Smartphone Usage & Work Productivity: Creating a Symbiotic Relationship

I have a love hate relationship with my smartphone.

They make life so much easier with GPS, instant email access, and the hundreds of apps that do things like deposit a check without ever having to go to an ATM or bank. What I hate about cell phones is they have the ability to interrupt me no matter what I’m doing, disrupting my concentration, and make me feel vulnerable whenever I leave the house without it. The more millennials I encounter, the more I realize how interwoven their lives are with cell phones. Many employers feel the same way. Nineteen percent of employers feel they get less than five hours of actual productive work from staff during a full work day and blame smartphones for lower employee productivity. Waco Texas College conducted a study and determined female students spent an average of ten hours a day on their phones, while male students spent close to eight hours. Sixty percent of those students said they may have a phone addiction. It’s no wonder less work and studying is being accomplished.

I myself can totally understand the compulsion to look at your phone. Recent studies have estimated the average person checks their smart phone over a hundred times a day. More scary is the statistic — seventy-five percent of drivers say they have, at least once, used their cell phone while driving. Furthermore, twenty-six percent of car accidents are due to cell phone use. When you have employees driving company vehicles, or even their own car, that is a major risk to bare.

Here are a few things you can do to help combat risks as well as a decrease in productivity due to smartphone usage.

Allow Hands-Free Devices

I always give every employee a clear outline of cell phone use. First on my list is never be on your phone while driving. For most of us, being able to take a client or emergency phone call is a necessary part of business. So banning all phone use probably isn’t the answer. There is also a very high probability people would break that rule when out of the boss’ sight. Allowing the use of hands-free devices, such as Bluetooth, may be a good option to prevent more distracting habits like texting and checking Facebook.

Disabling Devices

If you want to get extreme and assure no one will text while driving, there are disabling devices such as Cellcontrol. This system connects with the driver’s smartphone along with a small monitor device in the vehicle. This software allows you to block cell phone use with the exception of 911 calls. The nice part of this software is the ability to adjust the options to allow Bluetooth calls or GPS mapping. Besides controlling smartphone usage, the system can also track how safe or unsafe the vehicle is being operated. For an owner that has a lot of liability fears, software like this could help you sleep better at night.

Clear Policy

Controlling personal cell phone use can be complicated. Especially when each generation gets more intertwined with the technology. Even I experience anxiety when accidentally leaving my house without it and have wasted time and gas just to go back and retrieve my phone. In our line of work, most of our staff is working alongside our clients. The temptation to post on Facebook or text a friend is huge without any supervision. We are very fortunate to be able to do our job during normal business hours and the last thing we want to do is annoy a customer because a tech’s cell phone kept playing the theme song to Star Wars. Instead of completely banning smart phones (which will create animosity and then use behind your back), I make it a rule that cell phones must be off or on vibrate while inside any client’s workspace. Only when the tech is in a private area should they make a call or text back. Setting clear boundaries such as no cell phone use during meetings, training sessions, customer interaction or when working with heavy equipment can also help prevent future issues. And as the boss, it’s up to you to set the best example, as hard as that may be.

Follow Up

Having a cell phone policy is only words on a piece of paper unless you follow up and enforce it. When all your staff works in the same location, that makes it much easier for an owner to check in and observe employee conduct. When half or more of your employees work out in the field, watching their conduct is much more difficult. If techs are performing well and getting their accounts finished in a reasonable time, I don’t worry too much about their cell phone use. If their hours start getting longer while servicing the same accounts week after week, that’s going to throw up a red flag. After looking into into it, if smartphone use is determined to be the reason for decreased productivity, enforcing the consequences is the only deterrent for them and any other offender witnessing the consequences. If you don’t want to stress over tracking cell phone use, paying employees by the job instead of the hour may help. This method allows the tech to work at their own pace (and expense) instead of yours.

Sherry has been part of the interiorscape industry for over fifteen years, starting at an entry level job at North Florida's largest greenhouse and currently owning two horticulture companies. At UMaine, Sherry majored in English where she worked part-time writing scripts for a local college TV studio.

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