Bringing the office along

As people head off for the cottage to forget about work, a majority of travellers are effectively lugging along digital umbilical cords to the office.

Technology industry experts also say that as a new generation of “remote-ready” employees join the workforce, their demands will increasingly blur the lines between leisure and work-oriented mobile devices. According to a 2006 survey by the Travel Industry Association, more than 86 per cent of travellers bring their cell phones with them on leisure trips. Another 24 per cent lug their laptops as well.

As many as 10 per cent say they like to keep in touch with the office while on vacation. About nine per cent feel they have no choice but to keep connected and six per cent actually take pleasure in working while on vacation.

Members of the so-called Generation Y are poised to alter the nature of mobile devices to suit their own work habits, according to Michelle Warren, analyst for Info-Tech Research Group in London, Ont.

“This generation is made up of individuals who are more tech-savvy and at ease with mobile devices than the previous Generation X. And they know they have the power to demand what they want of producers of these products,” Warren said.

Constantly tapping on their handhelds, young workers may appear to be workaholics but they also have a high regard for the value of leisure, said Warren. “But unlike their parents or grandparents who separated these two worlds, Generation Y wants work or play wherever they are,” she said.

Born and raised in a world of “mash-ups,” 20-something Generation Y workers will influence the development of work-oriented tech gear that offers the option of leisure as well.

Dominira Saul of usability consultant firm Maskery Inc. of Ottawa agrees.

“Just as the advent of Web 2.0 blurred the lines between desktop and Web-based apps, we’ll see an increasing array of wireless devices that combine work and play features,” Saul said.

He said this will foment a tug-of-war between fronts that seek greater control and those that demand access. For instance, the demand for greater access to Web-based rich content will be met by concerns for security.

“Some private companies will want to have instant messaging and community sites but government organizations will want to block access for security concerns,” Saul said.

“Devices such as Windows Mobile-enabled Pocket PC, smartphones and softphones are not just a link to the office. They figure in the work process and aid faster decision-making,” said Sean Seaton, director for Windows Mobile Canada.

He said more than 60 per cent say their mobile devices should go beyond basic e-mail functionality and allow workers to review and edit documents, connect to corporate intranet sites, surf the Web and make conference calls.

When Microsoft distributed smartphones to its employees some four years ago, there were some apprehensions but workers now report the devices actually improved their quality of life, said Seaton.

For instance, by checking e-mail during a 20-minute downtime on the bus ride to the office, some workers claim they’re able to plan ahead and free as much as 45 minutes for family use, he said.

Seaton does bring his mobile devices home, but he has some strict rules. The machines are totally turned off from 7 to 9 p.m., which is time reserved for the family. He might check e-mail after nine, but only to see what’s in store for him the next day. And when he’s on vacation, he’s on vacation.

“There’s one technology that hasn’t changed for about a hundred years. The off button is always there. It’s still your choice whether to push it or not,” Seaton said.

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