People these days are basically glued to their phones, and being at work doesn't change that. Employees use their phones at work on a regular basis, whether their job requires it or not. But how do you know if phone use has gotten out of hand? Surely, productivity will be down, and, in some cases, even employee morale can drop with an influx of personal tech use at work. There are ways to manage that, though, and make sure that your business doesn't suffer because of the advanced age of technology that we live in.
Stephanie Naznitsky, executive director of Robert Half staffing firm OfficeTeam, provided a few ways that managers and employers can manage how employees use technology at work. [Related: 10 Distractions That Kill Workplace Productivity]
Tips for managing tech use at work
"Clearly outline the organization's rules for acceptable technology use," Naznitsky said. "Make sure your employees can find policy information online and/or in a company handbook. Use language that is easy to understand so there is little confusion."
Here are a few more suggestions from Naznitsky:
- Companies may choose to monitor web use to ensure professionals aren't getting sidelined by sites unrelated to work.
- Employers can block access to social media and other sites to keep employees focused on their work responsibilities and to curb potential security and network bandwidth issues.
- If the plan is to track technology use, determine how to do so and make employees aware. Deem what is considered acceptable use, what is excessive or misuse, and the consequences so that every case will be handled consistently.
- Lead by example. If the boss is spending a lot of time on technology for personal reasons at work, it's easy for employees to feel like they can do so as well.
What could be in a company policy on personal tech use
"Policies vary per company, and it's up to the discretion of each organization to determine if and how it wants to manage technology use," Naznistky said. "For example, some companies may actually encourage visiting social networks and other pages for business purposes."
Naznitsky also noted that some companies are required to monitor internet activity, so it's key to consult with HR and their legal department. The policy should also be revisited frequently, as change in technology is constant.
Richard Pummell, human resources lead at Develop Intelligence, provided some items to consider when creating a technology use policy:
- Specific times when employees can access personal tech (e.g., before and after a shift, during breaks and meal periods)
- Locations where tech can be used (e.g., OK in lunch room, locker room, etc., but never at desk)
- Networks that can be accessed for personal use (e.g., specific employee Wi-Fi network established for employee personal use versus business networks and guest networks, where streaming could slow down network speeds and security issues may be more prevalent)
- Whether photographs can be taken on your business premises
- What company-related photos (if any) can be published on social media to ensure you are aware of how your workplace brand is being communicated
"Some companies identify 'cell phone zones' where employees can engage in phone calls or social media away from their desks in a location that won't disturb other employees," Pummell added.
The impact of tech use on productivity
Aside from taking longer to complete tasks if an employee is constantly on their phone, there are other productivity concerns. But sometimes, the distraction of a cell phone or other personal technology can be beneficial.
"Most companies will turn a blind eye to employees using their cell phones and other technology at work in moderation as long as it doesn't impact productivity," Naznitksy said. "It can be helpful for employees to take quick breaks throughout the day where they don't think about work."
Jonaed Iqbal, founder and CEO of NoDegree.com, agrees, saying he would never have a no-phone policy.
"I have no issue if my employees use their phones," he said. "I don't want them to dread coming to work, and I try to be as fair as possible. My employees share videos of humorous content, and I think they have an overall good relationship. I have no issue if they use technology to take care of things such as paying bills or answering their friends. At the end of the day, I always emphasize that, as long as they get their work done, I don't mind."
The way Iqbal sees it, if his employees can get all of their work done and also do what they want to do on their phones or computers, what does it matter? It's worth being lenient to retain the talent at the company.
The use of personal technology at work has its downside, but according to many who manage teams, it also has an upside. If you choose to implement a policy, follow these tips, and hopefully it will be a recipe for success.