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Working Late Smart work or Fate?
Sanjeev Jain
Saturday, April 1, 2006
After 6 pm, I don't want to stay a single minute in the office, but at the last moment things go awry and I end up working late,” rues Vikas Mehta, 24, a developer with India's largest banking software company i-flex Technologies in Bangalore.

He isn’t alone in his company staying or working late, thousands of programmers like him at diverse IT companies spread across the country end up working late. In an industry that demands timely delivery of codes built to order to the customer's specifications, it has become a daily ritual for techies to stay late in the office. The software industry works on hit and trial method. You write a code that is ready to be shipped and lo and behold- you are struck with an error. What do you do then? Work till you get rid of the error. “One small bug and every effort put to make the product goes waste and we stay late to rectify that,” says Mehta.

Everyone complains about working hours extending even up to midnights and to the weekends and sometimes on Sundays too. Wiry and energetic techies are at extreme ends but nobody seem to have a solution as yet. “It happens all the time. We get calls for clarifications, confirmation and small changes to be included in the project and the problem is that most of the time it comes from abroad,” says Arun Murthy, Associate Consultant, i-flex.

Infosys chief mentor Narayana Murthy says, “I know people who work 12 hours a day, six days a week, or more. Some people do so because of a work emergency where the long hours are only temporary. Other people I know have put in these hours for years. I don't know if they are working all these hours, but I do know they are in the office this long."

Such timings have wrecked havoc in their lives. A lack of team communication and ineffective meetings are the top time wasters. He says, “Little known to the team, it is always poor teamwork and endless meetings which ultimately comes out with nothing more than renewed deadlines.”

The implications are vast. "Whatever the reason for putting in overtime, working long hours over the long term is harmful to the person and to the organization," says Narayana Murthy. He is right. Techies may become restless. They will chide the team and team lead and that ultimately affects the morale of the team itself. This also affects the company as such boiling work pressure may force the employees to just leave the company.

But when most of them complain, there are others who love staying late in the office. Abhishek Rana, a programmer at HP says, “I am a workaholic and love working late. Nobody pressurizes me. I know if I have a work, I got to do it and no matter how long it takes. After that it's just a matter of time before I match my team members.”

Rana says techies should have interest in whatever they do. They should plan their targets and quota before actually attempting to do their work so that they don't have to work late. A Bangalore based techie Prateek Rathore says, “If a techie feels comfortable that his productivity will increase after everyone has left, he should go ahead and do it.”
Team leads too have a hard job to keep impatient techies from straying to, say, other companies or other departments in the company and should see to that the techies interest in the job is retained.

Hari Iyer, culture officer, Sasken Communication Techno-logies Limited says, “Team leads should identify where there is a late working problem and work with the team to look at ways of re-scheduling workloads and improving processes, so that this becomes an exception, not the norm.”

The team lead should give out an important message that late working was not expected except when tight deadlines needed to be met. Late working should be monitored through the security system. Departments where people are consistently working late should get help in redressing the situation as a priority.
Attitude surveys should also be done to gauge views about working hours and work-life balance so that mentoring can take place.
“It has long been argued that creative roles could not be done on a job-share basis and particularly if they are managed by other staff. However, the team lead should let others share jobs,” says Arun Murthy. Another option is to let more senior level job-sharing which will herald the way for others in an industry where there is resistance to change because of the nature of the work. “Moving to flexible working is amazing - it has changed my life,” says Rathore.

In addition, managers should work closely across departments to encourage a flexible attitude to working hours. The business benefits of adopting more flexible working are emphasized through evidence of improved staff retention levels that should be monitored quarterly.

Quite right in what Narayana Murthy says, “As Managers, there are things we can do to help people leave the office. First and foremost is to set the example and go home ourselves.”
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