While mobile devices give many digital workplace employees access to content, data and enterprise unified communications while outside the enterprise, it appears that they have a long way to go before users will be able to work using only mobile devices.

While the discussion around the role of mobile devices has been sidetracked by the pandemic and the emergence of millions of remote offices in the home, the pace of development and frequency of releases indicates that both app and device developers continue to develop with an eye to a post pandemic world.

Mobile For Productivity

Recently, Microsoft released a bunch of new mobile apps for Microsoft that help with everyday tasks and commitments to help workers meet business goals and tasks outside the workplace and even traveling. According to a blog about the releases, which unveiled Outlook for iOS with conversational AI technology and the ability to collaborate around user-created video, the new additions are designed to replicate as far as possible what can be done from a laptop or desktop. “Our apps provide the ability for you to transform and collaborate around modern multimedia content and help provide the privacy and protection you need to safely express yourself from your mobile devices,” the blog reads.

Microsoft is only the most recent company to push out new apps while Google and Facebook's share of the top 15 mobile apps by reach in the US, according to figures from Comscore.

The objective with the apps is providing new ways to create, curate, and collaborate around mobile, user-generated content and to enable work. But are mobile devices and the apps that have been developed for these devices effective for work? Should they even be used for work?

Related Articles: The Digital Workplace in 2021: What Can We Expect?

Mobile Works Within Limits

The question of can and should enterprises use mobile devices as a place to get work done will have different answers, so while it is clear that some work can be done from your phone, it does not mean that the work is done efficiently, Abby Herman, director of strategy at the Minneapolis-based digital marketing agency Snap Agency, said.

It also depends on your job and industry you are in. If you are a web designer, for example, you need would need a drag and drop feature web builder that also has a PWA (Progressive Web App) or an app that works like a full website for you to do your work.

This will not, however, guarantee quality. In some instances in web design, designers will need to use software like Photoshop and Illustrator for its graphics and vector images. This cannot be done well enough in mobile devices because the mobile versions of many of these softwares can only do a small fraction of what the actual software can do.

If you are in sales or marketing however, then it becomes easier. You can create a landing page from your phone in minutes but will probably need a computer if you need to set an email sequence for those new subscribers.

The good news, she said, is that some jobs can be done well entirely from your phone so there’s hope, but it is not reliable for everything.

Mobile Must Be Effective

Jeff Corbin is New York City-based Staffbase’s senior strategic advisor for internal communication consulting. He believes that mobile devices are indeed effective for work because they must be. Recent statistics show that mobile device traffic (not including tablets) accounts for over half, 51 percent, of global online traffic. Moreover, a new category of workplace technology now exists in what Gartner refers to as employee communications applications (ECA). 

An array of ECA vendors are now focused on taking advantage of the cloud to deliver content and workplace tools via the mobile device. And they are doing this by developing apps — software for the operating systems of mobile devices. “To successfully compete, these vendors have to ensure that the end user experience is excellent and this requires a mobile-first perspective when it comes to their product development,” he said.

Learning Opportunities

The result is that for the first time, nearly three billion deskless workers that have previously been disenfranchised from communications, workplace tools and information sharing from their employers, no longer need be. In addition, mobile devices, and the ECAs they house, present an opportunity to reach all employees. And many integrate nicely with Microsoft 365 allowing workers to switch between platforms seamlessly and display and use all their Microsoft 365 tools directly in the app on a mobile device. “With so many people now working remotely and the increase in software developers focusing on ECA, it’s only a matter of time until mobile devices and desktop computers are indistinguishable,” he said.

Mobile First World

As organizations become younger, more global, and increasingly mobile, leaders need new ways to build, scale and sustain culture across their organizations, Christine Trodella, head of Americas at Workplace from Facebook, told us.

Millennials and Gen Z, who make up a large portion of the workforce today, have grown up in a mobile-first world and are bringing their devices to the workplace as another tool for communication. Mobile as a channel is becoming a larger form of communication than ever before, as workers across every industry are managing their work and home life.

Mobile tools help with easy communication even when workers do not have the ability to be present in front of their desktops. Workplace is a tool that can help enable easy communication and democratizes employee culture, giving everyone a voice, from the CEO to the newest intern, and for desk-bound and mobile workers alike.

In fact, frontline workers (think healthcare workers, baristas, warehouse employees) primarily use mobile for work as often time they may not have a corporate email address or computer, and tools like Workplace from Facebook can benefit these employees by allowing immediate access to collaborate on things like shift swap, safety center (especially handy during natural disasters or extreme weather like is being seen in Texas right now), and more.

Burnout Risks

Not everyone is convinced though. Devin Schumacher is CEO and founder of Pasadena, Calif.-based digital marketing agency, SERP. He points out that a over 40% of the workforce switches to remote employment, employees need to learn effective time management, otherwise, they end up working longer hours at home than they did in the office. In this respect, mobile devices are the single biggest distraction to employee productivity in the home environment.

Moreover, employees may feel that they can reply to emails effectively using their mobile device, however typographical errors, poor email structure, and mistake sending are far more common on mobile phones than on computers.

Employees who use their mobile device for work emails are also at the risk of severe burnout, as they never detach themselves from their work. “In sum, mobile devices are best left out of the workplace, turned on silent and out of view. This minimizes employee distraction while working and maximizes productivity and satisfaction.