I guess this means I need a new phone?

I have smart phone envy, I’ll admit. My husband has an iPhone that I openly covet, trying to come up with excuses for why I need to borrow it. And my best friend just got one; when she sends me emails from it, I usually respond with “you suck” (and then an actual response–she is still my best friend).

What appeals to me so much about these smart phones is the idea that you really can do whatever you need to do with your computer, but from wherever you are, whatever else you’re doing. Yes, I know that there’s a danger of “iPhone orphans”, and I’ve heard the ‘crackberry’ jokes, too, but, seriously, is the idea of always thinking about your work, no matter what else you’re doing, really anything new for social workers?

What doesn’t appeal to me about these phones is the pretty steep cost for the monthly service agreements; an unrestricted data plan like my husband has, combined with relatively basic mobile service, costs more than $70/month (his company pays for it; I’d have to pay for it myself, hence–no iPhone for me).

So, when I saw this awesome (as usual) Heather Mansfield post about mobile technology and nonprofit organizations, it jumpstarted my smart phone envy again, but it also made me think about what this move to mobile technology will mean for social workers and social welfare agencies.

I don’t have the answers (I mean, I don’t even have the phone!), but here are my questions:

  • How will social service nonprofits make allocation decisions about who gets access to mobile technologies like these, in an era of perennially-scarce resources? Will we see the CEOs sporting iPhones and the case workers not? Will we rotate these kinds of devices among staff members, in an ‘on-call’ type of system? Or will organizations make an investment in mobile technology as the next wave of ‘must have’ for everyone (the way that a computer essentially is now)? In which case, I’ll have to go back to work full-time to get one (smile).
  • What will this mean for confidentiality? And for boundaries? And for social workers’ work loads? And for worker productivity? There is so much new territory here: workers using their smart phones for non-work uses (with an unlimited plan, not really a problem, except when you account for time); others potentially seeing emails, texts, or other communications from/about clients; workers feeling that they can’t ‘escape’ work at all, given their ubiquitious ‘availability; clients’ expectations of social workers’ availability…really, these are just escalations of the same kinds of questions we’ve been asking for a few years now, albeit with a mobile spin.
  • And, finally, since more and more of our clients have these smart phones now, what does this potentially mean for using mobile technology to connect with clients, and even to provide social services? We’re already seeing some grassroots advocacy organizations do a lot with texting (the type of communication that traditionally yields the very quickest response)–what about social workers who are reminding clients of an appointment, following up on something from a previous interaction, or requesting information? How can we use these technologies to work better with our clients, while not depending on them to the extent that we harm other aspects of our relationship?

    Is your organization fully mobile? Or on its way? How has it changed your work? For the better? Or not? And do you have an extra iPhone laying around that you just want to give me (joke)?

  • 4 responses to “I guess this means I need a new phone?

    1. This post totally cracks me up. I want an iPhone like nobody’s business. But, since PRC just bought my 2-year commitment to a T-Mobile-powered-Blackberry in February, I still have 68 weeks and 4 days before I can even think about it. (Although, I might add, the iTouch is a close second…Did I mention I won this at the GKC Women’s Political Caucus?)

      PRC always has been mobile/virtual. We exist by mooching space off of friendly churches, community centers, and libraries. The biggest issue with this has been how to keep files so they are HIPAA-compliant and accessible to those who need them. Enter Salesforce, which offers 10 free seats to qualifying nonprofits. We use their super-secure database for entering new clients (still transferring old docs to the database) and use the document portal to hold organizational docs, policies, etc.

      The biggest challenge? What happens when you need paper? A printer? A signature? Really, I’m thinking this stuff is becoming super out-dated. There needs to be technology that allows digital identification of people, rather than this signature stuff—

      My $60 per month Blackberry does most everything we need–and I turn it off when I need space (and everything is covered at work). I’m beginning to think paying for real estate is wasteful and outdated…(but you might want to check back with me in six months)…

      • Jen, promise me if you get an iPhone before I do, you’ll take off the ‘sent from my iPhone’ message on your emails so I don’t die of a thousand cuts? 🙂

        I really like where you took this, in terms of what it would mean not just to make our communications mobile but our entire operations. As usual, it sounds like PRC is on the cutting edge of this, dealing with client-centered concerns while trying to meet fiscal limitations in a way that makes sense for everyone. I don’t know about Salesforce–can you tell me more? And how do you handle turning the Blackberry off as a coping strategy–do you have another phone that you use for personal contact, or do you just have ‘no digital’ zones where you’re not accessible to friends or work (a highly-recommended idea, from what I’m learning)? Have a great weekend!

    2. If I get an iPhone–probably after you get one–I will ask somebody to remove that message. That means it will be done six months after I get the technology. Hopefully, you’ll still have enough limbs left to live a meaningful and productive life! 😉

      I don’t know that I’d classify us as cutting edge so much as “poor.” But, hey, I’m up for upgrading labels.

      Salesforce is a Client Relationship Management–or CRM–web-based software. It allows PRC to collect data on clients, donors, professional partners, etc. in an efficient, accessible way. Since it is web-based, all of our volunteers & staff–even in Garden City–have instant access to the information they need. We set security so only certain information is available to certain people (sometimes at certain times). It has calendaring, task management, and a thousand other features we are learning to use. At some point, we will be using it to manage all of our campaigns and *billing*! I can’t wait until that day.

      Turning the Bb off as a coping strategy? Well, while at home, I use my home phone. Out and about, I still use the Bb, but screen calls. During working hours, I limit my use to *mostly* business calls; during my time, I limit my use to *mostly* personal calls. Sometimes, I mess up. Then, I fess up (let’s be real, this gives them permission to stop working on a Saturday, too) and ask if we can schedule a call for Monday or whenever works. So, my “zones” are usually in terms of time, not space.

      Here’s to surviving another iPhone-less week!

      • No, seriously–I think that building systems that allow people to do the same quality work from anywhere is where we’re headed in social services–maybe it’s lack of resources that has forced your innovation, but it’s still innovation! Good to know about Salesforce and about its capabilities and security settings. Sounds pretty cool. And here’s to your continued modeling of boundaries and pursuit of health! In that vein, have a great weekend!

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