HK IT Professionals Work Hard for Love

HONG KONG (01/28/2000) - Money doesn't make the world go round, according to technology professionals who say that extended workdays are the norm in an IT work environment. Instead, the love of their job keeps many IT professionals laboring longer hours than ever before.

Working overtime has become commonplace in the IT industry, with some staff clocking more than 80 hours a week.

"Those who work in the industry mostly like their jobs and are mission-driven," said Jenny Chan, senior marketing officer at Country Tech, a local executive search firm that specializes in technology jobs. "Most IT companies don't offer overtime pay, so remuneration is not why they take up employment."

Hewlett-Packard Co., which has about 700 employees in its Hong Kong office, has a flexible work culture to accommodate long days. As a result, its staff can work whenever they want, from wherever they want.

"People have more tools these days [and] they can work whenever they have a chance to," said Jack Lee, managing director of Hewlett-Packard Hong Kong. "Be it from home, travelling, at customers' long as they can link up to the internal network, they can start sending e-mail, and retrieve reports."

Lee noted that he hasn't seen "people working longer hours than they're used to," but added that HP has had a culture where people work long hours anyway.

However, he noted that working longer hours does not necessarily equal higher productivity. "We are a company that has been very specific in terms of what we reward people for," he said. "We do not reward people for the amount of work; we reward people for results."

Computer & Technologies Managing Director Andrew So, who is used to working flexible hours, said that he encourages his staff to work from home.

"I think it's very effective and saves on travel time," he said. But he noted that the small home environment in Hong Kong might not be conducive to working.

"I think with the improvement in communication and broadband, it's feasible to work remotely, but whether it's practical, it depends on the living environment," So said. "But it doesn't [hurt] a company to have multiple development sites."

So said that his company is considering setting up small offices around Hong Kong that are more accessible to employees. "If we have a lot of people staying in Sai Kung, we could get a small office there and put five or six people with a leased line to the head office and do development from there," he said. "This could help shorten the [amount of] travel time, which could be spent on work."

In addition to travel, IT mangers recognize that there are times when projects are time-intensive. "There are projects that need continuation of thoughts," said Lee. "It may be more productive for a team of people to work continuously for 12 to 16 hours to complete a task or project rather than in a set of three sessions, eight hours each."

"I wouldn't say [the hours] are unreasonable [although] sometimes you have to do weekends or stay till one or two in the morning," said Melanie Lowe-Hansen, associate marketing director for the Web Connection. "But I cannot emphasize enough the enthusiasm people have for the work, because it's exciting."

Lowe-Hansen added that although her company doesn't have a formal policy that encourages flexible working hours, managers and supervisors are fairly flexible. "They can see when their staff are burning out and are tired and need some time off."

Rewarding staff for continuous hard work appears to be prevalent in most technology firms. From compensation days off to trips around the region, there are perks for working overtime.

"Depending on their contribution, sometimes they'll get a few days off at the end of the project, sometimes even a trip to Macao or the Mainland," So said.

"It's not very expensive¬Öbut it's still a good incentive."

So added that depending on which project his staff is working on, motivating his employees usually isn't a problem. "If the project is very exciting and challenging, the staff will work overtime voluntarily," he said. "Most staff prefer to work overtime to shorten the project cycle or as an opportunity to participate in the project."

"For a lot of our good technical staff, the important thing is the satisfaction of the project itself," So said. "People join us not for the working hours, nor for the money, but to be involved in the project."