Gartner put BYOD at the "peak of inflated expectations" in its 2012 hype cycle for emerging technologies — the year that mobile productivity for the enterprise seemed finally within reach. 

Four years later, where are we with enterprise mobile productivity? 

Microsoft has made many of its most market-dominating productivity apps available on iOS and Android and a Citrix study released last summer found 61 percent of workers say they use mobile devices to work outside the office at least part of the time. 

Does this mean that mobile productivity has now become embedded in the global workforce? Are people now just as — if not more — likely to work from a smartphone on the train as they are from a desktop PC? 

Is it helping them boost productivity as all the adverts claim, or is the picture a little more nuanced?

Mobile Phone: The Electric Leash

In early 2016, the French government proposed a new labor law which would effectively support the right of employees to disconnect when they leave the office. More than just countering a culture where you have to answer emails on the weekend or evening, the law intends to establish hours when employees are not permitted to even send or receive emails. 

Speaking to the BBC, Benoit Hamon of the French National Assembly said, “All the studies show there is far more work-related stress today than there used to be, and that the stress is constant.”

The main culprit of this stress? Smartphones, and the way they blur the line between personal and professional life. 

    “Employees physically leave the office, but they do not leave their work. They remain attached by a kind of electronic leash — like a dog. The texts, the messages, the emails — they colonize the life of the individual to the point where he or she eventually breaks down.”

While enforcing this kind of law might seem a little clumsy and overbearing, a strong argument remains that mobile isn’t good for workers. If they’re never able to switch off, they’re more likely to be stressed, and if they’re more stressed, they’re less productive. 

While some studies suggest that mobile technologies can boost productivity, there’s not a huge amount of evidence that businesses are actually achieving the supposed benefits of smartphone use. 

Is Working Anytime, Anywhere a Good Thing?

Mobile can be useful for workers — no argument. But all too often businesses make the assumption that working "anytime, anywhere" is a good thing. And that assumption needs to be questioned. 

Is mobile productivity desirable to anyone?

It might be music to the ears of a CEO or a pushy manager, but does mobile productivity benefit employees? 

If someone has a contract to work 40 hours per week, mobile can make it all too easy for work to creep into that employee’s life and far exceed their working hours. Even for business owners, this ends up being a bad thing in the long-term — if workers never switch off, the risk of burnout is very real. 

Does it actually deliver what it promises?

Mobile productivity implies that we will be just as productive on our smartphones as we will be at our desks in the office. 

We all know this isn’t true. 

Anything beyond replying to the odd email or checking your calendar remains a rather unenjoyable experience on mobile devices. If you’ve ever tapped away at a glass screen to edit a document, enter data into an Excel spreadsheet or shift a project schedule, you’ll know it’s not an enjoyable experience. 

Do people even use it?

While the ability to sync your documents to your device while you’re away on a business trip can be handy, most of the time smartphones are the kryptonite to productivity — countless studies report that smartphones are highly distracting in the workplace. 

Yes, being able to check emails or download a document for the flight comes in handy, but in the majority of cases, smartphones only serve to distract us from what we’re supposed to be doing. 

Mobile Work is Still Waiting on Some Answers

Of course, every employee, job and working style is different. And in many cases the criticisms mounted above can be countered. 

I, for one, am a big believer in the power of mobile. And clearly employees value the ability to access work while away from the office — whether over the cloud or having synced a document to their laptop or tablet for later review. 

Nonetheless, the hype about mobile productivity needs to be tempered with at least a little skepticism. 

As great as smartphones are, some of the time they just aren’t useful for the core tasks of a lot of workers. The reason that big monitors, keyboards and the humble mouse still exist (and remain the hub of most people’s days) is that they’re still the best tools for accomplishing the majority of office tasks. 

Now, that doesn’t mean that you can’t be productive away from the desk, and it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t keep looking for better ways of working. But for now, the promoters of mobile working have still got to answer some pretty fundamental questions about mobile productivity.

Title image "Mobile Worker" (CC BY-SA 2.0) by mikecogh