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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