[This article was written in the wonderful age before coronavirus.]
A week ago I spilled a full glass of water all over my computer. Horrified, I mopped up my laptop, turned it upside down, and let it dry in the sun. By some miracle, it still worked. But when morning came the next day, it was totally fried.
As I waited for my IT manager to configure my new laptop, I turned to my phone to scroll emails and my work apps. Which got me thinking: what would it be like if I never got my laptop back again and worked exclusively from my phone?
After doing some research, I learned that mobile-only work is actually more applicable to the workforce today than traditional desktop- or laptop-based work. Seventy percent of the global workforce doesn’t sit behind a desk all day. These people are out in the field: in retail, as healthcare practitioners, or in operations or logistics like transportation. Turns out, mobile devices are the most accessible piece of technology to workers worldwide.
Thanks to recent advances in mobile computing technology, mobile productivity is higher than ever before. Management consultancy Deloitte expects that mobile-only work will be the majority across the global workforce in just five to ten years.
As an editor, I spend most of my time reviewing article drafts, brainstorming with writers, assigning stories, and publishing content. Basically, lots of reading, giving feedback, chatting over Slack and email, and yes, publishing in WordPress. I felt like I’d be a good candidate for mobile-only work, so I downloaded all the apps I use (truth be told: I already had many of them), and then committed to working for one week using exclusively my iPhone. I left my laptop at home.
Over the course of the week I wanted to answer two basic questions:
- Could I do my day-to-day job just on apps? Was it technically possible?
- How would it affect the quality of my work? Would I be more or less productive? Collaborative? Would I just be on Instagram all day?
1. Could I do my day-to-day work on apps?
Short answer: Yes. I used ten apps during the course of the week, and found very few hiccups in my daily operations. Here’s how all my apps stacked up (iPhone):
5/5 stars. I love Gmail on mobile, and I use it a lot to check in on work email, even on a normal day. My favorite feature of the app is the new predictive responses. Just click to the right of the text to have it auto-fill for you.
4/5 stars. Slack is very mobile-friendly and I enjoyed using it during my experiment. My only critique of the app is that it was harder to catch up on threads than on desktop, simply because I didn’t know how far to scroll until I had “seen” everything. Later on in the week I learned that if I x-ed out the notification of how many unread messages I had (see below), it would stop alerting me of unreads in that channel. And I used that a lot.
4/5 stars. I am biased here, but I really enjoyed the Confluence app on my iPhone. The page layout is easy for reading, and the navigation is great (perhaps better than on desktop). It was such a clean, and uncluttered experience that really helped me focus. I also used it during the week to create documents, and that was smooth and easy as well. I did have to dock it one star though because Confluence mobile does not allow for in-line commenting, but I know the team is working on rolling it out soon, so stay tuned.
5/5 stars. Zoom on mobile was so fun, and in some ways, easier than dialing in from a room or a desktop. One of the best discoveries I made was screensharing from my mobile. Going into the week I was worried about a few meetings that I had to facilitate, but I was easily able to share my screen in only one click to everyone in the call. Lots of oohs and aahs from the audience on that one.
5/5 stars. I know, I know, it seems like I’m giving all my company tools the best reviews, but truly I was very impressed by Trello. My big reason for rating it so highly is that I depend on a power up on our team’s Editorial Calendar board called Calendar, which allows me to see a – surprise! – calendar view of all our upcoming stories.
3/5 stars. Google calendar was a bit overwhelming for me in mobile, especially for scheduling meetings and finding people’s availability. Honestly, scheduling any meeting with more than three people is a personal nightmare, even on a desktop, so I don’t know how much the Google mobile team can do to alleviate my pain, but I’m sure they’re thinking about it every day.
5/5 stars. Again, cards are tipped here, but ohmigosh Jira mobile was so great for me. It was really easy to use, clean, simple, well-designed, and I loved the dark mode (though I’m not usually into dark mode on other apps). The notifications panel was awesome, it was great to see everything in one place instead of getting email pings like I usually do. I was also very impressed to see my sprint boards in mobile, which I use to request artwork from our creative team. They were super easy to digest and very well designed, too. You have to check it out!
5/5 stars. Wunderlist is my personal productivity to-do list. I use it on both desktop and mobile, and the versions are exactly the same, which helps a ton with simplicity.
4/5 stars. Atlassian uses Duo for Two Factor Authentication (and that’s one of the main reasons I can even work from my mobile!). I thought it was very easy to use to login to applications. I gave it 4/5 stars though because nothing beats using my yubikey on my laptop to login to our internal applications. Maybe Duo should consider using Face ID 🤔
5/5 stars. I was very impressed by everything I could do on the WordPress app, so I have to give it 5 stars. And they do use Face ID for log in, which was awesome. Going into the experiment I was the most nervous about this one because WordPress has so many complex features (partly driven by the complex feature set of our particular design), so I was sure there’d be multiple points of failure when it came to the app. But, I was pleasantly surprised to learn I could do 99% of what I do on WordPress desktop on the mobile app. The only thing I couldn’t do was place a redirect, which I was luckily able to lean on my colleagues for.
2. Would my work actually be any good?
Aside from seeing if I could actually do my day job, I was also intrigued to see how mobile might influence my work quality, my satisfaction at work, and collaboration with my team. I suspected that working only from mobile might make me more responsive to pings and emails, but I never thought it would actually help me enjoy work more.
Personal productivity ✅
I felt productive on my phone, and was able to get things done as I normally would. As you can see by my app reviews, I had no major blockers. One plus of working from mobile was getting a greater sense of focus. Usually on my desktop I have a million tabs open, and between Slack pings and new emails coming in, it can be hard for me to focus. But I noticed that on mobile, since I didn’t have the view into multiple apps at the same time, I was more focused. My team felt the same, reporting they saw no dip in my work quality or productivity during the experiment.
Happiness at work ✅
It’s hard to explain just why, but for some reason, working from my mobile made me feel more relaxed and happy at work. Maybe it’s because I’m a millennial, so statistically speaking, I love my phone. The other reason could be that I didn’t feel as tethered to my desk, and had more ability to be productive wherever I wanted to be, which gave me a sense of contentedness.
In fact, the week of my experiment Warner Brothers pictures was filming Matrix 4 in downtown San Francisco, and my new-found freedom allowed me to peek in on filming. I saw Keanu Reeves on his lunch break eating soup. That definitely brightened my day!
Availability to my team ✅
I personally felt more available and responsive in Slack and email while I was working from mobile. My team agreed, too. I sent them a survey at the end of the week and they reported that I was just as or more available to them during my experiment.
The other positive effect of mobile work was that it forced me to be more attentive and practice active listening in meetings. Most people I know default to having laptops open in a meeting, presumably so they can pull up information more quickly if asked (at least that’s why I do it). With my mobile, I didn’t really have that option so I had to put down the phone and listen. I really didn’t miss having my laptop, so now that my experiment is over I’m prioritizing closing my laptop during meetings and just being present.
Collaboration with my team ✅
Because I was more available, I think that positively affected my collaboration with my team. I felt like I got to teammates requests faster, and they seemed to agree with that idea too, saying I was just as or more attentive in meetings and also just as equally communicative as when I’m working from my laptop.
This is something that telecom company Verizon has observed as well, and used in their consumer retail business. Instead of having employees use laptops when talking to customers, they use mobile devices, which they have reported lends a greater feeling of connection (and has the added benefit of promoting their products and services).
Planning and big picture thinking ⚠️
Not being able to view multiple apps did hamper me for planning and work where I needed a lot of context. For instance, I will use Trello and email side by side on my desktop when communicating due dates and requirements on stories. On my mobile, I found myself having to switch to Trello to see a date and then going back into my email to communicate to my writer. I also avoided doing some “bigger picture” work like making project 1-pagers or mapping dependencies because it was just a little to hard to wrap my head around super-sized concepts on a bite-sized screen.
I suspect that as time marches on we will see more and more knowledge workers turning to exclusively to their mobile devices to get work done. The technology is there, and only getting better, so maybe one day, app and device makers will be able to solve for my big picture context problem. That or, I become a cyborg. Stay tuned for my next productivity experiment.
Get stories like this in your inbox