Today’s post is a featured guest post from writer Joe Pawlikowski, the editor of a Blackberry news and information site called BBGeeks.com

When I started working from home four and a half years ago, there were two things I absolutely needed. The first I already had: a laptop. Until you get acclimated to the day-to-day operations of your from-home job a laptop is preferable to a desktop, since it affords you maneuverability. The other item: a smartphone. This was back in 2007, before everyone started carrying one, but I’d need one nonetheless. If I’m working from home I’m going to set my own hours, I reasoned. Setting my own hours means I might be out while an important email comes through. I can’t be caught off-guard. And so I upgraded my crappy flip phone to a BlackBerry.

Since then I’ve sought to get every last drop out of my BlackBerry. Part of that is because I run a BlackBerry website that focuses on practical uses for the device. The other part is that I don’t want my $30 monthly data plan to bring me only email and web browsing. No, I want to make sure that I’m getting my money’s worth. For me it has meant making the BlackBerry a personal assistant of sorts. I store all sorts of lists on there, including my grocery list. I use it to record everything I buy. I’ve even used it to help me lose 40 pounds in a year. It’s safe to say that the BlackBerry data plan pays for itself many times over.

Yet I was struck by a strange feeling after getting the new BlackBerry Montana*. It’s a great device — without a doubt the best BlackBerry ever released. That got me excited. But then another thought struck me. Is this really necessary? For me, sure. After all, I write a BlackBerry site and I wouldn’t be of much use if I didn’t actually have a BlackBerry. The thought was for other at-home workers. Is a smartphone really necessary to function while working remotely? Here are a few considerations that factor into this question.

* Bear with me, please, as I try to start a trend here. You see, BlackBerry models have always been named as numbers. The first one I bought was an 8830, and then I got an 8330, and then a 9630, then a 9650, and now a 9930. For the latter two they’ve added the title Bold, but they call about a half dozen different BlackBerry models the Bold. While BlackBerry models are in production phase they get code names. We see these leaked on the internet constantly. The code name for the BlackBerry Bold 9930 was the Montana. That is much easier for distinction purposes than the 9930. What’s easier to remember, 9930 or Montana? That’s what I thought. /rant

Your boss

If you’re among the lucky at-home workers who answers to no one, congratulations. We all want to be our own boss one day, so you’ve captured the dream. If you are your own boss, you likely deal with clients and perhaps you deal with employees. Since clients can come calling at any, and since employee management is a round-the-clock task, chances are you need a smartphone. There doesn’t seem to be any way around this.

For those of us who answer to someone, it’s going to depend on how that someone operates. I happen to rank among the luckier ones. My boss does not come calling at all hours, and does not expect me to be at her beck and call. We schedule amicable times for meetings. Few of her requests involve time-sensitive material, so it doesn’t matter if I don’t see an email for a few hours. Even if I’m out in the middle of the day there usually are no issues. I definitely don’t need a smartphone in order to appease my boss.

Of course, this is an incredibly lucky situation. Not all bosses are quite that understanding. Many bosses are leery of at-home workers, and want to be on top of them at all times. Other bosses, no matter how nice or trusting, tend to smother employees. Clearly you’ll benefit from owning a smartphone if this is your boss. With so many communications tools, such as email and instant message, you can quickly reply and let them know, or at least think, that you’re on task. Really, you can use your smartphone to fake being in the office, thanks to technology like front-facing cameras. With any kind of hands-on boss this is likely a necessity.

Your schedule

Any at-home worker should absolutely read Steve’s unconventional productivity tips. Maintaining productivity is one of the most difficult tasks for an at-home worker, and all five of his points make all the sense in the world. In fact, as soon as I finish writing this article I’m going to read a chapter in a novel before I get to my next task. But there’s one tip in particular that relates directly to our topic at hand.

If you take Steve’s advice literally and pick unconventional work hours, then you’re probably going to need a smartphone. Again, if you have the hands-off boss you might be able to avoid it. But chances are if you’re not in the office the same hours as your boss, you’ll still have to maintain a line of communication. Maybe you can get by with your computer. But if you plan to be out of the house at any point, a smartphone is the only reasonable way to maintain communication.

Still, there are plenty of at-home workers who prefer the discipline of working 9-5. There’s something satisfying about checking out once that big hand hits the 5. If you work these normal hours, and you have a relatively hands-off boss, chances are you can get by without a smartphone. It’s probably to your great benefit, too, since you can completely unplug during your non-working hours. There will be no work-related distractions while you enjoy your evening. Trust me, the world will still be there when you get back to your desk at 9 the next morning.

Your field

You name a job, and I can find you people who perform it from the comfort of their home office. This can be anything from PR to engineering — though the latter would have to involve a pretty sweet home office. Depending on your position, you might be able to skip the whole smartphone thing.

If you work in technology or communications, there really is no way around the issue. Using myself as an example again, what use is a guy who writes about tech but hasn’t tried the latest gadgets? The communications field is similar in that way. If your job is to communication — whether it’s PR, journalism, or web production — aren’t you better off having a device that specializes in communications media?

Then again, if you’re working in data entry, or you’re a remote administrative assistant, perhaps you can get by without one. Again, it really depends on your job specifically. But it’s pretty clear that no, you do not need a smartphone for all work-from-home jobs.

Why not a smartphone?

After reading this, you might think: Why wouldn’t I want a smartphone? They are, after all, some of the coolest gadgets in the universe. They provide tools that anyone, whether they work in an office or from home, can use to their advantages. Here are just a few reasons why an at-home worker would benefit from not having a smartphone.

  • Cost. The smartphone itself will likely cost you around $200, and then there’s the $30 monthly data plan. Since most carriers require you to sign a two-year contract when purchasing a smartphone, that’s a total cost of $920 in addition to your normal cell bill. At the same time, you can find a perfectly adequate cell phone for free on a two-year contract.
  • Burdensome connectivity. Some people just can’t disconnect. That’s good in some instances, but it’s bad in others. From my experience, staying connected all the time leads to distraction and prevents me from accomplishing my personal goals. We all need a life outside work. A smartphone is always with us, and is always reminding us of work.
  • More costs. You downloaded the latest productivity app for your iPhone, right? Yeah, that probably cost you $5. And you want Angry Birds to play while you’re bored, so that’s another few bucks. Add in movies and music for on-the-go entertainment, and you’ve added even more to your monthly costs. Remember, smarpthones are money making machines, but not for you necessarily.

Realizing the inevitable

Eventually we’ll all have smartphones. Hopefully by then things will change, and we can address some of the issues mentioned above. But for now, for the right type of at-home worker, a smartphone should not be considered a necessity. If you have a hands-off boss and work fairly normal hours, chances are you can save some dough, and some anxiety, by sticking with your crappy little flip phone. There’s a good chance it can bring you a bit more happiness than a loaded smartphone.

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