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High-tech reliability a key for workers who do business outside the office

Jan Dennis, Business & Law Editor
217-333-0568; jdennis@illinois.edu

Released 9/17/2007

Photo of Judith Gebauer
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Photo by L. Brian Stauffer
Judith Gebauer, a professor of business administration at Illinois, said workers want top-of-the-line technology to take care of business while they're away from the office. "If people can't depend on the technology," she said, "they won't use it."

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Workers want top-of-the-line technology to take care of business while they’re away from the office, but only if they can count on it, according to research by a University of Illinois professor.

“It sounds like such a straightforward finding, but it’s really a key success factor,” says Judith Gebauer, a professor of business administration. “If people can’t depend on the technology they won’t use it. And if they do use it, it may be counterproductive.”

Gebauer, who has studied mobile technology in the workplace for five years, said surveys show workers who do business on the road want cell phones, hand-held computers and laptops loaded with bells and whistles, from spread-sheet programs to cameras and games they can use in their leisure time.

Workers are just as concerned with reliability, lamenting sometimes-dicey e-mail connections and other high-tech glitches that add time and frustration to their jobs, she said.

“These new technologies need to work from the perspective of the user. And what we found with mobile technology is that a lot of times simpler is better. Even though the task might require something more complicated, think about alternative ways that might be simpler and then use the technology at a level where performance is satisfactory to the users,” Gebauer said.

As an example, she says on-the-road employees plagued by spotty Internet connections could use cell phones to work through colleagues in their main office rather than going online to handle the chore themselves.

Gebauer said her ongoing research has yet to explore in detail whether available technologies are a good fit to manage out-of-office work in a business world that is becoming increasingly mobile.

“In our recent studies, we asked only the users themselves. We didn’t ask the people who work with them, we didn’t ask managers. I would like to get a better handle on the impact of mobile technology on the performance of individuals, be they mobile or non-mobile, and on organizations,” Gebauer said.

Her future research also will seek to pin down a definition of mobile business that has expanded beyond just workers whose jobs require them to be out of the office for travel or other duties. An ever-increasing number of workers, particularly managers, now want instant links to their desks while in meetings, commuting or even when they’re on vacation, she said.

“It seems that this line between being in an office and working and being out of an office and working is blurring,” Gebauer said. “More people want to be reachable all the time and check information wherever they are. It’s more convenient for them and being able to stay on top of things makes them worry less about work.”

Editor’s note: To reach Judith Gebauer, call 217-244-0330; e-mail gebauer@illinois.edu.