Blurred lines: Current landscape of GPS tracking in the workplace and outside it — Part One

August 1, 2012

Phone GPSMobile connectivity has created a sea change in employee work productivity and work habits, but it has also created a challenge for employers. GPS tracking and other mobile technologies can provide a wealth of information about employee activities, but it is not always clear how employers can best use this information. For employees, this new technology also brings the phenomenon of “work creep” into times and places traditionally associated with home and leisure time.

At the same time, workers have connected in such a way with their mobile devices. In a recent survey of mobile workers, 59 percent of employees reported they would feel emotional distress if they had to live without their smartphones for seven days, according to a mobile technology white paper prepared by iPass in 2011 — many workers said they would feel “disoriented,” “distraught” or “lonely” without access to their smartphones.

In its titular salvo on the subject, iPass diagnosed the workers’ responses: “Mobilemania sweeps the enterprise.” And this claim is backed up by the facts —

  • Almost three in five employers provided smartphones to their mobile workers at that time,
  • Nine out of 10 mobile employees worked on a smartphone whether it was company-issued or BYOD (bring your own device) in 2011,
  • Five in 10 I.T. workers report that they use three or more mobile devices for work, according to a recent article in Tech Crunch.

Are you there? You’re where?!? — Employers and employees grapple with GPS tracking on mobile devices

While embracing the rewards of higher worker productivity and, perhaps, winning the hearts if not the minds of their employees through employer-issued smartphones, employers and employees are now grappling with the unchartered terrain that comes with a workplace that extends beyond a desktop in a cube. This is especially true for employees that have forged the trail of remote working: the sales forces, installers, telephone representatives and others that have never had a physical workspace in the office.

As tablets and smartphones provide greater connection for employees in the workplace, employers also have vastly improved ability to track employees and ensure they are not on a “frolic and detour” — or at least, that they are in the geographical vicinity of where they should be working. And while tracking an employee for a business purpose may be well and good during work hours, questions about tracking arise when work day ends, when the employee goes home, and how might the data be misused or misinterpreted by employers?