Career Clinic: will laptops lead to being on call 24 hours a day?

Q: I am a social worker in a local authority children’s services department that has taken on a new IT case management system. We will all be given laptop PCs so that we can access the system. I am worried that this will prove difficult to use and that the new focus on remote working will lead to an expectation that work will be completed outside office hours. Can you advise what I can do to keep my IT skills up to date and make sure that the introduction of laptops doesn’t mean I’m working 24/7?

A: Anxiety about having to learn your way around a new system is completely understandable, and you’re right to focus on making sure IT skills are up to scratch, writes Andrew Smith. Many local authorities perform in-house IT training, and you should certainly ask your line manager to organise some extra training sessions – just half an hour should help you immensely.

Normal practice is for the IT supplier to provide in-house training during the trial stages before it goes live and you should ask your line manager to be involved in this from the beginning; that way you will be up and running when it goes live. If you still don’t feel that you have the skills needed you can ask for the IT supplier to come in and supply additional training – they are experts and will have an account manager on hand to help ensure all the social workers are comfortable with the new system.

I can understand your concerns that a laptop can lead to 24/7 working – the increase in BlackBerry addicts means many people are working outside of office hours. However, the laptops are actually designed to achieve the opposite by allowing you to update case notes remotely rather than having to drive back to the office after each site visit to update them. This means you can spend more time on visits rather than driving back and forth to the office.

Being “able to” work outside of working hours should not be the same as “having to” work outside of working hours, and it is unreasonable for managers to expect you to work all hours. If you do feel that remote working has increased your caseload then I would advise a gentle word with your line manager that their expectations are proving too stressful.

But, the best advice I can give you is the same for all users of mobile devices, be it a BlackBerry or an iPhone: turn it off or leave it in another room once you are back home.

Andrew Smith, children’s services specialist, Liquidlogic – a company that provides software to the public sector

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