It sometimes seems as if we spend more time looking down at our phones than we do looking up at what’s going on in the world. Mobile phones have become a very emotionally charged issue in the work place. Employees want access to their phones. Employers fear that mobile phones distract employees from what they are there for – to work. So, what’s the right answer?
There’s no doubt that phones can be useful for many things. We’ve turned the word Google into a verb, and it seems like anytime we are unsure about something we just “Google it.” Of course, we use our phones for a calculator, a notepad, a calendar, and may other tools.
So, if mobile phones are so useful in the workplace, then why do some employers still insist on banning them? Well, maybe it’s because there is a fair bit of research suggesting that phones act as nothing but a distraction.
But taking it away can be even more harmful
So, what does happen when you separate a person from their own personal mobile phone? The result is something called ‘nomophobia’ – which is simply short for ‘no mobile phobia’. And yes, it sounds like a little bit of a joke – but it’s an actual thing, and it’s been measured by scientists.
According to Dr Kim Ji Joon, when people are separated from their mobile phones, they often experience a range of the effects:
Dr. Joon explains that this is because more people now feel as if their phones are an extension of themselves, especially now that Generation Z will be arriving soon to a workplace near you.
Hire the right people, then give them freedom
What if you focused less on whether or not you restricted mobile phone usage and more on whether you hired responsible people. Do you really care what employees do with their mobile phones? If an employee is unable to use their mobile phone in the workplace, do you think they will be more distracted because they are thinking about the ‘forbidden fruit.’ Not having access to a mobile phone could be more of a distraction than having access to it. And if you are hiring responsible employees, wouldn’t they have the common sense to recognize when their performance is being impacted by their mobile phone?
Confidentiality, risk management, and data security
Of course, the argument isn’t entirely about whether mobile phones distract employees from their work. You also need to consider whether a mobile phone can introduce a risk to the workplace. For example, if you’re dealing with sensitive data, do mobile phones increase the risk of a data breach?
It is possible to manage an open mobile device policy, even in heavily regulated industries. Many companies have found ways to implement strict protocols regarding passwords and viewing and sharing restricted content. It does take more oversight on the company’s part, but the result is happier, more engaged employees.
Work and life overlap too much to outright ban mobile phones at work
In many industries, work and life overlap. Employees are sometimes expected to respond to emails and messages from home during off-hours, so it seems only fair to let them address personal matters on their personal devices during work. Perhaps consider approaching a mobile phone policy like other company policies such as flextime.
Give employees specific goals and performance metrics that they need to achieve and have less concern about how they accomplish their work. Excellent, high-performing employees should not need to be micromanaged.
Creating a mobile phone policy that works for everyone
I feel like the benefits of allowing mobile phones in the workplace probably, in most circumstances, outweigh the risks. Especially as we move into an age where mobile communication is an integral part of our lives. But how do we create a mobile phone policy that considers the people who are maybe not so tolerant of the noise and distraction these devices create?
Some companies only allow sound when it’s a call – just in case there’s an emergency. All other sounds and vibrations must be turned off. The reason for these two rules is because one person’s mobile phone could be a distraction or an interruption for somebody else.
Like it or not, mobile phones are becoming an increasingly important part of our lives. Rather than trying to ban them, it might be time to develop a policy that applies common sense and courtesy for everyone in the workplace.
One question I often get is how formal or relaxed should your company culture be? How strict should you be on employee behavior? I always encourage business owners to think about and be deliberate in determining what they want their company culture to be. One thing to consider is how do employees work best.
Traditional working patterns don’t always work
Consider the ‘typical’ office environment for a moment. Traditionally, a typical working day in the office might be split into an 8-hour shift, punctuated by a 30-minute lunch break, and two shorter 15-minute breaks. While this might work well for some environments, it’s not always going to be the most productive work pattern for everyone.
The Harvard Business Review says that employers should consider the Circadian Rhythm when setting schedules. Fortune advises that you should work in 90-minute cycles, making sure you take a break after each cycle. The website Magic Work Cycle advocates a 30-minutes work, 30-minutes play approach.
I’m not saying any of these are the right approach. What I’m pointing out is that what might seem to obviously be the most productive strategy, isn’t always the case. For example, some of the above techniques include far less ‘working’ time than the traditional office environment. But many people report greater employee output when using them.
Three reasons having fun at work could be good for your business
There is some pretty compelling evidence suggesting that letting employees have fun at work is a good thing. For example:
How to help employees have fun at work
There are plenty of ways to encourage a little more fun in the workplace. You don’t have to go as far as writing fun into your employee handbook, but you can create an environment where fun is celebrated, not sniffed at.
Creating office games and leagues can be a good place to start, but you don’t even need to be quite so formal or structured. Simply providing the facilities for having fun – such as a well-equipped recreation room with ping pong tables or a video game console – can help you to get the ball rolling if you’ll pardon the pun. Just don’t make employees feel guilty for actually using them!
Another approach is to simply make sure you’re taking your teams out and spending quality time together, even if it’s just for a relaxed team lunch at a local restaurant. Or maybe you bring in ice cream one afternoon or pay a massage therapist to provide chair massages.
There are lots of things you can do to create a more fun work environment. Why not create a fun committee with a cross-section of employees and see what ideas they come up with?