A Working Vacation?

National Post Vacation Article
May 8th, 2003
Brad Grier

Breath deeply. Savour. That wonderful scent on the breeze is the smell of Holiday Season “ the period of time between the May and September long weekends when colleagues and co-workers juggle schedules, meetings and workflow to ensure that come Thursday afternoon the work week is over and the reward of a long summer weekend lies ahead.

Or does it? This summer, more than ever before, many Canadians feel it’s no longer an option to completely disconnect from the workplace while on vacation. Projects continue, clients need updates, and issues arise.

This begs the question; do you really need to stay connected to the office? Perhaps. For many people, keeping in touch with the workplace offers them a greater sense of comfort, enabling them to relax and enjoy their vacation more, rather than worrying about projects back at the office.
There are new tools that can make working on vacation less painful. Workers have the option to effectively participate in critical meetings or collaboratively revise that marketing plan from the comfort of an Adirondack chair on the deck, rather than miss the meeting, or have commute in to the office.

I had the good fortune to interview George Atis, a Bay Street lawyer for McMillan Binch, over the phone in his Ëœmobile office’, a wireless access point on the mezzanine level of the Royal Bank Plaza in the heart of downtown Toronto. He could have been on vacation in Banff and I wouldn’t have known the difference.

I feel comfortable in talking to you, said he said, while simultaneously monitoring his workplace through his wireless-enabled PC. It gives me the comfort to attend something that I otherwise wouldn’t, because I’d be too afraid of missing that important email.

George uses wireless technology to manipulate his work environment. He’s not tied to the office, he can work virtually anywhere, or anytime. Occasionally, that can be a challenge too. It’s really hard to put your PC away when you’re wireless and you’re used to accessing your data, from not only your office, but your home and wireless cafes and Bell access zones, he said. For the busy professional, I think, there’s no way of getting around it, he concluded.

Neil McDowell, Chartered Psychologist for FGI Services agrees. It allows them to get a breath of fresh air on one hand, and monitor things on the other. He also adds that connecting with work while on vacation can offer a sense of comfort and control. Returning to the workplace after a two-week vacation should yield fewer surprises and less stress because you know what’s been happening.

Then there’s the dark side of this scenario. It seems that not everyone can handle the freedom offered by these devices. Taken to an extreme, using this technology could result in an imbalance of work and life priorities. For those that are quite compulsive about it, they lose track of time and get immersed in detail, cautioned Mr. McDowell. They get caught up it, where people who are well organized and set their priorities don’t get immersed in it, he continued.

As more organizations adopt this technology, George Atis believes that more people will learn to better manage their work-life balance. There’s a whole new learning that has to take place when you can work from almost anywhere, he said.

Let’s look at this technology that enables you to work from almost anywhere. In the very near future, many office workers will have greater control and flexibility in the planning of their work and their environment, thanks to the convergence of intelligence devices and communications devices.

Converged devices, computers and communications, is really the wave of the future, and we’re building around technologies that further that, said Doug Cooper, Country Manager for Intel Canada. We believe that all computing devices will communicate, and all communications devices, things like cell phones and handheld devices, are going to need to compute, to become much more intelligent as time goes on, he continued.

He’s describing the philosophy Intel is using to develop its new Centrino wireless laptop technology. These new wireless-enabled laptops are releasing the shackles locking users to their wired connection in the office. You look at the typical Canadian, said Mr. Cooper. As soon as it warms up and the sun comes out, they want to be someplace other than in their office tower or air conditioned building. You can have a meeting over coffee, in a food court area and popup slides that are on the company network, he concluded.

Wireless connectivity does have its limits though. Your wireless-enabled computer must be within a wireless hotspot, a zone about 500 feet in diameter, to access your network. Throughout this year, major telecommunications providers will be rolling out wireless access hotspots in hotels, resorts, food courts and other public spaces across the nation.

Other options for the must-be-connected manager on their four-day weekend are the hand-held devices such as Personal Digital Assistants and smart cell phones. Research In Motion, a Canadian company, and Palm Computing are two organizations developing these devices.

These new workplace-wonders typically include a cell phone, email, text messaging, an organizer and other features. They’re not as powerful as laptops, but they’re not meant to do everything a laptop can do. They easily drop into your purse or clip to your belt, hardly noticeable when you’re at the beach.

While you can’t use them to work on files that exist on your corporate network directly, you can manage most of your daily office administration tasks with them. Most use the existing digital cell phone infrastructure nation-wide.

But, at the end of the day, a vacation is meant to rest and recharge. Whatever strategy you use to cope with an absence from the workplace, be it spending hours getting work done ahead of time, teaming with partners to cover for you, or even taking your workplace on vacation with you, rest assured there’ll still be more work waiting for you when you get back. So enjoy your vacation. Savour. Breath deeply.

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