I tried to work mobile-only for a full week. Here’s what happened.
I sat at my desk, stored my laptop away, positioned my smartphone right in front of me and connected my headset. This was the start of my mobile-only workweek.
It’s been almost three years since I joined the IBM Mobile marketing team. I’ve been involved in multiple campaigns that encouraged companies to digitally reinvent themselves and transform into mobile-first enterprises. As digital consumption long became more prevalent on mobile rather than desktop, designing for mobile-first became a best practice. Though more and more companies have embraced this mobile-first mindset in recent years, a new question came about: why settle for mobile-first when you can take the leap to mobile-only?
Many brave authors have written about their attempts to live a week without a mobile phone, but what about doing the exact opposite? Could I accomplish a mobile-only workweek?
Mobile-only experiment: First attempt
The ground rules were as follows:
- Work a full workweek using only my smartphone, without ever opening my laptop.
- Avoid telling anyone on my team — not even my manager — as I didn’t want anyone to give me a break for not having a laptop.
My company has a bring-your-own-device (BYOD) policy in which employees can use their own personal devices to conduct business. Therefore, almost all the tools and applications I use at work were available in my company’s app catalog.
I used the following apps for the week:
- Maas360: IBM’s Enterprise Mobility Management (EMM) system, which includes an app catalog
- Verse: An enterprise email and calendar client
- Sametime: An enterprise instant messaging chat application
- Call-In: A conference call dialer
- Bluepages: IBM’s internal directory of contacts
- Box for EMM: A cloud collaboration software for the enterprise
- Microsoft Office: PowerPoint, Word and Excel
On the first day of my mobile-only experiment, I worked from home, so it provided an ideal setting for trial and error. First thing in the morning, I started going over my email. I replied to a few, marked important ones for further action and did everything I usually do on my laptop. Afterward, I logged into my company’s instant messaging system and made myself available for chat. I was off to a great start and felt I could easily get through the week.
Next came my first conference call. I dialed in using an internal app called “Call-In,” which pulls conference code information from my calendar to dial into meetings. During the call, I was also pinging one of my colleagues using our chat system and reviewing a spreadsheet in a shared Box folder. I got through the meeting but experienced a challenge I didn’t take into consideration before: working on multiple applications on a smartphone is a multitasking nightmare.
At about my third meeting of the day, I was finally called out. One of my colleagues noticed on our chat system that I was logging in with my phone. Apparently, whoever made that app added an icon for online mode that showed when someone is logging in from a phone. Unintentionally, I broke my second rule, but I still felt I could make it through the week without opening my laptop, my No. 1 rule.
On Day 2, I got to the office early and gave my laptop to IT. First, it was a great cover story for why I couldn’t use my laptop. Second, my degree of self-control is very limited, so not having the option of using a laptop made it easier. Third, my laptop was in serious need of repair. From IT, I went straight to my desk, set my smartphone down, put on my headset and started working.
In a way, Day 2 was easier than Day 1. I didn’t need a big screen during in-person meetings because I just looked at a colleague’s screen. Yes, some might say that’s cheating, but I never had anything in my ground rules about not looking at other people’s laptops.
On Day 3, I realized I probably picked the worst week of the year to do this experiment. Our biggest event of the year, Mobile World Congress, was coming up, which meant I had a lot of stuff on my plate. I had to get a budget item quickly approved, and the only way to access our budget approval system was through a laptop. In addition, I was working on a PowerPoint deck for a new project I was about to pitch to a few executives. I opened my PowerPoint app on my phone and tried to edit a slide. Nope, that wasn’t going to happen. Furthermore, I noticed that all the emails I flagged earlier in the week for future action had a common theme: they all required longer-form content creation such as documents, spreadsheets and presentations.
I couldn’t delay all this work by another week, so I gave up on the experiment.
Longevity: 2.2 days
Mobile-only experiment: Second attempt
I decided that wouldn’t be my last attempt and that I would try to do this again in a few weeks when I would be in Barcelona for Mobile World Congress. What better event to try to pull off a mobile-only week than in an event that is dedicated to mobile?
My responsibilities for that week matched well with this task. I led a video campaign with our ad agency on the ground and helped with live social coverage of sessions. Neither would require any long-form content creation on my side.
It was my third time at Mobile World Congress, so I had a good sense of what was in store for me. The days were long, and I had to get a portable battery for my phone to make it through each one. I also had an international plan, so I was able to use as much data as I needed without having to depend on wifi.
For the live social coverage of the event, we used social media apps in addition to WhatsApp for internal communication. The content we were discussing was not confidential, so we felt comfortable using this free app. Not having a laptop to schlep around was another advantage.
Result: Success! I made it through the whole week without touching my laptop.
Longevity: Seven days
Admittedly, I did screw up once when I sent an image from the event with some edit requests to the wrong WhatsApp group. My family is still trying to understand why I asked them to redesign an image for a Facebook post.
Conclusion: Screen size matters
Mobile-only is a great option when you’re on the go or stuck for a day without your laptop. As more companies embrace mobile-first solutions, there’s no reason employees shouldn’t be able to access all of their work applications through their smartphones. I shouldn’t take it for granted that I work for a forward-looking company that gives me the opportunity and tools to work from my mobile device. I wouldn’t have been able to make it through that whole week without my company’s BYOD policy and extensive app store. If you work for a company that doesn’t allow you to do that, send your CIO or IT manager some information about BYOD policies.
Nevertheless, in my experience, the difficulty proved to be in the size of the screen, rather than the functionality of mobile enterprise apps. Looking at a small screen for an entire day is tiring, and creating content on a small screen is incredibly inconvenient — maybe even impossible. The challenge starts when you want to create content, especially long-form pieces such as articles, presentations or spreadsheets.
I love working from my smartphone, but until we see AR solutions increase interfaces on the go like Tom Cruise had in “Minority Report,” I plan to keep being mobile-first rather than mobile-only.