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When it comes to the politically charged issue of working hours, what group do you belong to? Are you militant about your working day, switching on only when it’s appropriate in your time zone and shutting-down promptly at 18.00? Despite the fact that you travel with enough communications devices to run a small military campaign, do you still like to post messages explaining that you’re on the road and “will have limited access” to email? Are you adamant about the fact that clients need to work to your ­­­time zone (Eastern Standard Time) and conference calls outside 09.00-18.00 EST simply won’t happen?

If you can confidently (and happily) answer “yes” to any of these then you fall into a sizeable if dwindling species known as OOOrs – out-of-office repliers. If on the other hand you’ve developed sleeping problems because you lie in bed waiting to see the red glow of your BlackBerry flash against the ceiling; or you find yourself booking two dinner meetings and a round of client drinks in the same evening while in Osaka; or you’ll take a business call no matter how anti-social the time on your watch face – then you’re a card-carrying, fully registered family member of the mid-size but rapidly expanding OAH (open all hours) species.

In a world that’s already fractured along too many ideological lines, the working day is about to become a new battleground that won’t only be pitching HR consultants against maniac CEOs – or trade unions doing battle with employment ministries – it will also see whole continents fighting for both moral, and ultimately economic, supremacy in the great work versus rest debate.

While OOORs can pop up anywhere on the planet, they frequently hail from Germany, France, Switzerland, the UK , pockets of the US and Australia. Large concentrations can be found in European public institutions, and there’s growing documented evidence that some OOORs even have dedicated keys on their laptops that they can effortlessly tap to let people know that they’re out of range and reach. As many European economies struggle to keep their heads above water, with others already on life-support, it’s becoming clear that this type of behaviour might also signal that you’re not just “away from the business” but on a fast- track to being “out of business”.

OAHs are mostly found living in Asia, though some North Americans claim to have OAH blood in their veins. In truth, very few do when compared to pure bloods found on management floors in Seoul, production offices in Kowloon and assembly lines in Nagoya. As more economies rely on everything from logistics and final assembly to wire transfers from South Korea, Taiwan and Singapore, the Asian working day is starting to impact on working hours in Stockholm, London, Madrid and New York more than ever. In our business essay (see page 78) our correspondent Sophie Grove reveals that, while the working day is still a rigid and quite traditional affair in most markets, faster communications are going to challenge the supremacy of both GMT and EST, because European and American business hubs will need to be more in sync with workers from Busan, Harbin and Sapporo.

While being an OAH is certainly not sustainable in the long run, it’s also clear that developed economies west of Istanbul are going to have to break with some cherished timekeeping and holiday habits and become more responsive.

×The Continental Shift

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