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Personal Devices at Work

They can enable great productivity gains. They can also be great time-wasters. How will employers cope?


May 1, 2003  


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In early March, Sony Ericsson Mobile Communications held media events in 30 locations worldwide to unveil a portfolio of new mobile communications devices.

These represented the first products designed from the ground up by the joint venture formed in 2001 by consumer electronics giant Sony Corp. and wireless telecom company LM Ericsson.

Sony’s strong influence on this joint venture is evident. Presenters emphasized the style of each device and the features and applications sure to be a hit with consumers, such as mobile gaming, snap-and-send digital photography and instant messaging.

They discussed future plans to leverage Sony’s entertainment holdings to provide music and movie tie-ins. And, at the Toronto event at least, they did this before a group of mostly consumer-oriented media – including local radio stations, Naked News and the Space channel.

This strategy is a good one, and combined with advertising it should generate demand by users for products they didn’t know they needed. Naturally, other mobile device makers are pursuing similar strategies to reach their target markets.

time wasters?

Assuming the marketing efforts are successful, many of these devices will be purchased by individuals rather than by corporations. Sure, companies will continue to purchase mobile data devices.

But it will be interesting to see how employers cope with having large numbers of employees bringing personal, data-rich mobile equipment into the workplace.

These devices can enable great productivity gains – particularly for mobile work forces such as sales and field service personnel, but even for those who spend most of their time at a desk.

And there is no question that they are useful devices if a wired network goes down or if workers find themselves in an emergency situation.

But let’s face it: Mobile devices – especially those loaded with games, instant messaging, and web browsing – can also be great time-wasters.

Many corporations have ad- dressed the issue of technology in the workplace by outlining how company equipment may be used. Acceptable use policies exist for desktop computers and laptops, phones (wired and wireless), long distance accounts, and so on, and these are, by and large, easy to monitor and enforce. And when the company owns the devices and the internal networks on which they operate, jurisdiction is clear.

HUMAN RESOURCE ISSUE

But what’s new is that increasingly, the device in question will be employee-owned and not connected to the company network. There’s no clear jurisdiction in this case. It’s no longer a question of enforcing a company technology policy, but human resources issue: Is employee performance affected?

It’s unlikely banning such devices from the workplace is the answer. This would be difficult to enforce and the damage to employer-employee relations would create more problems than it solves.

Instead, embracing mobile technology may be the key to successfully dealing with this issue. If it hasn’t already, the wireless industry would be wise to consider what meaningful role it can play in helping companies successfully integrate wireless devices into their corporate culture – regardless of whether the devices are company assets or employee-owned.

In particular, wireless companies should help corporations identify ways in which personal mobile data devices can be used to increase employee productivity or provide a better work/life balance.

Detailed billing is a great start and is already offered by all wire-less service providers. But more can be done.

With the right approach, the majority of personal mobile devices will be used responsibly in the workplace by their owners and, in many cases, to the benefit of employers and the wireless industry.

Trevor Marshall is a Toronto-based reporter, writer and observer of the Canadian wireless industry. He can be reached at 416-878-7730 or tpmarshall@eol.ca.


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