For many, the Y2K party will be at the water cooler

Workers and bosses watching for year-end computer glitches will be on

By , Special correspondent of The Christian Science

Grumbling over the fact that you're going to miss the biggest party of the millennium?

Join the club.

Because of the now infamous Y2K computer bug, tens of thousands of American workers - from computer technicians and customer-service representatives to chief executives - will be ringing in the new year at the office.

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That's right.

Companies have spent years - not to mention billions of dollars - to make sure that at the stroke of midnight on Dec. 31 computers worldwide will recognize '00 as the year 2000 instead of 1900. And while most businesses expect an uneventful night, they're not taking any risks. They're setting up command posts and "SWAT" teams to ensure all systems are go.

"I've been on this for 3-1/2 years," says Chas Snyder, vice president of applications delivery for Levi Strauss, who will be one of two-dozen employees camped out New Year's Eve weekend at the company's San Francisco headquarters. "When you've been with it this long, you have to ride it out all the way."

Many companies have blacked out vacation at the end of year. Others are requiring employees to arm themselves with beepers and pagers to be on call.

To appease the pain of workers who have to miss the biggest party of the millennium, companies are handing out extra days off and cash bonuses, not to mention planning their own versions of Dick Clark's Times Square countdown. Others are holding off on their celebration until they deem they have something to celebrate. Levi Strauss will order plenty of takeout and roll in TVs for a weekend of movies.

"We'll pick something appropriate, like "Tron," Mr. Snyder says. "Or maybe more appropriately, one of those millennium-type movies."

No doubt this could be the heaviest working holiday ever. A recent survey of US corporations and government agencies by information technology (IT) consultant Cap Gemini America found that 96 percent plan to beef up staffing the last week of '99 and the first week of the new year.

Y2K expert Howard Rubin estimates that 500,000 people will work New Year's Eve at corporate America's command centers around the country. He also estimates that 1 in 5 people (roughly 3.2 million workers) working on New Year's Eve would not traditionally be on the job.

Chevron Corp. is setting up a 40- person-strong command center in San Ramon, Calif., that will take reports from Y2K teams staked out in its 23 operating companies around the globe.

"We'll follow the sun," says spokeswoman Nancy Malinowski, who will be working. "We start in Papua, New Guinea, and end in Hawaii. It will take several days."

Even the vice chairman will be spending his New Year's Eve at command central. So will Motorola's chief executive officer. Chipmaker Intel will also have several thousand people set up around the world to watch the Y2K ball drop.

Autozone, a Memphis-based auto parts retail chain, will have IT people scheduled around the clock beginning Dec. 31 through the first week of the new year. Back in February, the company requested that its 40,000 employees take their vacation before December.

Some companies have worked extra hard to try to make sure that no one is actually in the office at midnight on Dec. 31.

Autodesk, a software company in San Rafael, Calif., will have its US employees watch the rollover in Asia and Europe. Then the US team will go home, and Europe will monitor operations in the US.

Still, plenty of workers don't seem to mind missing the party. In the IT world, in particular, working at night or on the weekends or holidays is part of the job.

"This really isn't anything new for IT," says Levi Strauss's Snyder.

If you're one of those who really doesn't care about "the big party," why not volunteer to work and earn a few extra points with management, suggests Rob Nelson, author of "1001 Ways to Take Initiative at Work."

"If you're willing to do that, you can get some mileage out of it," he says.

Says Motorola's Scott Wyman: "It's not something that you mind doing every thousand years or so."

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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