BlackBerry smartphones: what impact did they have on the workplace?

Published:

The first casualty of 2022 has already been announced: BlackBerry will discontinue service on its phones.

Devices running what the company now calls its ‘legacy services’, those not running on Android software, will no longer reliably function for data, phone calls or text messaging.

The BlackBerry was a game-changer for the world of work, offering employees the opportunity to check emails while on the move.

As its peak in 2009 and 2019, BlackBerry held nearly 20% of the global smartphone market.

The phones meant employees could work remotely, long before COVID-19 played its part, but it also meant workers were expected to answer out-of-hours calls and emails, a problem the workplace is still grappling with.

HR magazine spoke to some of its readers about their recollections of the devices and how it changed their relationship with work.

 

“I used to hide it under my pillow and answer emails”

Louise Lennon, director of HR consultancy at The People Deal, said: “I saw this on the news earlier and thought 'well that's when my work/life balance went out the window'. I used to hide it under my pillow and answer emails if I couldn't sleep, often getting berated by my husband for not being able to stop working. I did love it though. Felt a bit sad when I heard the operating system was being switched off.”

 

“The hours spent in airport terminals could be spent productively”  

Roy Taylor, employee relations partner at Yorkshire Water, said: “Genuinely loved my ‘crackberry’ because I spent a lot of time in Europe when they first came out. The hours spent in airport terminals could be spent productively thinning out the email tsunami without dragging out your laptop.

“The downside was that people thought you could answer their question 24/7 and expected you to do so, even when you weren’t on call.”

 

“My first BlackBerry taught me the value of work/ life balance”

Steve Herbert, head of benefits strategy at Howden Employee Benefits and Wellbeing, said: “Only because my wife eventually got so annoyed with my answering emails at all times of the day and night that she held the device over the loo and threatened to drop it in if I answered another one.

“Lesson learned – I now switch off when the day is done.”

 

“It made me more efficient”

David Frost, organisational development director at Dole, said: “I can remember receiving my first one. It was provided by my employer at the time and I felt quite honoured but also unsure about its usefulness/impact. My recollection is that it made me more efficient but more constantly 'in touch' with everything happening at work.”

 

Regardless of whether you see the BlackBerry as a trailblazer which revolutionised business or a ball and chain for workers, its impact on the UK workplace was significant.

Its physical keyboard was a go-to for professionals and its personal messaging service, BBM, created the blueprint for iMessage and WhatsApp, using the internet to send pictures and updates rather than costly standard messaging.

The company’s hold of the market slipped after Apple introduced its iPhone onto the market and Android headsets with better app offerings and larger displays meant BlackBerry could no longer keep up.

BlackBerry now labels itself as an enterprise software and cybersecurity company which develops software solutions for corporations.