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The 'always-on' IT culture: Get used to it

Around-the-clock accessibility is now expected for a broad range of IT roles. Here's how to cope.

April 7, 2014 06:30 AM ET

Computerworld - A couple of weeks into his job as lead QT developer at software development consultancy Opensoft, Louis Meadows heard a knock on his door sometime after midnight. On his doorstep was a colleague, cellphone and laptop in hand, ready to launch a Web session with the company CEO and a Japan-based technology partner to kick off the next project.

"It was a little bit of a surprise because I had to immediately get into the conversation, but I had no problem with it because midnight here is work time in Tokyo," says Meadows, who adds that after more than three decades as a developer, he has accepted that being available 24/7 goes with the territory of IT. "It doesn't bother me -- it's like living next to the train tracks. After a while, you forget the train is there."

Not every IT professional is as accepting as Meadows of the growing demand for around-the-clock accessibility, whether the commitment is as simple as fielding emails on weekends or as extreme as attending an impromptu meeting in the middle of the night. With smartphones and Web access pretty much standard fare among business professionals, people in a broad range of IT positions -- not just on-call roles like help desk technician or network administrator -- are expected to be an email or text message away, even during nontraditional working hours.

The results of Computerworld's 2014 Salary Survey confirm that the "always-on" mentality is prevalent in IT. Fifty-five percent of the 3,673 respondents said they communicate "frequently" or "very frequently" with the office in the evening, on weekends and holidays, and even when they're on vacation.

Read the full report: Computerworld IT Salary Survey 2014

TEKsystems reported similar findings in its "Stress & Pride" survey issued last May. According to the IT services and staffing firm, 41% of those polled said they were expected to be available 24/7 while 38% said they had to be accessible only during the traditional work hours of 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. The remaining 21% fell somewhere in between.

"Being on all the time is the new normal," says Jason Hayman, market research manager at TEKsystems. "[Bring-your-own-device] trends and flexible work arrangements have obliterated the traditional split between work and nonwork time, and IT gets hit hard."

The reality of staying relevant

Around-the-clock accessibility is not only part of the IT job description today, it's the reality of staying relevant in a climate where so many IT roles are outsourced overseas, according to Meadows. "Work can be done much cheaper in India, Russia or China," he says. "So you need to be able to get things done as fast as stuff happens in other places, and many more work hours are required to make that happen. When you sign up for this job, that's just the way it is."

Checking in

How frequently, on average, do you check messages or communicate with your office during nonscheduled work hours such as evenings, weekends, holidays or vacation?

• Very frequently: 22%
• Frequently: 33%
• Sometimes: 28%
• Rarely: 15%
• Never: 2%

Source: 2014 Computerworld IT Salary Survey; 3,673 respondents

Being available may be part of the job, but demands can become onerous, notes Robert Sample, formerly a senior technical analyst with Cox Media Group. "When I started in the 1998 to 1999 time frame, a person would be on call for a week, and typically you might get one or two contacts during off hours," says Sample, who is currently between jobs. "Over the last few years, the change has been toward immediate responsiveness and more active involvement."

At Cox Media, Sample was issued a BlackBerry that pinged him with an email alert when a trouble ticket was started. "Our SLA [service-level agreement] specified a response within four hours no matter what," he says. "That goal didn't even consider whether it was [during] work hours."



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