Maybe those "electronic bracelets" for people under house arrest should have been a clue.
In the mobile '90s, the laptop computer, fax machine and cellular phone are supposed to be the great liberators, allowing professionals to work any time, anywhere.Empowered employees would be freed from the supervisor who squelches creativity by lurking near their desks, unchained from the tyranny of the structured day, released from the quiet desperation of life at the office. The new productivity would mean a shorter work day, leaving more time for family and friends or contemplative arts like haiku and roller derby.
Once again, however, euphoria and reality collide.
The new office technology is having a decidedly double-edged impact, a new survey of "untethered" employees finds. Untethered, or mobile, employees may have more freedom from supervision, but they work longer hours under more severe deadline pressure than do their tethered counterparts at the office, according to the report by the Daniel Yankelovich Group, the market research company, which released its survey Wednesday. The study was commissioned by Mobile Office Magazine.
For many employees, the phrase "leave it at the office" has become obsolete.
"It's a dog-eat-dog world," said Larry Reich, a division manager with the retailer J&R Music and Computer World in New York City, who has a desktop computer when he needs to be in the office but prefers to ramble with his Powerbook, his Apple Newton and his cellular phone.
"You want to be in touch, even with your boss," he said. "You want to stay on top of things."
The Yankelovich survey, which included a range of ages, industries, occupations and levels of achievement, found that a work-week of 50 to 70 hours was not unusual. Luckily, the survey found, these people tend to describe themselves as having "higher-than-average energy levels" and the stamina to work ever-longer hours.
Mobile employees also are proud of their technological facility - something already clear to air travelers who have found themselves trapped in 747 seat between two executives discussing the fine points of nickel metal hydride batteries.
And for such people, conversations about the workweek can sound like an Outward Bound course. "Anecdotes about reports prepared in a hotel room on one coast after a full day's work, which are on the desk of top executives on the other coast the next day," the report said, "have replaced stories of how many new restaurants, clubs, piano bars were visited."
Many members of the survey group said they were aware that long working hours cut into time with the family. But most said they could juggle commitments at home and, as the report expressed it, by "utilizing every moment of time to maximum advantage."
Some mobile workers stay in touch with their children by fax and e-mail. The report notes that children find "such innovations `cool.' "