Working holidays

Don't be lulled into a false sense of freedom with flexible working tools -- they too can restrict your "free" time.

commentary -- Don't be lulled into a false sense of freedom with flexible working tools -- they too can restrict your "free" time.

As I write this I am in Queenstown on a ski holiday. A well-earned, long-time-coming holiday has been a bit of a stranger to me of late -- I am sure I am not alone when I say that my work leaves me barely any time to plan a break, let alone actually take one.

You see it in many city offices -- budgets gets tighter, demands get higher, and the staffing levels slimmer. Unfortunately, coinciding with this increased demand on our time is the advance of mobile technology that allows us to stay connected to the office. Laptops, smart phones, Blackberries, and the like, mean we never have to miss out on a day's work, even when we are on the other side of the world.

In some ways it is a blessing -- the work you couldn't get completed in time for your holiday can be done while you are away -- but by the same token, it also raises the expectation that you will indeed have to get that work done, rather than leave it to someone else, or shock horror, leave it for when you get back! (How did work become so much more urgent?)

Thankfully on this trip that doesn't really apply to me as the amount of work I am doing is minimal -- I have a laptop, and I don't have to dial in to the office network, instead I will just be sending this column down the line and then I will be back on the slopes (after the necessary chanting to the weather gods for fresh snow of course -- so far they have come through, thanks guys).

For the first time I am glad I don't have a Blackberry, or similar device. In the past I have been envious of my friends and colleagues who have been sporting these babies but I know what I am like -- if I had one I wouldn't stop using it. Even on holidays, the urge to check my e-mail when it is so easily accessible would be a temptation too great to ignore.

As it is, the urge to make a few quick phone calls back to the office to make sure things are under control is hard to resist and I know I am not alone on this one. I am accompanied on this trip by a CIO, IT manager, and a network engineer -- all of whom are making calls to the office or receiving automated SMS messages from system-monitoring applications. In fact, the only person on this trip not doing that is the lawyer, going against every story I have ever heard about the grueling demands of a career in law. This lawyer actually gets 11 weeks holiday a year and has two colleagues to take over his work while on vacation -- nice, huh? The only thing he is checking on this trip is his new PSP (now that is a device I am envious of).

When people at work can't go five minutes without alt-tabbing back to their e-mail, when face-to-face meetings are almost non-existent because it is easier to send an instant message, and when you start checking your Blackberry and sending e-mails while watching TV at night with the family -- that is when you know that you have a problem on your hands. Unfortunately these are issues that are largely overlooked but should actually be dealt with when the technology is first introduced.

But it isn't always about the technology. Feel sorry for the friend of mine on this trip who is a ski instructor. He spends six days a week teaching people how to ski, then goes away on a holiday and winds up teaching his friends instead. But I better go, my lesson starts soon.

Natalie Hambly is editor of Technology & Business magazine. Contact her at

This article was first published in Technology & Business magazine.
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