Mobile apps promise a revolution in how we work. 

Along with social apps, mobile apps let knowledge workers stay in touch with colleagues better and perform tasks wherever they happen to be. That might be at a customer site, at home or even on vacation.

There’s no doubt mobile apps help you to get more work done. That, however, raises the question. Is that a good thing?

Always Connected

Early mobile applications focused on keeping knowledge workers connected. Email was, of course, the first truly useful mobile application. 

Now we have lots of new types of mobile applications that help us communicate and keep up-to-date with coworkers. Enterprise social networks, file sharing and enterprise chat apps provide new and powerful ways to interact with others whether we are in or out of the office.

Over time, mobile productivity applications have also become more capable, in some cases rivaling laptops and desktop applications. 

A great example of the growing capabilities of mobile applications are the Microsoft Office mobile applications. Just a few years ago, the very best mobile office productivity applications, such as Polaris Office, paled in comparison with the desktop applications.

Today, the new Microsoft Word, PowerPoint and Excel apps deliver most of the features that an average knowledge worker needs to read, review, create and compose documents. 

If it weren’t for the lousy virtual keyboards prevalent on tablets, knowledge workers could toss out their laptops. 

Even more end-users with high performance needs, such as graphic designers, are finding mobile tools that provide a lot of essential functions for getting their work done. 

Adobe’s Creative Cloud mobile applications, especially Adobe Illustrator Draw and Line and Adobe Photoshop Mix, are a great examples of just how powerful mobile productivity applications have become. With these apps comes the ability to work anywhere and anytime we need to.

But Hold On

Let me seem like a Luddite for a moment.

With the power to do meaningful work all the time comes higher expectations. Knowledge workers are expected to be in constant contact with the office, even when they are supposedly “off-work."

Managers expect that subordinates will respond to email, chats, text messages and other communications in real time, no matter the time zone the employee lives in.

Automated processes and colleagues expect that knowledge workers will act on tasks, such as making changes to documents, which they previously wouldn’t be able to do outside the office.

So, where is the respite from work? 

The expectations that mobile apps have fostered threaten to turn all workers into workaholics. Shutting off the devices doesn’t change the expectations. 

Aside from company rules against acting on communications and tasks in the off hours, even taking a hammer to a smartphone won’t change the reality that these devices have wrought. 

The same apps that enable knowledge workers to have flexibility in their work environments are removing the last opportunity to unplug from their jobs. It’s great that not as many people are expected to be at work late at night or on weekends. 

But they're still working.

The evolution of mobile productivity apps is a prime example of the law of unintended consequences. Technology that is supposed to make our lives easier creates a different burden — the inability to get away from work for even a few hours.

Title image by Alejandro Escamilla.