What The Anytime, Anywhere Workplace Really Means For Your Work, Life Balance

The widespread availability of smartphones and tablets is tipping the work, life balance, and not always in your favor. Here are tips for retaining your sanity.

The recent E2 Conference in Boston was abuzz about our changing work, life balance, thanks to the widespread availability of smartphones and tablets.

We all see this happening on a daily basis, but when you step back to take look at the bigger picture, it’s surprising how quickly this transformation is transpiring. Here I'd like to look at some of the surprising findings presented at the conference and what I think they mean for taking controlling of your work, life balance.

Eyes Wide Shut—Think Twice About BYOD

People are bringing their personal phones and tablets to work at an incredible rate. In fact, over half of companies today support a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) program according to Maribel Lopez at Lopez Research. But a full 83% of these programs are merely used for email and calendaring. And why are companies investing in these programs? According to a recent Forrester Research survey presented by analyst Christian Kane, BYOD programs are made available primarily due to end-user demand (65% of respondents) and because it lowers costs for the company (51% of respondents). With such strong end-user demand, It is not surprising then that 48% of workers are willing to pay for some or all of the cost of a tablet from their own money, while 43% are willing to pay for a smartphone, and only 36% are willing to pay for a laptop, according to Forrester.

What does this mean?

We have been clamoring for mobile devices and now we have them. The newer the technology, the more we want it; case in point—the fact that we are more willing to pay for a tablet, which is newer technology, than we are for a laptop, which is yesterday’s news.

But mobile access comes at a price. While we are able to work anytime, anywhere, which can save us the hour-long commute to the office, we are now expected to work anytime, anywhere. Shutting down (or unplugging) is becoming a problem and this affects our personal lives, according to study from University of Massachusetts and Clemson University which showed that intensified mobile device use for work affects our physical and mental health.

My advice: be careful what you wish for. The shiny new tablet that lets you watch movies during your train commute might be your undoing when you are expected to participate in a videoconference during a long-overdue vacation. If it’s so important for you to have a mobile device for work, wait until your boss forces you to take one. At least that way, you’ll save some of the dough you’d be expected to cough up for it. And speaking of coughing, maybe it’s time to install a heart-rate monitor app on that new tablet, while you are at it.

When All You Have Is A Smartphone, Everything Looks Like An App

With personal phones and tablets flooding the enterprise, what are we actually doing with all this technology? Considering the enormous expense, surprisingly little, according to Forrester. While 54% of global information workers say they use 3 or more devices for work, the top mobile business uses today are email, calendaring, texting, chat, note taking, and participating in social networks. While certainly valuable, these are primarily personal productivity activities; none directly address a specific business need. In fact, according to the Forrester survey, less than a third of business users use their devices to access a business-specific application, and only 1 in 5 use a mobile device for sharing documents, traditionally a top business need for information workers.

But don’t worry, the apps are coming. According to Lopez Research, organizations are currently experimenting with an average of 6-12 business applications, and we can expect to see these in production shortly. For example, SAP with its Fiori offering, already provides a comprehensive set of mobile applications for workers, such as apps for approving requests, completing timesheets, approving travel expenses, viewing employee benefits, and tracking purchase orders. And many more are on the way.

What Does This Mean?

While organizations are experimenting with business apps and IT is exploring device security options, workers are running ahead, using a plethora of unsanctioned apps such as Dropbox and Box for file share/sync and Pages, Numbers, and Keynote for document creation. This phenomenon of circumventing the central IT department, which Christian Kane calls ‘shadow IT,’ is only going to proliferate. Smart organizations will embrace this rather than fight it, by working together with employees to sanction and secure popular consumer apps.

My advice: there are many useful apps out there that fulfill important business needs. But using unsanctioned software comes at a price. Use social networks to locate like-minded colleagues, who can provide insights to which apps are working well for them. (These folks might also provide important ‘strength in numbers’ when the IT police come a knockin’.) Better yet, work together with these individuals to convince IT to sanction your apps…or provide reasonable alternatives.

What mobile apps do you see as the most important one in your organization and how is IT responding to rogue use of consumer apps? Comment below or tweet me at: @dlavenda.

Author David Lavenda is a product strategy executive at an innovative user experience high-tech company. He also does academic research on information overload in organizations and he is an international scholar for the Society for the History of Technology. He tweets from @dlavenda.

[Image: Flickr user Kara Harms]

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  • Beckmania

    Great article. I agree that mobility presents a double edged sword, not only for employees vis a vis work, but for consumers vis a vis their personal lives. Mobile devices and applications afford us more freedom - we can check email on the go, we can be out of the office and still responsive - these are better than having to be AT the office. However, if you don't have some discipline, then work follows you everywhere, which reduces your freedom.

    As with most technologies, there are positive and negative impacts. In this particular case the negative impacts are being too consumed by monitoring your mobile device, which can only be mitigated by individuals having the discipline to NOT look at their devices all the time.

    I struggle with this, as do most people. Overall though I believe mobility provides us with more options, we just need to learn how to manage our behavior...

  • dlavenda

    I totally agree. When any technology is new, it takes time for its accepted usage patterns to develop. A simple example is cell phones ringing during movies and plays; we don't see that too much anymore because people have understood what is socially-acceptable behavior. This will play out in the business world as well, but it will take longer, because the dynamics are much more complex. Also, since mobile technology is changing all the time, it is a bit of a moving target. The good news is that when every technology becomes commonplace, it finds acceptable usage patterns.  Mobile work will be no different. That is why it is SO important to highlight the issues now, while there is still time to shape what is reasonable for people to maintain a good work/life balance. Because if we don't, we will wake up one day (awoken by a ringing cell phone no doubt) and it will be 'game over.'

  • Beckmania

     Well said. I recently read a book about the Amish, and they have an interesting take on technology. They aren't totally against it per se, they just have a very intentional and slow approach to adopting new things. They wait sometimes decades to see what impact a certain technology has on society and people, and if it turns out that the impact doesn't contradict their other beliefs then they will adopt it.....fascinating.