Corporations follow the sun

In a global economy, the 24-hour society is creating a new corporate philosophy of work: Follow the sun. Thanks to technology, managers of international companies can pass work from country to country.

Andrea Saveri, a director of the Institute for the Future in Menlo Park, Calif., calls it "leveraging time zones" and explains, "They're planning work based on the knowledge that they can finish at 9 at night and attach a file and send it somewhere else around the world where it's morning."

Recent research by the institute shows similar patterns evolving in India, Taipei, and Dublin. Instead of an eight-hour day, businesses are organizing work around a 24-hour schedule.

In the process, managers find that as they send work and projects across national borders and time zones, they sometimes overstep social boundaries and customs.

"We're really creating a work context in which cultural values around work and what's expected of somebody else are coming into contact with each other," says Ms. Saveri. Those social cultures might have different values concerning work, privacy, family life, and what constitutes too much stress.

This intersection of social and corporate cultures, Saveri says, raises intriguing questions, such as, "What does it mean to be an IBMer in Bangalore [India] or an IBMer in Silicon Valley, or a Motorolan in some part of the world? And at what points in your interaction with people does your social culture dominate the corporate culture to guide how you respond in situations?"

Offering an example, she frames another question, far from hypothetical: "Is it OK to demand a response or revision to something when you know it's 4 in the morning somewhere?" Yet working at all hours because co-workers or colleagues need it has its dark side. "That's when you start to get burnout," Saveri says.

She calls project managers and global team managers "pioneers" in finding ways to balance diverse cultures. They are the ones who will play key roles in developing social protocols to determine what is appropriate.

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