Employees bear more costs in mobile workforce

By Laura Haight

Originally published as The Digital Maven in Upstate Business Journal on May 19, 2013

How do you arm yourself for the work day?

As a journalist for most of my life, I lugged notebooks and pens, recording devices and cameras and later, as they became available, added cell phones and pagers and laptops.

I was reminded of those days recently at an event one of my clients sponsored. I took photos and video, got quotes from speakers, posted a few things to Facebook, and shared contact information - all on my phone.

While our methods of gathering information have changed a lot, our methods of distributing them may still be stuck in the last century: Download the photos, transcribe the audio, type up the notes and put together a nice document to distribute.

Recently, iPass, the nation's largest commercial Wi-Fi network, released its Q1 2013 mobile workforce report. It points out some interesting trends that can impact business behaviors and have the potential to add unplanned expenses for employees. 

  • In Q1 2013, the average mobile worker carried three devices. That's a decrease from 3.5 in 2012, which is attributed to an increase in BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) acceptance. Workers last year were often carrying two smartphones - the one they needed to access work resources and the personal one. As BYOD grows, mobile workers are able consolidate to one device. That trend is coupled with a significant drop in the number of workers taking laptops with them. As tablets and iPads become more full-featured and more secure apps are developed for them, these devices are trending to be full laptop replacements - at least on the road.
  • As more employees use their own smartphones, they're more aware of their data usage. In 2012, 30 percent of mobile workers said they didn't know or didn't care how much data they were using. In the first quarter of this year, that number is down to 17 percent. Two trends are probably a factor here: workers using their own devices on their own plans and the elimination of unlimited data plans. Most wireless carriers now base plan costs on data usage alone. The risk for businesses is that employees are less responsive or nimble as they watch data tick up and worry about overage charges.
  • Seventy-five percent of the mobile workforce say they have access to Wi-Fi 11 hours or more each day. That's great, although it's often an expensive proposition - such as in airports, hotels where access toWi-Fi can cost up to $15 for a day pass. At many facilities, free Wi-Fi is offered, but it's racheted down considerably, making it barely functional for basic email. This presents another challenge for businesses, which may find their mobile workers having to increase data plans with cell carriers to offset the cost, availability or quality of public Wi-Fi.

With so many of us mobilized, it's time to rethink our content sharing behaviors to reduce data size and make content more accessible for colleagues who are mobile too.

  • Skip attachments. As I was reminded this week, all the "dolling up" that we used to do to make documents pretty and printable just gets in the way of getting to the data. Send full text in emails instead. (This will also save you time and data usage).
  • Write better subject lines. This is a good rule no matter what device you are on, but it really helps when you are communicating with mobile users. Be clear about what your email is about and how urgent it is. Don't force me to open it with subject lines like: "Stuff", "Follow up", or "Interesting story".
  • Don't send digital files - video, audio, photos - over email. Consider whether your recipient needs to see it or keep it. Use in-app uploads to YouTube, DropBox or other locations and provide a link to viewers. If the recipient is on a mobile device they can view what they need and wait until they are back in the office to download. Make it possible for the receiver to choose the best method and timng.

Has your company got a plan for BWTD policy? It's the next evolution of BYOD. Stay tuned for more. Got a question or comment about this or any other tech topic? Go to www.facebook.com/thedigitalmaven and post it for discussion.