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Be in control when you take your work home

Working from home can be both a blessing and a curse. Find out what a few TechRepublic employees think about the increasingly blurred line between their professional and private lives, and then let us know your opinion.

As laptops, cell phones, pagers, PDAs, and high-speed Internet access continue to enable a 24-hour connection to the office, the line between work and home is becoming increasingly blurred. At TechRepublic, we refer to this phenomenon as the "pervasive workplace."

Pervasive Workplace Coversation Series: TechRepublic is reexamining how work is encroaching on the personal lives of IT professionals via constant connectivity and ever-growing performance demands. Our Pervasive Workplace Coversation Series gathers TechRepublic resources, old and new, that examine how employers can help employees balance work and family demands and what strategies employees can use to save some time for themselves.

Some people feel that this constant link to their professional life is a burden, while others believe it allows for a more flexible schedule. In an effort to start a conversation about the realities of dealing with a pervasive workplace situation, we'd like for you to share your thoughts and experiences.

To begin this discussion, I talked with two of my TechRepublic coworkers, Ed Engelking and Ted Laun. Both Ed and Ted have different methods for handling the pervasive workplace. Here are their tailor-made solutions to this new mode of working, along with my own.

Little distinction between work and home

For me, there has never been a clear distinction between work and home. There are jobs I do for which I get paid, and then there are tasks I perform without payment. Since most of my actions ultimately affect the well being of my family and myself, all of my endeavors are significant and require completion. Whether I complete them at home or in an office makes no difference to me.

The ability to work from home gives me more control over when and how I work. While working from my small kitchen desk does have its drawbacks, and sometimes my fiancée wishes I wasn't on the computer after 5:00 PM, overall, I find the pervasive workplace more beneficial than harmful. If I need a two-hour lunch to take care of personal business, I just work a little from home to make up for it. I like being in control of my time, even if that means sometimes working from home.

When your work is also your hobby

Ted Laun, a technical analyst at TechRepublic, believes it's "nearly impossible" to separate his professional and private life. PCs are not only Ted's profession, but also his hobby. The first thing he usually does after getting home from work is fire up his laptop and check his e-mail. This connection allows him to stay on top of emergencies that happen outside of normal business hours.

However, Ted emphasizes that this situation is totally of his choosing. He doesn't carry a pager or cell phone, and when he's busy doing something else, the e-mail can wait until tomorrow. Ted also compares his propensity for checking his e-mail to answering the phone. When a new message arrives, he wants to look at it just to make sure he's not missing something.

Don't overdo it

Ed Engelking, the Web editor for both Support and NetAdmin Republics, also agrees that working from home offers him flexibility and control over his schedule but warns against the tendency of many IT pros to overdo it. When he first started at TechRepublic, Ed says he took on too much responsibility. He simply had too much work to do and not enough time during the regular workday to finish it. "To get the work done," Ed says, "I had to work from home. I routinely worked eight hours at the office and then five or six more each night. I really didn't worry about the hours, I was just really happy to be here and wanted to show that I could get the work done." Unfortunately, the strain of this intense schedule put Ed in the hospital for stress and exhaustion.

Thankfully, after that episode, Ed was able to significantly cut back on his work hours. Now he describes working from home as a "luxury." In the event that he needs or wants to work from home, the ability and opportunity are there. Ed says he also enjoys being constantly connected to the office. For several months, he was using a BlackBerry that allowed him to check his e-mail without being near a computer. Having this ability, according to Ed, was "freeing," because he was no longer tied to the computer. Like Ted, Ed also stressed that this was entirely his choice. If he received an e-mail that he thought was an emergency, he answered it. If not, then it waited until the next day.

Control your own destiny

I learned a lot from talking with my coworkers, and I'm encouraged by their general acceptance of and positive attitude toward the pervasive workplace. There are two important things I want you to take away from reading this article. First, everyone's situation is unique. Find a balance between your personal and private life that works for you and stay with it. Remember that this balance may change over time. Second, and most importantly, make sure that you control the pervasive workplace and that it doesn't control you. It's okay to integrate your personal and private lives, just make sure you are functioning on a comfortable level.

About Bill Detwiler

Bill Detwiler is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and Tech Pro Research and the host of Cracking Open, CNET and TechRepublic's popular online show. Prior to joining TechRepublic in 2000, Bill was an IT manager, database administrator, and desktop supp...

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