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<nettime> Rachel Konrad: For Some Techies, an Interminable Workday
Geert Lovink on Wed, 18 May 2005 19:54:37 +0200 (CEST)


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<nettime> Rachel Konrad: For Some Techies, an Interminable Workday


(welcome to the flat world, techies and geeks. no fun, no choice? worth
reading! /geert)

For Some Techies, an Interminable Workday
By Rachel Konrad (AP)

SANTA CLARA, Calif. - The traffic jam ended hours ago, the parking lot
is nearly empty and fluorescent lights are dimmed at PortalPlayer Inc.,
where the nightly brainstorming session is about to begin.

Instead of gathering the few remaining souls from their cubicles, three
managers move into a conference room to dial India, where engineers 12
1/2 time zones ahead are just arriving in Hyderabad.

As colleagues on opposite sides of the globe discuss circuit board
configurations and debugging strategies for a project code-named
"Doppelganger," it's just the start of another endless day for the
company. Within twelve hours, Indian workers will end their day with
calls and e-mails to California, where managers in the Santa Clara
headquarters will just be waking up.

"We keep passing the baton between California and India, and that way we
can cram a lot more work into a 24-hour period," said Jeff Hawkey, vice
president of hardware engineering, who conducts evening meetings from
the office or on his laptop at home. "A lot of nights, I go home, tuck
the kids into bed and then get on the conference call."

Executives at PortalPlayer, which makes chips and software for portable
music devices such as the iPod, say having 90 employees in Hyderabad
nearly doubles the amount of engineering work that gets done in 24
hours. That shrinks production cycles and lets the 6-year-old company
stay ahead of bigger semiconductor rivals.

Thousands of other tech companies have similar baton-passing rituals.
"Offshoring" -- the migration of jobs to lower-cost countries such a
India, China and Russia -- remains politically sensitive because of the
tepid U.S. job market. But executives insist that cheaper labor and
faster work flow have made offshoring a fact of life for everyone in the
industry.

Even the most unapologetic globalization proponents nevertheless
acknowledge that offshoring has resulted in longer, stranger hours for
white-collar workers in the United States. Some business experts worry
that the trend could result in massive burnout if offshoring isn't
properly managed.

Silicon Valley workers grumble that communicating with colleagues
overseas requires midnight teleconferences, 6 a.m. video meetings and
the annoying "pling" of instant messages and twittering cell phones all
night long. Although many techies swapped social lives for 80-hour weeks
during the ephemeral dot-com boom, the 24-hour business cycle seems even
more stressful than the caffeinated '90s: Today's long hours are less
likely to result in windfall bonuses or stock options, and there's no
end in sight.

"It's definitely a case of work creep -- everyone in this industry is
working harder right now because of e-mail, wireless access and
globalization," said Christopher Lochhead, chief marketing officer of
Mercury Interactive Inc., a Mountain View-based consulting firm in 35
countries, including Israel, where Sunday is a normal working day.  "You
can't even get a rest on the weekend," Lochhead said from his cell phone
in the Dallas airport after sales meetings in Mexico. "The reality is
that when you do business globally, somebody working for you is always
on the clock."

Some executives who ask workers to burn the midnight oil offer
flexibility -- longer lunch breaks, telecommuting privileges and
complimentary dinner if you work past 6 p.m. Others dismiss complainers
as spoiled or provincial -- after all, customer service representatives
in Asia have worked on U.S. schedules for more than a decade, so
why shouldn't Americans deal with time-zone challenges as the
industry globalizes?

The staunchest advocates say whiners should find new professions.
Richard Spitz, who leads the technology division of the recruiting fi
rm Korn/Ferry International, says corporate clients want employees who
embrace a 24-hour business cycle.

"If you want to play in the A league, you have to take on some
additional challenges," Spitz said. "It might not mean that you have 
to work around the clock for your entire career -- at some point, you
can step off the treadmill. But if you want to be in the business,
then you have to commit to this schedule for some period of time."

At what cost, however?

Some worry that the extra hours and unrelenting pace could have dire
consequences -- namely, widespread fatigue and brain drain in the
technology and financial services industries, the most aggressive
exporters of white-collar jobs. Steep turnover among sleep-deprived
managers could eventually lead senior executives to re-evaluate the
benefits of offshoring, said Peter Morici, an international business
professor at Robert H. Smith School of Business at University of
Maryland.

"You simply can't keep working a full day, put the kids to bed, take a
call from Malaysia, then go back fresh the next morning -- it's one
thing to do it for a couple weeks, but it's another to put up with th
is pain in the neck permanently," Morici said. "When executives talk
about the efficiencies of offshoring, they're often not factoring in
thelong-term human toll on management."

Staffing challenges may already be taking a toll. According to a study
released in April by Deloitte Consulting LLP, 62 percent of senior
executives interviewed at 25 large corporations said offshoring required
more management effort than they had originally thought. More than
half said they couldn't free up enough managers to superviseprojects.

Worker advocates compare the trend to the automobile industry phenomenon
of "speedup" in the 1920s, when Henry Ford increased assembly line speed
without paying workers more. Turnover mushroomed to 400 percent per
year in some Detroit-area plants, and the frenzied pace helped the
1930s union movement.

Marcus Courtney, president and organizer of WashTech, the Seattle-bas
ed branch of the Communication Workers of America, said few employers
pay overtime for midnight meetings or red-eyes to Shanghai. And while
many techies are proud workaholics, dawn teleconferences and 9 p.m.
hand-off meetings have stretched shifts to absurd lengths.

"In today's global economy, employees are seeing longer working hours,
greater job insecurity due to job exporting and fewer rewards and
opportunity," Courtney said. "I'm worried that the stress levels of
employees continues to rise and we are seeing a further eroding of the
50-hour work week."

Hours are particularly long at startups and when companies launch
overseas operations. But offshoring needn't result in burnout, season
ed executives say.

Peter Hazlehurst, senior vice president of engineering at financial
services software company Yodlee Inc., supervises 170 engineers,
including 30 in Redwood City and 140 in Bangalore, India.

Managers recently began alternating weekly meetings between 8 a.m.
Wednesdays and 9 p.m. Thursdays, so neither Americans nor Indians get
the late shift every time.

"People are more receptive when they realize that this relatively
challenging burden of working between time zones is a shared burden,"
Hazlehurst said.

It's unclear whether Silicon Valley's new work schedule will become t
he national norm as jobs migrate abroad -- or whether foreigners will
continue to staff the most brutal shifts. Roughly 830,000 U.S.
service-sector jobs -- ranging from telemarketers and accountants to
software engineers and chief technology officers -- will move abroad
by the end of 2005, and 3.4 million more jobs will leave over the next
decade, forecasts Forrester Research Inc.

Bombay-based consulting powerhouse Tata Consultancy Services employs
42,000 employees worldwide, including 14,000 people in India who hand
le U.S. projects. Their shifts are 7 a.m. to 3 p.m., or 2 p.m. to 10
p.m.  local time, not including frequent early or late meetings with
overseas clients, said Arup Gupta, president of Tata Consultancy
Services America.

"We can be the ones who put in the overlap time," Gupta said. "These
types of schedules are baked into India's DNA. We have to earn our
money somehow."


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