Eek! My HR interface has broken! Photo: Shutterstock

Tuesday 16th June 2015


Why mobile probably won't be the immediate future of HR tech

If you keep up with tech trends, you’ll know that mobile is settling comfortably into the throne of the “future of HR”, at least for the time being.

We’re told that by 2025, we’ll be flying to work Arabian Nights style on iPad 9’s and swiping right through the business of HR on our smartphones.

Whether it waxes or wanes in importance, mobile is here to stay. But as with all flavour-of-the-moment trends, marketers are keen to promise the world and then work out how to deliver it later.

“Mobile is not an extension of your web-based HR software.” claims one Silicon Valley product exec. Queue pantomime “Oh yes it is!” to-and-fro.

If arguing against the viability and potential applicability of mobile HR tech sounds rather like weeing into a headwind, don’t worry — it is. But these aren’t the rantings of an old man angrily shaking his fist at television supplanting radio.

There are pragmatic limits to mobile technology that we are not yet close to overcoming. Here are three good reasons not to throw your desktops from the top floor windows quite yet.

1) Controls are too fiddly for complex tasks

Until voice recognition is perfected and integrated into apps, good luck trying to put down lots of information with your fingers onto something roughly the size of a bourbon biscuit. It’s tiresome, especially when most people can type several times faster at a desktop than on their phones.

While simple apps with big buttons can be a breeze, anything resembling a form or spreadsheet can turn into a total slog on your phone.

Proof of concept for HR apps tend to cherry-pick simplistic measures. Yes, it is convenient to report your sick days with the click of a button on your phone. No, it’s not convenient to monitor your entire staff payroll when you can only see five names on your screen at one time.

It’s just a fact: on-screen keyboards are no replacement for the real deal, and the screens severely limit the amount of viewable information.

2) Batteries are a long way from satisfactory

Other than not wanting to be that person who asks “Does anybody have a charger for ‘X’?” in the office, it may surprise you to learn that batteries are the real bottleneck to mobile technology.

We demand shinier and more impressive bells and whistles on each iteration of smartphone, yet currently, replacements to standard lithium-ion batteries are experimental and unstable.

Tech companies make their processors and screens more efficient, and their batteries bigger, but there is relatively little they can do to squeeze more juice from their batteries themselves.

This is why the latest and greatest iPhone with a brand new battery is still likely to conk out with less than 24 hours of moderate use, with its competitors in a similar ballpark.

So as HR mobile technology gets to be more whizzbang and exciting, the more battery it will consume. And as yet, we haven’t got the batteries to back up our demand.

The most demanding kind of phone usage, 3D gaming, will drain a smartphone battery in two to three hours.

Intensive web and app usage could see some phones struggle to make it through a working day, especially once you factor in that batteries deteriorate over time.

3) There’ll be no such thing as leaving work behind

Rather than quibble over another technological hiccough that may or not be smoothed over in the next decade, this hitch is certain to be something many of us will confront in the future – as many already do.

Work and office software is for the office. It stays there when you leave. But with mobile apps, it will be an ever-present weight in your pocket.

And for many, it may be very stressful, especially if the app has notifications or alerts. Few have the restraint to ignore this sort of thing. Most don’t even have the restraint to resist a solitary Facebook message for an hour.

If you ask yourself whether you’d want to take all your work home with you at the end of the day, would you say yes? As you know, how far people are willing to compromise work/life balance is a question that’s still hanging in the air.

About the author

Jerome Langford

Jerome is a graduate in Philosophy from St Andrews, who alternately spends time writing about HR and staring wistfully out of windows, thinking about life’s bigger questions: Why are we here? How much lunch is too much lunch? What do you mean exactly by ‘final warning’?