The kids have gone to bed and the nightly news is on. That means one thing: Laura Gamble has another hour of work to do before bed.
Gamble, president of Bank of America Maryland, works regular business hours and also finds herself writing e-mails, reading articles and catching up during her free moments a few evenings a week and on weekends.
The concept of taking work home didn't end with school. Millions of American workers like Gamble are bringing work home on a weekly or daily basis, which raises the question: Does anyone work 9 to 5 anymore? Demanding workloads, hectic schedules and portable technology have all made working from home convenient, widespread and, in some workplaces, the norm.
"I can really work from just about anywhere now," Gamble said. "Work becomes less of a straight-line proposition - you can take a break and then go back to it."
Peter Handal, president and chief executive of Dale Carnegie Training, a workplace consulting-firm based in New York, said it is all part of an economy in which companies keep searching for ways to stay competitive.
"The reality of the workplace today is that companies have to do more, better and faster, but with less resources," Handal said. "It puts more pressure on the people that are in the company, and they get stretched more and more."
Despite being a common practice these days, few companies have written polices about it or keep track of how many of their employees take work home, said Jen Jorgensen, spokeswoman for the Society of Human Resource Managers, a national organization based in Virginia.
One in five Americans do some or all of their work at home, according to a 2004 study measuring time use by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Like many companies, the choice to take work home is an individual decision at SafeNet Inc., a Belcamp-based information security company.
Earlier this month, a SafeNet employee put a list of company's employees, and their Social Security numbers, in his briefcase do some work over the weekend. He left the briefcase in his car, and it was stolen during a break-in.
The company is revising its policies and procedures on taking company information out of the office, a practice that is typical at SafeNet, especially among workers who travel often, said Amber Zentis, the company's vice president of corporate communications.
"It was truly an accident," Zentis said. "I think it would be counterproductive to tell people they couldn't take work home.
"We all work on different cycles - sometimes I work better during different times," she said. "I don't think people are working all the time, they're just choosing their best times to do work."
Taking work home is part of the company's effort to be family friendly, she said, because it allows people to leave the office earlier to spend time with their children during the evenings.
Experts say that kind of flexibility is healthy for workers who manage it correctly. But the opportunities that technology and elastic schedules offer also can help build bad habits such as poor organization or low productivity, said Lonnie Pacelli, a workplace and career expert based in Sammamish, Wash.
Some people equate the quality of their work with how many hours they put in, but that doesn't mean they are working harder, he said.
"You have to ask yourself, `Am I really being that effective during the day, or could I squeeze in a little productivity and avoid having to take work home at night?'" Pacelli said. "Some people just enjoy saying, `Oh, I worked so hard this week.' ... What's being said in the background is that `I'm so needed, the job can't be done without me.'"
Pacelli, a former Microsoft executive, said taking work home is OK as long as it doesn't interfere with home life. He once thought he had achieved a good balance between his work and family obligations until he asked his wife about it. She was disappointed that he never ate dinner with the rest of the family.
He learned to schedule the family dinner into his organizer just like any other task.
"It's up to you to manage your career and manage your work-life balance," Pacelli said. "Scheduling time for yourself is a great means to see truly how much you have to do. ... When you really schedule your work in, when you stick to your schedule, you probably get a heck of a lot more done that you would otherwise."
At Bank of America, Gamble reserves her office hours for meetings and other tasks that have to be done in person.
Her workload has become heavier as she has advanced in her career. But Gamble doesn't think she is doing more work than people did when she started with the company 20 years ago.
She remembers that back then, employees would stay late or come in on weekends to meet deadlines or catch up on work.
Gamble usually spends a few hours working on Saturdays, but she doesn't have to leave home. She does run into problems because her husband, who works in corporate finance, also works at home often.