The Mobile Office: When Does a Good Thing Become a Bad Thing?

There is no doubt we are living through a revolutionary technological time that is changing the way people work. More and more, business people are becoming untethered – untethered to their desktop and desktop computer, untethered to the office, untethered even to the old 9 to 5 hours.

But is that a good thing or a bad thing?

On one hand, owners and employees are increasingly working where they want, how they want, and when they want. That’s great in many ways. But for not a few employees, the tool that has fostered this change the most – the smartphone – verges on becoming a chain that forces them to work too much.

Here is what I mean: The main reason for the mobile work revolution is technology of course. And although laptops, netbooks, notebooks and iPads are a big reason, probably the biggest reason and change is the advent of the smartphone.

People love their smartphones, unless those phones become a noose.

Recent surveys indicate just how much the workplace is changing and how significantly smartphones are changing the way we do business. A 2011 survey by the firm RingCentral indicated that 56% of those surveyed said that forgetting their smartphone at home was worse than forgetting their wallet. Other results included:

  • Although only 21% said they checked their phone for business once or twice a day, 65% said they check it multiple times a day. In fact, more than half surveyed said they were “addicted” to their smartphones.
  • Only 21% said the best thing about their phone was never missing an important call, whereas 49% said it was the ability to e-mail anytime, anywhere.
  • A full 60% said they are using their phone for business more in the last 12 months alone (15% said they used it 7 % more).

Let me suggest that these statistics are rather alarming.

On the positive side of the ledger, being able to work when and how you want brings with it of course incredible freedom. Most of us like that, except when we don’t. Finding yourself checking business emails while on the beach in Hawaii is definitely not a benefit.

But being able to check them while stranded at the airport is. It’s a tradeoff. But that same mobility and freedom, while especially great for a small business owner, can actually cause problems for employees if not handled correctly. If there is a downside to the mobility revolution, it is that the line between our work and personal lives grows ever fuzzier. And for employees, being on 24/7, or expecting your staff to be on 24/7, can cause burnout and resentment. Especially if the employee is not being compensated for the extra hours, having them work while home (because they can after all) is usually counter-productive.

So, while the mobility revolution is great in many ways, the savvy small business owner will make sure that his or her technology serves the business, and not the other way around.

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