More than 89 per cent of Australians own smartphones. A critical dilemma facing organisations today is whether smartphones increase or decrease productivity. Studies indicate that smartphones offer several positive benefits but, at the same time, can prove to be a major distraction in the workplace. Societies worldwide have become accustomed to instantaneous contact, but smartphone addiction can have several detrimental effects on our emotional and mental health.

Many Australian workplaces have banned the use of smartphones during business hours. Should employers prohibit the use of smartphones altogether or implement rules that regulate usage?

The positive side of smartphones at work

The use of smartphones has led to multiple benefits in terms of instant connectivity, time-saving, message tracking, and response time. Let’s take a deeper dive into some essential advantages of smartphones at work:

Mental breaks from work

Allowing employees to take frequent mini-breaks can increase productivity and prevent exhaustion. Small breaks involving messaging, texting, checking the news or playing games on the smartphone can benefit productivity as the employee feels refreshed after the break.

Smartphones and improved productivity

The use of smartphones increases direct connectivity between people and eliminates the errors that may be carried forward through multi-step communications. Conflicts can be resolved faster, and there are fewer chances of misunderstanding. Urgent issues requiring quick action can be sorted out in seconds, and messages can be checked on the go, even when the employee is physically absent from the office. They can be used to create, edit, and share documents, and employees can respond quickly to events and collaborate from wherever they are. Smartphones have become vital business tools.

The ability to stay connected also helps your employees respond faster to customers leading to referrals, satisfaction, and better business practices.

The negative aspects of excessive smartphone usage

The features and benefits offered by smartphones often lead to a paradox. For example, while texting is the fastest and easiest mode of communication, it can be addictive and inappropriate when you’re in the middle of work. Similarly, while using your smartphone to research work-related information, you may get side-tracked by other apps, messages, photos, and images. Rampant and uncontrolled use of smartphones may result in as much loss as gain.

Simply being aware of a text or a call can decrease concentration while performing a sequence-based task. Minor distractions such as a social media message popping up on screen often result in errors and disturbs employee concentration at work. Research indicates that merely hearing the buzz of your smartphone can increase the likelihood of mistakes by 28 per cent.

Whether your team answer their text messages or even just read them, the smartphone is still proving to be a distraction. According to the findings from the Carnegie Mellon University research on human–computer interactions, once you get distracted from work, it takes roughly 25 minutes to resume the incomplete task. On a different note, when people become completely dependent on technology-based communication, they become oblivious to those around them.

Overuse of smartphones can impact relationships with team members and affect the performance and quality of human connection among employees. While technology can help with reduced time and increased efficiency, it cannot replace personal interaction.

In the end, smartphones are a digital tool that can be beneficial or detrimental, depending on personal usage. The key takeaway is to do what’s best for your organisation.

Office smartphone usage: policies and procedures

Employers can choose to implement a smartphone policy based on zero use, breaktime use, case-by-case use, or reasonable use. Your policy should be tailored to your company culture, and the rules may vary according to the nature of the work. Smartphones should never be used while using equipment, during meetings, or for entertainment purposes during work hours, except during breaks.

Employees should be encouraged to keep their phones on silent or vibrate and make essential calls or text messages in a designated area, away from their desks. They should use their smartphones to set up and track appointments, record memos, or respond to work-related emails. Workers should be encouraged to practice ‘digital mindfulness’, switch off non-human notifications, keep their phones in ‘Do Not Disturb’ mode, and place smartphones out of physical reach.

Our people-oriented consulting practice at ESN makes us valuable to organisations looking for targeted human resource consulting. Our trusted team of psychologists and HR professionals can help your team develop a keen sense of loyalty, ethical work practices and higher job engagement.

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