“It’s a seconds-count economy,” said Sean Ryan, an analyst at IDC.
Mr. Ryan feels the pressure. He schedules work calls to make his own 45-minute commute — from Boston to Framingham, Mass. — more productive.
At stop lights, he checks texts and e-mail messages. He does not want to miss something important, but he also sees the practice as a time saver. “I might as well get a quick e-mail taken care of, or at least delete spam,” he said. “When I get to the office, I’ve saved 15 to 20 minutes of work.”
David Vered, 53, chief executive of Pacific Yogurt Partners, which operates Golden Spoon frozen yogurt stores in the San Francisco Bay Area and helps manage other stores around the state, sometimes does not wait for stop lights to check his e-mail.
He has trained employees to send concise messages so that he can read them while driving on the highway as he visits stores.
“With the BlackBerry, you can hold it up over the steering wheel,” he said. “I just hit ‘open’ and see what the issue is.”
On his lengthy commutes, he occasionally schedules calls with lawyers to do lease negotiations, or with contractors to discuss construction of a new retail outlet.
But his phone can also ring with an urgent problem, like a broken frozen-yogurt machine. Mr. Vered’s workers need to know what to do. If he delays, he said, they might be paralyzed, wasting time and money.
“I respond to them as rapidly as possible,” he said. “I don’t like holding people up. And I’m not just holding them up: I’m paying them. I want them to be as effective as possible.”
Studies show that drivers who send text or e-mail typically take their eyes off the road for an average of five seconds.
But Mr. Vered said he was vigilant about safety. Besides, he said, he never reads e-mail on his bigger laptop computer, which he keeps on a desk he has installed on the passenger seat of his small Toyota S.U.V.
“That’s dangerous because you have to shift the field of vision away from the road,” he added.
Mr. Vered said he was an adept multitasker.
“I’m in a zone,” he said. He uses a Bluetooth cellphone device attached to his ear so he can keep both hands on the wheel unless he is dialing or reading a text. “I’ve done it my whole life, so I know how to multitask,” he added.
As his own boss, Mr. Vered can choose whether to multitask while driving.
But other employees, particularly blue-collar workers, do not have that luxury. Many employers deploy an array of devices to stay connected with their drivers at all times.
The Mobile Office
“When someone’s toilet overflows, they call a bunch of plumbers — the first plumber there wins,” said Brian Edds, a marketing director for Xora, a company based in Mountain View, Calif.
Xora’s software lets workers using mobile phones receive dispatch and navigation directions, deal with payroll, fill out invoices and otherwise manage their work as if they were sitting at a desk.
IDC, the research firm, estimates companies spent $850 million last year for such software from Xora and its competitors, and estimated the market size would double in five years. The software has been installed on the phones of millions of electricians, service technicians, home health care workers, sales people, plumbers and others — at companies like Coca-Cola, Merck, Pitney Bowes and Xerox, and the city of Chicago.
Xora’s customers include the Roto-Rooter Services Company, the plumbing chain.
In the past, Mr. Edds said, a mobile worker might have had to scribble down directions from a dispatcher.
“Now he gets sent the information in an organized manner, so he can click on the address, and get the best route, so he gets to a job very fast,” he said.