The business case for portable computers

Just recently I read a blog post (which I can no longer find) that cast doubt on the business case for portable computers.  The basic argument went like this:

  • Portable users worked for 14% more hours
  • Portable users produced 13% more work
  • Therefore portable users were 1% less efficient

Assuming I remember this correctly it seems a pretty strange analysis, so here is my counter analysis.  First the case for portables and productivity:

  • Portable users do more hours when they have a portable device because it allows them to work when they would otherwise be undertaking some leisure activity, depending on the portable device in questions, these times are most often, whilst waiting in airports, travelling by train, sitting in front of the TV etc.
  • Portable users do more hours because its easier to “just spend an hour” working at the weekend, than it is to drive to work and do it there
  • Portable users spend more time with access to time critical information sources, email, IM etc and so respond faster reducing lead-times, and improving decision making
  • Portable users make better use of their time in the office, processing email, expenses and other low low importance high volume tasks tend to be done at home.  Higher value tasks requiring face to face collaboration, leadership and problem resolution tend to get done in the office
  • The vast majority of portable users do not get paid for the extra hours they work
  • Even if they did get paid the marginal cost of their hours, compared to the full cost of an additional employee for every three portable users, is very considerably less
  • Most portable users are happy with the improved flexibility a portable device affords to balance their time in the office and their time at home

That’s not to say that portable users are always more productive, there are some cons:

  • The constant intrusion of work into leisure time leaves less time for rest and probably contemplation and innovation (I am guessing about that)
  • The constraints of the portable device format can reduce productivity.  For example when I am away from my home office I have a laptop or tablet and am a lot less effective than I am with my three screen desktop, cordless mouse, conference phone ….
  • Working with distractions like TV, family etc can lead to mistakes or overly terse emails and the like

So in summary I think it’s only to be expected that portable device users work more hours, but that those hours are slightly less effective.  However the overall business case for portable usage is very strong.  I personally believe that in most working environments, except task working environments, provided the workspace is designed well, all users should be able to work flexibly within their work office and at home as well as whilst travelling.

Steve Richards

I'm retired from work as a business and IT strategist. now I'm travelling, hiking, cycling, swimming, reading, gardening, learning, writing this blog and generally enjoying good times with friends and family

1 Response

  1. Anonymous says:

    Completely agree with you on the fact that portable users are slightly less effective. However laptops continue to rise in popularity as business users shun traditional desktop PCs in favor of more portable technologies. The trend shows that business-savvy users are more eager than ever to adopt mobile technologies.

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