Question: Smartphones + Social Media + Workplace = ?

Human resource managers and bosses everywhere in North America should take note. Productivity at work might take a hit later this summer. HTC, the Taiwanese-based mobile phone juggernaut, recently announced the imminent release (July 17th) of a new smartphone dubbed by many as the “Facebook Phone”. It is the first smartphone release in North America with a dedicated Facebook logo button at the bottom of the keypad. You can press the button to immediately connect to your Facebook profile and share everything from what you’re doing, to where you are, to photos you have just taken, to an interesting URL, to a simple status update. By now it should be obvious that mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets have drastically changed the way we live our lives. According to a survey recently released by Ericsson ConsumerLab (Sony-Ericsson), 35% of Android smartphones users reach for their smartphone before getting out of bed in the morning. Of those, 18% immediately fire up a social media app. And as if there was still any doubt about the inevitable ubiquity of the smartphone in our modern life, on Monday the Pew Internet & American Life Project released a new study showing that 35% of American adults now own a smartphone.[1] When asked what device they usually use to go online, 25% of smartphone owners in the Pew study say that they mostly use their phone. This convergence of smartphones and social media is a glimpse into our mobile future. Indeed, the wide spread availability of the always-on and always-available smartphones have fundamentally changed the way we manage our lives, not the least of which is the changes and tensions that it has brought to the workplace.

Today an increasing number of organizations are also adopting smartphone technology in order to more efficiently carry out essential business operations. Smartphones are equipped with a myriad of applications that allow the modern mobile worker to execute crucial tasks from any place, at any time; workers are able to schedule meetings, browse the internet, read and respond to e-mail, utilize web-based applications, and of course talk on the phone whenever and wherever they please. Many employers view smartphones as a way to improve overall employee productivity and customer service, and many employees consider smartphones to be a tool that allows more freedom and flexibility at work. But while smartphones present a great number of benefits to the modern enterprise, they also present liabilities which, if not properly managed, can result in significant financial and reputational damage for the employer or individual employee alike.

The greatest threat that smartphones and other mobile technologies present to the modern organization are security threats. Wireless devices are inherently more of a security threat for four reasons. First, mobile technologies will often connect to the internet directly, bypassing traditional “perimeter defenses” designed for non-mobile technologies, such as corporate firewalls, anti-virus software, and intrusion-prevention systems. Second, mobile technologies connect to the internet via Wi-Fi hotspots and satellite networks (such as 3G/4G), upon which internet traffic and activity cannot be monitored as tightly as a non-mobile local area networks (LAN). Third, smartphones and other mobile devices that carry large amounts of potentially sensitive data are more prone to loss and theft than computing devices that remain in one place (such as a secured office). Lastly, because mobile device technology is relatively new and not yet fully established or standardized, many corporations dedicate the majority of their security budget and resources into easy-to-solve LAN security issues, which are more familiar to IT staff and so easier to manage. [2] For these reasons, enterprise networks are increasingly at risk from malware, phishing attacks, direct attack by hackers, data interception and spoofing, and a plethora of other security threats.

Smartphones are also influencing when and where employees do their work, resulting in what CNN’s Thom Patterson has coined the “weisure” lifestyle. With the smartphone, the line between leisure time (the personal life) and work time (the professional life), has become blurred – now, employees are able to not only access content related to work during the personal time, but are also able to access content related to their personal lives at work. Ultimately, employers have less control over what their employees do and when they do it, which could result in decreased productivity if all-too-keen employees overwork themselves and suffer from stress, and equally if lackadaisical employees spend too much of their time using smartphones for non-work-related purposes.

The layout and contours of how smartphones and social media will fit into the modern workplace is still unclear. Ultimately, the modern enterprise can only mitigate these risks through technical implementation of smartphone solutions and the careful development of new smartphone usage policy.

*Written by Douglas Seaman and Philip Mai.



[1] Smith, A. (2001). Smartphone Adoption and Usage, Pew Research Center. Available at

[2] Friedman J., Hoffman, D.V. (2008). Protecting data on mobile devices: A taxonomy of security threats to mobile computing and review of applicable defenses, Information-Knowledge-Systems Management, 7 (1,2), 159-180.