Is the Dream of Being a Mobile Worker Really a Nightmare?

Is the Dream of Being a Mobile Worker Really a Nightmare?

[image via MidCo Systems ]

My friends frequently give me a hard time over my obsession with mobile technology.    Like the rest of the Gear Diary team — and very likely the majority of the site’s readers — I do my best to not only stay up to date but to get a lot of hands on use with various technological gear that help to untether me from the confinement of a desk.   To me that’s the real point of it all:  the freedom to go do what you want, when you want and still be able to take care of your work responsibilities.

In fact, right now as I write this I am sitting on a balcony looking out at the ocean.  Don’t worry, I’m not callous enough to throw in a photo of the view …  yet 😉 .    While moments like this seem to capture the “dream” of being a true mobile worker, there have been plenty of other moments over the past three days that make me wonder whether the idea and freedom of the true mobile worker is actually a nightmare…

OK. You got me.   Here is the view:

Is the Dream of Being a Mobile Worker Really a Nightmare?

Beach view aside, I can tell you I’ve been on four conference calls (two while sitting on the beach) and constantly in touch while on a short “vacation.”   To me, that is pretty nice.    A few calls have been in the 4am range due to where the other party has been located.  That’s fine, too.  I am a coffee drinker, so I just make sure to have a cup or two prior to the calls.  To me, that’s just part of the deal.

I’m regularly behind a desk 12 or more (most often much more) hours a day.   These little breaks are welcome and I do not mind taking calls.  My office line is forwarded to my Google Voice number.  Coupled with Push email on my mobile phones, laptop or netbook in my bag, and a MiFi onhand it is very rare I am completely unreachable.    But here’s the thing…everyone expects an immediate response.

Take this morning.  I was up, had walked the dog (yep, we bring the dog 🙂 ), checked email and was out to run a few errands.   While on the road I received an urgent call from someone I work with.    Unfortunately, this wasn’t a call I could ignore.    I pulled off the road and took the call (the person calling was rather high up the ‘food chain’ and I knew this could be a long conversation, depending on the problem).    At the end of the conversation, I was tasked with making some server side changes due to a request from someone else ….even higher up the food chain.

Instead of  waiting  until I could drive the 20 minutes to get  back to where I was staying, I decided to grab my netbook out of my bag and fire up the MiFi.   I was in a parking lot at the time, and the process to boot up and connect probably took five or so minutes.   I then had to remote into a server and verify settinigs before making changes.  All while sitting in a parking lot in my car.

The entire process, start to finish, probably took 20-30 minutes.   Faster than it would have taken to drive back and take care of the issue.    The problem, though, was that while I was going out of my way to get the job done, I received TWO emails and another call asking WHEN I would be finished.    In less than a half hour!    On a Sunday morning.   Remoting in from my car while on “vacation” no less.  Once I was done, I didn’t get as much as a thank you from the person requesting the change.     I did, though, wonder who they used to contact before I accepted the job…and whether that person was able (or willing) to drop everything to get the job done in such a quick manner.

I’ve  found this to be the same expectation for other workers who are known to be “mobile” and make sure to go above and beyond.    This may very well be part of the problem.  In our 24x7x365 world of always online access, the expectation is that you are always reachable any hour of any day.  Whether or not you are physically in the office.

So what about you?  Is the freedom of mobility becoming a nightmare for you — or have you set up proper expectations and restrictions to safeguard time away from the office?

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About the Author

Gear Diary Staff
Gear Diary was founded on September 30, 2006, with the goal to create a website that would not easily be labeled. Everyone who is part of Gear Diary is a professional who uses technology in their work and daily lives. On this site, we share our enthusiasm while exploring the gear we use — the equipment that makes our lives easier, more entertaining, more productive, and more manageable. Our hope is that Gear Diary visitors find this site to be a welcoming, friendly, and accessible place to learn about and discuss interesting topics — and not only those that are tech-related! Gear Diary is a place to discover and explore all kinds of new gear, including smartphones, computers, kitchen gadgets, Toys, EDC, camping gear, or even your next new car! You can follow us on Twitter @GearDiarySite.

3 Comments on "Is the Dream of Being a Mobile Worker Really a Nightmare?"

  1. Locksmith | June 14, 2010 at 9:49 am |

    Being in the mobile service industry (I’ll let you guess what I do) I don’t have a desk. I go to my company’s office, oh maybe once or twice a year, but even then it isn’t really necessary.

    I have an iPhone 3gs that is my personal phone. I have a company BB Bold 9000 and a Panasonic Toughbook CF30. The Toughbook is mounted in my work van much as the police have their computers mounted. I do the majority of my work on the BB.

    Scheduled work is faxed to me every evening (wish I could get them out of that habit) to an online fax service, and work to fill out the day is emailed to me on the BB as it happens. Faxes are sent to my iPhone in .pdf format and I can view them on the iPhone, or the Toughbook. I have an autotext script that produces an invoice form for me to fill out and email to the office when a job is complete.

    I do customer quotations on the Toughbook and tether it to my 3gs to email to the office for distribution (via fax, yes, I know!).

    I keep most of the customers away from my phone and email addresses because it is my office staff’s job to sort the work load amongst the 8 mobile locksmiths that work here. A very few customers have the ability to contact me directly because I can’t get any work done if I spend the day on the phone.

    I use gmail for all of my email because I can access it from my BB or desktop as required. For large files that get sent to me by the office, I can tether the Toughbook and look at them on the larger screen.

    At times when I am not working, like this week when I am on vacation, I leave everything except the iPhone at home. My dispatchers have my iPhone phone number and if the brown stuff hits the rotary oscillator I can be reached. I can also retrieve my work email on the iPhone if I want (but I don’t want!!!)

  2. Dan Cohen | June 14, 2010 at 2:46 pm |

    The thing about technology is that it removed all or most of the natural boundaries that existed in the past. The result is that if there ARE going to be any boundaries we need to create and maintain them ourselves. Easier said than done.

    The piece about others expecting a response is spot on… and a huge issue. In his book “How: Why How We do Anything Means Everything In Business and in Life” Dov Seidman writes about this ‘expectation of response factor’. Here’s one salient point he makes…

    In the industrial age, we wrote letters deliberately, knowing that even if we dashed off a quick note from point A it would take its own sweet postal time to arrive at point B. The recipient, in turn, could take a commensurate amount of time crafting a response. The pace of information flow allowed enough time for even time sensitive writing to receive a modicum of consideration before being sent. Not so with the various gizmos and gadgets we now find strapped to our belts and placed on our desks. Messages appear instantly, implicitly insisting on a quick response. The expectation of response factor exerts an influence on the quality of our communication, often forcing us to respond in less considered ways.” (How page 33)

    Again, the natural barriers are gone and we are left to try to figure out and impose new ones… lest we burn out by 50.

  3. My job is in Sunnyvale, CA, and my home is in Austin, TX. For 6 years, more or less, I was a full-time telecommuter, and I’ll tell you honestly, it was awesome. Had a great view of the Austin skyline, could work in my pajamas, was there to greet the kids getting home from school every day, and so on. The only downside was, as Jason avers, having to be available pretty much all the time–my hours typically ran from 8am (Central) to 6pm (Pacific).

    Now, though, it’s pretty much living hell. But that’s a different story.

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