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Working From ‘Phone’ – Beyond Disbelief

Mobile-Only: Week 2

“You are doing what?”  “You are crazy.” “You won’t be able to pull off an entire year of work from your phone.” These are just a few of the ‘doubting Thomas’ responses (along with lots of positive ones) I received this past week since publicly announcing going mobile-only. These weren’t malicious responses, rather responses in disbelief of working solely from my phone for the next year. And it is this very disbelief that I want to get out of the way before we move on to more engrossing subjects such as mobile security, management, and productivity.  I want to get it out of the way so that as many people as possible can see the potential rather than the hurdles. I want to make as many converts in this mobile-only cause as I can, if only to help speed up the inevitable break from static work experience of the PC.

What is the cause for this disbelief? I argue that the root cause comes from our historical perspective on these devices we hold in our hands. Their lineage derives from a very static technology that was tied to a single fixed location, namely a home or office phone. They were fixed numbers at fixed locations and didn’t travel with us as we went from place to place. Cell phones freed communication from a fixed location and the smartphone took it a step further with its combination of communication and computing. We have emancipated the communication from its fixed roots but we still mentally tie our computing tasks to a single fixed location.

Here is a quick story to tease out our fixed-work thinking. Several years ago a good friend began to question the necessity of the land-line in his house. Over the period of several months he realized more and more how little the land-line was being used as he and his wife transitioned all their communication to their mobile phones. He decided that the expense of the land-line was superfluous and brought up the idea of getting rid of the home phone with his wife. Her response: “If we get rid of the land-line, what is going to be our home phone?” He tried to explain that the paradigm had shifted and no one gets ahold of a home, they just call a person directly. She could see his point but couldn’t let go of living without the idea of a “home” phone. His wife reluctantly agreed but only under the condition that her “cell phone will be the home phone”. Over time she came to realize that the concept of a home phone was obsolete, but not without some mental hurdles and time experiencing life without it.

While my friend’s experience may be something to chuckle at today because it is quite obvious to us now that we no longer call someone’s home – we just contact them directly – we exhibit the same behavior in our approach to work and computing. We are on the same cusp of change regarding computing. This time instead of land-lines it is PCs. Like my friends wife, many people see the point of mobility, but are not able to let go of the idea of the PC. More specifically, they are not able to let go of the idea of how work is accomplished on a ‘computer’ in an ‘office’. We are so entrenched in our thinking of how tasks get executed that we miss the opportunity to push towards a more dynamic experience.

You may not realize how powerful the piece of hardware in your hand is. If I told you that my computer is a dual-core 1.4 GHz with 1GB of RAM, you might think it is a tad bit on the slow side but usable (depending on how much of a resource snob/hog you are). But for most productivity tasks this is more than enough. Yet, in reality this is the specs for my phone. For some further perspective Intel didn’t even come out with its line of Core 2(dual-core) processors until 2006 and now we have them in the phone form factor. Besides not realizing the compute power of the phone, I believe the biggest hurdle we have is visual. We see the small screen and think that is the limit. We have become accustomed to our monitors as fixed points as well, tied to the PC, the office, the desk, that they are connected to. They are the rock of Gibraltar and cannot be moved or used by anyone else but me. We fail to see that they are just resources that could be leveraged by many. But once you connect your phone to a full size monitor and leverage its computing power your outlook on the capabilities of the device is drastically altered. You no longer see a tiny communication device that fits in your pocket but rather an incredibly portable computer.

Instead of thinking that working from a ‘phone’ is crazy, think about all the places you can work now, think about the possibilities with connectivity to the cloud, think about simplified and streamlined apps, think about the ease of sharing data (securely) with others. Mobility offers an entirely new perspective on how we think about work from a what, when, and where perspective. In order to fully embrace this perspective you’ve got to realize that your mobile device possesses all the computing power you need. You’ve got to see the value in work as an activity that can happen anytime, anywhere. Once you do entire new possibilities of what is work and how it is done present itself. Your thinking about mobile working will change from the last-resort to the first-choice. Yes, there will be the awkward teenage years that we’ll have to go through to arrive at enterprise mobile maturity, but we will arrive – you just got to believe.

How about you – are you able to execute anytime, anywhere? When you think about work are you still tied mentally to the office, the monitor, the desk? What would it take to let it go? Are you able to be productive in unusual places? How has mobility changed your thinking about work? I would love to hear your perspective – post a comment and let me know!

Benjamin Robbins is currently a Principal at Palador, a firm that focuses on providing strategic guidance to enterprises in the areas of mobility, apps, and data. Mr. Robbins resides in Seattle and blogs regularly at http://www.remotelymobileblog.com

2 Comments

  1. Posted March 15, 2012 at 14:28 | Permalink

    Loving this. I went mobile only for a few months last year and I noticed my work habits changed significantly… One of the most interesting was that although I was always connected, I spent less total screen time – I became much more efficient with my productivity. Are you finding the same to be true?

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    • Posted March 15, 2012 at 14:51 | Permalink

      Walt – glad to know about another who’s done #mobileonly! I would say that after the inital setup that now, yes I can jump in to a task, get it done, and jump out – kind of how I like to shop, much to my wife’s chagrin ;) . It did take me a day or two to get oriented to organizing everything most efficiently, idendifying which apps were the best for which tasks, etc. But with that out of the way I’m crusin!

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