “Today, there’s not a whole lot I can’t do from home,” Little says. That includes dealing with a crisis such as a network crash. In fact, fixing that kind of problem from home can be better for the company than doing it the traditional way. Little and others in network services are equipped with laptops and have broadband access at home (an expense the company picks up). So if there’s a network problem at 2am, not only can they usually fix it from home, but they can also do it with significantly less downtime than would be required if they had to commute to the office.

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